If you import products from China to America, you likely cringe at the notification “Shipment On Customs Hold.” Custom interruptions can cause late shipments, unsatisfied customers, lost revenue, and an incredible headache. It could also subject you to hefty fines, storage fees, and even a seizing of your products. A customs hold could quickly cause a downward spiral that completely ruins your eCommerce business.

How can you approach a customs hold to get the problem resolved without issue and to release your products quickly?

The primary step is to understand from where the hold originates. Understanding the reason behind the customs concern can help figure out who you should contact and what documents you need to provide in order to unstick your stuck imports.


Incorrect or Missing Paperwork

Paperwork tends to be the most common reason that goods get stuck in customs. Even simple mistakes like forgetting to attach an invoice or CN22 customs form could hold up your shipment for weeks.

In order to solve this problem, you simply need to fill in or correct the information… but it’s not always that easy. Oftentimes, it can be challenging to find out what is missing from your paperwork, especially if you don’t have direct access to the documents that the customs officers are holding.

The required shipping documentation will vary depending on the size, classification, and value of the shipment. The most common documents needed for U.S. imports are:

  • Commercial invoice that includes description of goods, buyer, seller, shipper, ship to location, country of origin, quantity, weight, value, currency, classification
  • Bill of lading issued by carrier, which shows ownership and location of freight transportation
  • Packing list that shows the quantity, weights, and measurements of goods
  • Arrival notice issued by carrier to notify where goods should be released after going through customs

Some imports may also require a Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) declaration, dangerous goods declaration, or EPA, FCC, and FDA documents. All documents should be fully completed in the right language and in the proper order.


Incorrect Value or Classification

If you or your exporter misvalued or misclassified the items, customs will likely put a hold until the value is verified. Customs officers might think that you undervalued or incorrectly labeled the goods as a way to circumvent taxes or fees. To overcome this concern, you’ll want to phone your supplier or manufacturer to correct the valuation and classification on the box of imports. Generally, customs officers will want to speak to the exporter for verification of this sort of information.

It’s also important to note that some suppliers will purposefully undervalue their packages as a means of tax evasion. This is because Chinese exporters also have to pay a tax based on the value of their exports. This dishonesty on the part of your manufacturer can generate confiscated goods and a legal concern with your company as well. If this happens, you’ll need to work with a lawyer to avoid legal ramifications. You’ll also want to cease working with that supplier. For this reason, we recommend working with a middleman communicator like Ask Idea Sourcing who can ensure you deal with honest suppliers with legitimate operations.


Outstanding Taxes

Many countries, like the U.S., impose taxes on shipments that are over a certain value. If you do not pay these taxes, they will hold your future goods in customs until that outstanding balance is paid. Oftentimes, if you work with a postal service, they will pay the tax or fine for you in order to clear the goods. You would then pay the postal service an administration fee.

It’s important to work with a partner that understands this importing tax system. If you don’t properly pay your taxes, your goods could be returned overseas, destroyed, or fined. Working with an attorney or a service provider like Ask Idea Sourcing can ensure that your import business is always up-to-date on taxes and import regulations.


Prohibited Goods

If your items are prohibited (or believed to be prohibited) in the U.S., then your goods will be seized for further inspection. If your goods are seized by customs, the process tends to be more extensive than a few phone calls and additional information—even if your goods are completely legal. The process for seized prohibited goods is described below:

  • Your products’ file will go to the Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures Office (FP&F).
  • The seizure notice you receive will identify what and where your cargo was seized.
  • You’ll have 30 days to file a petition to release the seized shipment. You may need a lawyer to help ensure a smooth release.
  • Customs may grant your petition and release the goods or they can deny and not release.

Don’t go through this process alone. Failure to prove your goods are legal can have serious ramifications. Contact a lawyer immediately after receiving a seizure notice.


Random Checks

Sometimes customs will simply hold your goods for a random check. They will often look at the contents, the value, and classification to make sure the goods were declared correctly. Random checks are used to ensure the safety and maintenance of the U.S. importing process.

If your goods are held due to a random check, all you can do is wait. Some shipping companies can help get your goods released from customs faster, but you can’t fight a random check. The best thing to do is alert your customers that there is a slight delay in shipment due to a U.S. customs random screening; then, give them an approximate arrival date to avoid any major dissatisfaction.


How To Deal With Customs

U.S. Customs often won’t speak directly with the importer (you) for security purposes. They will deal with the transporter (3PL shipping company), the manufacturer (exporting supplier), or your service provider (Ask Idea Sourcing).

First, contact your shipper or carrier. They will help you understand why your goods are held up in customs. Be sure to have your tracking number on-hand. Sometimes these companies can work with customs to get the goods cleared. If you use a company like FedEx, they could have strong ties with U.S. Customs—but they are a challenge to deal with by phone and often have premium rate numbers.

If the shipper tells you that you need additional documentation or valuation clarification, you’ll then need to contact your supplier. A legitimate, honest manufacturer will be able to provide supplemental information for you to provide for customs.

However, shipping companies may only want to deal with the sender directly. This means that no matter what you try to do, your goods are in the control of the exporter until they get to your door. In this way, you can be left powerless and vulnerable against U.S. customs delays.

To avoid these concerns, you’ll want to work with a service company like Ask Idea Sourcing who can handle both sides for you. They have access to these communications to help get your products unstuck quickly and effectively.


The Bottom Line

Most holdups in customs are caused by a lack of communication between exporter and importer. This is why a middleman service provider is so crucial to on-time shipment success.

Ask Idea Sourcing will track your package and handle shipping logistics for you. You don’t have to deal with the headache of unsticking a stuck package or making thousands of phone calls between customs, shippers, and suppliers. Let us do the work to get your packages out of customs, so you can focus on selling and strategic goals.

Request a quote right now to have industry experts in your corner.

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