Dealing With Customs When Arranging Shipping From Overseas

by Wholesale_Manager on 09-26-2012 in Wholesale Center

Dealing With Customs When Arranging Shipping From Overseas

Customs. It is the dreaded word of international shipping. The fact is any business using an overseas wholesaler has to deal with customs and import regulation. The key, however, to making regulation easy is to make sure everything is identified, explained and detailed on the shipping manifests well ahead of time. This plus planning ahead will make sure most of the delays associated with border control and federal import controls don’t become a major headache.

Investigate Your Wholesale Supplier's History

Most of the headaches associated with import control tend to be associated with shippers that have a history of getting into trouble. As a result, custom agents know these characters well and give special attention to their cargo boats and containers more than others. Those wholesalers that keep their noses clean don’t attract unwanted attention and accordingly don’t get extra scrutiny either.

Research wholesalers who have issues are fairly straightforward to find. The resources include the Internet and shipping news sources, various dock managers with regards to the issues they see within incoming boats and containers, and custom control offices themselves. Granted, custom agents aren’t keen on giving away their secrets or ongoing investigations, but they can be helpful on understanding what sort of overseas wholesale relationships to avoid based on the patterns they see in their line of work.

Preferential Treatment to be Aware Of

Due to the North American Fair Trade Act or NAFTA, goods shipping from Canada and Mexico into the U.S. are going to receive on the natural a more favorable treatment from customs than say goods shipping from Asia or Africa. The NAFTA ruleset streamlines the sometimes long process of customs clearance. The shipping process starts with the Certificate of Origin being initiated from a NAFTA partner. The importing company then provides the Certificate to U.S. customs for validation and clearing the shipment under NAFTA rules. This process can be somewhat complicated for the amateur, so if your company doesn’t know what it’s clearly doing, working with a professional importer may be a better option.

Be Aware of What You’re Shipping

Some commodities and products are going to have far more customs scrutiny than others. Clearly anything that involves ammunition, dangerous chemicals, genetic or medical material, animals, untested foods and explosives are going to be problematic right from the start. However, other goods may be problematic depending which location they are going to. For example, traditional scooters and small cars with two-stroke engines are going to run into problems being shipped into and sold in California due to that state’s clean air regulations. Other goods may run into protection laws in those states. 

However, federal law and interstate commerce also provide a lot of protections for businesses versus state level protectionism once the goods are allowed in-country. The federal government is also cognizant of what goods are not favored by Congress, which is made of up state representatives. So the two go hand-in-hand more often than not. Knowing which goods will be a problem ahead of time can avoids expensive mistakes in prematurely purchasing sensitive goods and then those products get stuck at customs by surprise.

Consider Sharing the Risk

If your business is not ready to get involved with import customs, you can always work with a shoreside import/export business that will take care of a lot of the customs paperwork. This gives your business a go-between when product is shipped in as the materials are received by the import/export company first rather than by your company. In doing so, the import/export gets to deal with the hassle of the customs control, clearing shipments and answering questions. If they’re a good outfit, they have a partner on the other end of the shipping route coordinating the packaging and departure. 

Between the two shipping branches the import/export operator will reduce all the customs risks long before they occur. Your company ends up picking up the goods at the import/export operator’s domestic address or having the shipping container delivered to your address. Of course, this go-between service comes with a cost, but the extra fees may be worth the headache of not having to manage customs requirements.


If your business finds, upon deep research, that dealing with customs may just be too much of a challenge, accept the fact and move on. It may just mean that you have to go through middleman export/import firm or buy the goods from a domestic wholesale. A good price isn’t a price at all until you can actually make it happen. So if that overseas wholesaler seems out of reach because of bad customs import history or the product has a pattern of issues at customs screening points, let it go. It’s simply not a practical and viable option. Yes, the domestic supplier alternative may cost more, but it’s a relationship that can actually be realized versus more exotic overseas possibilities.

The above is not to say overseas export is not possible, it is. International export happens every day by the thousands of shipping containers. One just needs to look at the Port of Los Angeles to see the related import product traffic. However, good research by a retailer business can save a lot of headaches and loss of money when a shipment gets stuck indefinitely in a customs warehouse.


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