“How to do customs clearance in the US?”… “What are the port-related documents?”… “What is the customs clearance fee for the US?” - and you might have a hundred other questions. Port customs clearance can be a bit overwhelming with several things to consider like port filing documents, compliance, brokers, and whatnot. Freight not! Read on to get an overview of port filing for customs in the US. We’ll cover:
Customs clearance process for imports and exports
Documents required for port clearance
Various customs duties & taxes you have to pay
How can customs broker help in port filing
Importing to the US
The Customs Border & Protection (CBP) is in charge of handling all US port clearance procedures.
Import Customs Clearance Process: US
Here’s an overview of port clearance for imports:
Entry: The process begins when you or your agent uploads the shipment packing list and other related documents (port filing) to CBP’s online system. Then, you file entry documents to notify about your shipment’s arrival at the port of entry.
Clearance: Based on the documents you file, CBP decides whether to clear your shipment or hold it for inspection. This is also the stage where CBP determines whether you owe any duties on imported goods. If so, you need to pay the dues within 15 days for clearance to avoid additional costs.
Inspection: If your shipment goes for inspection, it may be a random check. Or it may require additional compliance from Partner Government Agencies (PGA) as listed by the CBP. After you present the required documents, CBP releases your shipment and it’s free to move from the port to your destination.
US Customs Clearance Process
What is port filing for imports?
As an importer, you need to file several documents related to your shipment to CBP before it arrives at any US port.
CBP also requires an Import Security Filing (ISF), specifically for ocean freight, at least 24 hours before the vessel leaves the port of origin. ISF filings help CBP decide which shipments to clear faster and which to hold for inspection.
The complete process of filing relevant entry documents for shipping (import or export) is known as port filing. For imports, port filing is usually the earliest step in the port customs clearance process.
What documents are needed to import into the US?
You need these major documents to import your goods:
Arrival notice (with details related to shipper like location, consignee, arrival time)
Entry form (with details related to goods like country of origin, description, HS Code)
Certificate of origin
Purchase order or Letter of credit
Partner Government Agency (PGA) licenses (if required)
Customs Power of Attorney (if you’re hiring an agent)
US Customs Duties & Charges for Import
The duties and port clearance charges levied on your shipment depend on several factors, like types of goods, shipment value, country of origin, and more.
How are US import customs duties calculated?
CBP calculates and collects all duties and taxes applicable on goods imported to the US.
The rate of duties varies depending on the category of goods you import as per the HS Code. Harmonized Tariff Schedule Code (HTS or HS Code) is used by customs authorities to categorize and identify products for assessing customs duties.
As a shipper, file your goods under a particular category and mention its correct HS code on shipping documents — for correct estimation and evaluation of duties on imported goods.
What are the types of duties and charges for US imports?
While there are numerous charges involved, here are some common duties:
Custom Duty: Paid to CBP at a fixed rate, depending on the HS code and country of origin
Customs Clearance Fee: Paid to broker or agent as a service charge for filing and clearing customs
ISF Filing Charge: Only specific to ocean imports and sometimes covered in customs clearance fee
Inspection Charges: Only applies if your shipment undergoes an inspection
Penalties: CBP collects fines if you breach any customs regulations
Demurrage and Detention: Paid to the carrier if the shipment stays at the port for more than an agreed time period
Merchandise Processing Fee (MPF): Paid to CBP as a service charge for processing the shipments at the port
Harbor Maintenance Fee (HMF): Paid to CBP for the use of US harbours and ports
Customs Bond: Paid to CBP in advance as insurance against a shipper’s failure to pay duties or penalties
All imports require a customs bond for formal entries and containerized imports via ocean. And that sums up the most relevant information about port filing and importing to the US. Now that we know about imports, let's talk about exporting from the US and related customs filing. Keep reading…
Exporting from the US
Export procedures from the US are also handled by the Customs Border & Protection (CBP).
Export Customs Clearance Process: US
Here’s an overview of port clearance for exports:
Document Filing: After your goods are packed, file the packing list and other export documents with CBP via the Electronic Export Information (EEI) portal.
Clearance: CBP will inspect the goods and clear them to move through the port. Once goods are cleared for export, you need to inform the importing country’s customs.
Export: The goods load onto the vessel and move towards the destination port.
What is port filing for exports?
Usually, the port filing process for exports is similar to the one for imports. However, when moving goods out of the US, the port filing process happens after customs clearance. As a shipper, you need to file documents to the importing country's customs before your departure as part of the port filing process.
What documents are needed to export from the US?
Some of the major documents to export your goods include:
Certificate of origin
Bill of lading
Customs declaration certificate
Customs Power of Attorney (if you’re hiring an agent)
You also need to file in the Automated Export System (AES) through CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) system or any other platform connected to ACE for trade processing in the US ports.
US Customs Duties & Charges for Export
CBP doesn’t levy any customs duties on goods exported out of the US. However, you might have to pay charges to agents or CBP (in case of any inspections).
Customs Broker for Port Filing
Customs brokers are agents licensed by CBP to facilitate the shipment of goods on your behalf. They help traders meet federal requirements and ensure smooth customs clearance.
What are the roles of customs brokers in the United States?
As a customs broker, s/he has to fulfil these responsibilities:
Manage paperwork related to customs clearance (entry filing, invoices, packing lists)
Guide you with the correct HS code category and declare your goods appropriately
Interact with the customs authority and track your shipment
Acquire an insurance certificate and claim it (if required)
Arrange for a customs bond certificate
Depending on your service contract, your broker can help you with other responsibilities too.
Do I need a customs broker to clear my goods in the US?
When exporting from the US, a customs broker is not needed, but you must file your own AES.
When importing to the US, it’s not mandatory to work with a broker but most shippers hire one for convenience. However, if your goods are valued over USD 2500, you need a customs broker for handling the customs processes — unless you have a filer code with customs.
When hiring a customs broker, you also need to sign a Customs Power of Attorney, which authorizes your broker as a legal authority to process customs clearance on your behalf.
For informed decision-making, here’s a list of the pros and cons of hiring a customs broker:
Now, if you decide to go for a broker, make sure your broker has:
Experience working in the industry and locations you are shipping in
Good reviews from previous shippers and partners they worked with
Network of agencies and partners at their disposal
Valid license from CBP, if they’re based in the US
And That’s a Wrap…
Whether importing or exporting to the US, navigating customs can be a bit complex. But, knowing the basics of the customs clearance process always comes in handy.
Here’s a summary:
The process of filing entry documents for shipping (import or export) is called port filing.
While importing, file an Import Security Filing (ISF) for ocean freight at least 24 hours before the vessel leaves the port of origin.
Categorize your freight under the correct HS code for accurate customs duties estimates.
If your freight is valued over USD 2500, CBP requires you to hire a customs broker and do a formal customs entry.
For exporting to the US, you must file AES for trade processing.
Plan ahead, have the paperwork ready, find reliable shipping partners… and you can cruise the customs process like a pro. At Twill, we provide import and export customs clearance solutions to facilitate your trade requirements. Sign up to our platform to check rates and schedules now.