Although it’s not one of the more glamorous aspects of starting an import export business, customs paperwork is not something you want to be in the dark about. After all, your shipment could face customs delays (or worse) if you make a mistake with your documents.
Here’s the thing: the only way you can be sure to submit all of the proper paperwork is to hire a customs broker. No one expects you to become an expert on customs documents overnight, and that’s where your customs broker can help. An experienced customs broker can assist in filling out and filing the right paperwork.
Still, you probably want to get an idea of which documents are required for importing to the US. While your customs broker can give you more information catered to your specific situation, this list will help you prepare the basic documents you need for customs clearance.
1. Commercial invoice
Developing a commercial invoice is standard for importing to most countries. Its primary purpose is to provide enough information for customs to calculate duties. For your goods to clear customs quickly, make sure you have a thorough commercial invoice. Here are the details you should include in your commercial invoice:
- The total value of the shipment in both USD and the foreign currency
- A complete description of the item(s)
- The quantity of the item(s)
- The country of origin of the item(s)
- The place the item(s) were purchased
- The name and location of the seller
- The US address where the goods are being shipped to
Are you wondering how much you’ll need to pay in customs duties? Try our free customs duty calculator to get an estimate of how much you may owe.
2. Packing list
This document is similar to the commercial invoice and is prepared by your freight forwarder or shipper. It may be checked by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to verify the cargo. Your packing list must have the same information as your commercial invoice. Don’t miss our guide on how to choose a freight forwarder.
3. Bill of lading or airway bill
Whether you require a bill of lading (BOL) or airway bill will depend on which shipping method you choose. If you decide to use ocean freight, your carrier will send you a BOL signed by the owner of the vessel that lays out the contract of carriage and promises the goods will be delivered to the port of destination. If you choose air freight, you will receive an airway bill from the air carrier instead of a BOL. An inland bill of lading is the equivalent of a BOL for land transport (shipping via rail, road, or inland waterway).
4. Customs bond
A customs bond is an insurance policy between the importer of record, CBP, and a bond surety company. It is mandatory for all shipments valued at $2,500 or more that are entering the US. CBP requires a customs bond to guarantee all customs duties and taxes will be paid. If you don’t pay duties and taxes, the bond surety company will pay CBP and then take legal action to make you pay them back. You can get either a single-entry bond or a continuous bond. Consult your customs broker to determine which bond is best for your company.
5. Proof of IRS number
To allow your goods to clear customs, CBP needs to see proof of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) number. This number shows them who the goods will ultimately be delivered to and should therefore belong to the buyer of the goods. It can be either an Employee Identification Number (EIN) for businesses or a Social Security Number (SSN) for individuals. If you are registered as a Non-Resident Importer to the US, you should already have an EIN.
6. Importer Security Filing
This document is only required for ocean shipments. You need to file an importer security filing (ISF) online with CBP at least two days before your cargo leaves the original port in order to avoid fines. An ISF should include the following information:
- The seller’s name and address
- The buyer’s name and address
- The importer of record number
- The consignee number
- The manufacturer or supplier’s name and address
- The country of origin of the goods
- The party that is receiving the goods
- The harmonized tariff schedule (HTS) code of the goods
For common FAQs about importing and exporting, click here.
7. Government certifications (if applicable)
In certain cases, you will need to obtain special certifications from other government agencies in order to import your goods. When you’re importing food to the US, you may need these additional certificates for customs clearance. Check with your customs broker to determine whether your goods require extra certifications.
When it comes to properly handling documentation, no one can do it better than an experienced customs broker. Having imported over half a million items to date, BorderBuddy is the best customs broker you could ask for. We’re here to help you with all of your customs documentation for importing to the US. Give us a call today.