Filling out customs forms properly is a tedious, albeit crucial part of international shipping. If you send items overseas regularly, or you run an import-export business, then you’ll know how seriously border authorities take custom forms.
For those new to international shipping, it’s easy to make a mistake on a customs form. And once you make one mistake, customs officials will put your subsequent shipments under more scrutiny. Errors on customs declaration forms can have severe consequences, so you should make appropriate efforts to avoid costly errors.
Learning the most common mistakes can help you avoid them. But first, why do you need a customs form, anyway?
Why do you need a customs form for international shipping?
Every time you ship goods across international borders, you must include a customs form. You declare the value of your goods and acknowledge that you have complied with importing and exporting laws of both the sending and receiving countries.
Why do you have to declare the value of the goods you ship? Every country has the right to levy taxes and duties on items entering their borders, and customs forms allow border authorities to assess goods efficiently. Forms also serve security purposes, allowing border officials to ensure nothing dangerous or illegal enters their country.
When you don’t fill out customs forms correctly, you can face steep fines and penalties that slow down your shipments.
Here are the nine most common mistakes importers and exporters make when filling out customs forms for international shipments.
1. Underestimating value
If you don’t correctly estimate the value of your goods and put the wrong amount on your customs form, you could be in serious trouble. It’s illegal to falsify the value of your exported goods, so don’t let an overseas buyer convince you to lower the valuation to avoid paying higher fees, and don’t try to talk your importer into doing it either.
2. Using the wrong HS code
All goods that cross borders must carry the proper Harmonized System (HS) code. These codes are regulated by the World Customs Organization and help border authorities determine if tariffs apply to imported goods. If you’re importing into the US, you need the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) code as well. Failing to put the correct tariff codes on your shipments will delay them, possibly forcing you to pay to store them in a warehouse somewhere while you get the codes sorted out.
There are more than 5,000 HS codes in use, so we wouldn’t blame you if you’re unsure which one to use for your goods. BorderBuddy can help you identify the exact HS or HTS code you need to import your shipment and reduce costly and time-consuming errors at the border.
3. Incorrect recipient address
If you’re an eCommerce shop regularly shipping your products to overseas customers, then you have a lot of foreign addresses to deal with. When the customs form contains the wrong recipient address, your package may end up at the wrong place, or the transport company will be unable to deliver it.
4. Adding wrong or no contact information
When you fill out a customs form for shipping goods overseas, you have to provide the sender’s contact details. Putting the wrong phone number prevents border authorities from contacting you when something goes wrong and delays your shipments.
5. Inputting incorrect AES information
You don’t just fill out customs forms with paper and a pen. You must also complete electronic export information (EEI) in the Automated Export System (AESDirect). You have to include data such as quantity and units of measure for your goods. Either you or your freight forwarder can file with AES, but make sure the information is correct.
Want to avoid the most common packaging mistakes when shipping internationally? Read our guide.
6. Not properly labeling hazardous materials
Some items require special labels when you ship them across borders, such as food or hazardous materials. Not only do you need to include a hazardous materials label, but it must be filled out correctly. People who fill out labels for hazardous goods should be trained on how to do it because improper labeling leads to disastrous consequences.
7. Attaching the form or barcode incorrectly
Make sure you attach your customs form to your shipment correctly, and that the barcode is visible. Transport companies like DHL, FedEx, UPS, Canada Post, and USPS all have instructions for attaching customs forms to packages heading to overseas destinations.
8. Not abiding by specific import-export laws
International trade is heavily regulated. Each country has different laws concerning imported goods, such as requiring an Automated Manifest System (AMS), origin certificates, or even fumigation of wood products. If the import laws of the country you’re sending to have certain paperwork requirements, you’ll need to abide by those in your export documentation.
9. Assuming your goods qualify for duty-free treatment
Free trade agreements help facilitate the exchange of goods between countries and can help you lower import costs. However, when you claim preferential tariff treatment on your shipped items, you must be certain they qualify. Assuming they do when they actually don’t, and labeling your products as such is fraud and you could face a fine. It may also cost your customers, who could pay steep penalties for your mistake.
Need help calculating import tariffs into the US or Canada? Use our duty calculator to see how much you’ll pay to import your goods.
Fill out your customs form correctly
A lot can go wrong when filling out your customs form for international shipping. If you’re a new exporter, or you don’t export very often, you may not know exactly how to fill out a form correctly. When you work with a certified customs clearance agency like BorderBuddy, we’ll help you fill out your customs forms and ensure all your export documents are accurate and complete.
Don’t make costly mistakes on your customs forms, let BorderBuddy help you stay compliant and avoid penalties. Contact us today to get started!