When finding out their shipment has been pulled for inspection, some business owners panic. Why are they inspecting your cargo? What does customs do with your goods when they’re being inspected? What can you do to prevent this from happening again?
Let’s answer these questions by looking at the customs inspection process for Canada and the U.S.
CBSA inspection process
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) oversees imports into Canada and is responsible for ensuring all goods pose no risk to the health, safety, and security of Canadians. Under the Customs Act, the CBSA has the right to detain and inspect goods before letting them into the country.
Why is CBSA examining your goods?
If your goods are held up at customs, it doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. Some items must meet standards set by other government agencies, such as Environment and Climate Change Canada, and CBSA is responsible for ensuring all those standards are met.
CBSA might also set your goods aside for a random check, to ensure you’ve complied with customs laws and regulations. They ensure that you’ve declared exactly what you’re importing and how much. If you’ve falsely declared cargo, the CBSA has the right to seize the goods and impose a penalty of between 25%-80% of the value of the cargo to get it back.
Finally, the CBSA may check your shipment for non-compliant goods, such as narcotics, pornography, and contraband. If you’re not trying to import anything illegal into Canada, then you should have nothing to worry about.
If you have a history of non-compliance or making errors with imported goods, your shipments may be singled out more often for inspection. First-time importers should also be wary of extra examination by CBSA, as the agency may carry out checks to establish your credibility as an importer.
How does CBSA handle your goods?
As a business owner who relies on selling their imported goods, you may feel concerned about damage to your products if they’re held up by CBSA. However, CBSA officers are bound by law to preserve the integrity of your cargo. They must also use high-security resealing processes when opening and examining cargo. CBSA also places goods in a safe, bonded facility until they’re cleared for entry.
If you receive your imported goods damaged, you may also file a claim to get the GST paid back on your next tax credit. Filing a claim with CBSA for damaged goods is a complicated process, and it’s usually best to let a customs broker deal with CBSA on your behalf.
What should you do if CBSA seizes your merchandise? Read our article to find out.
Customs examinations at U.S. border
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) ensures imported goods are up to customs standards and laws. Like Canada’s CBSA, CBP is tasked with preventing prohibited items from crossing the U.S. border, to protect national security.
Why does CBP examine shipments?
A CBP examination doesn’t mean something is wrong with your shipment. CBP uses an algorithm to rate shipments with risk factors, and may pull the riskiest ones for inspection. We can’t know exactly which factors CBP uses because they don’t publish this information. But some common reasons for extra inspection may be:
- You are a first-time importer
- You have a history of mislabeling shipments or improperly filling out customs declaration
- Your manufacturer or carrier is a high-risk entity
- You are importing items with restrictions
- Your shipment is packed in the same container as another shipment that gets stopped
- Your paperwork is incorrect
Hitting all these marks may reduce the chances your shipment will be held for inspection at the U.S. border, but won’t guarantee it. An experienced customs broker can help you export your goods from Canada to the U.S. by helping you reduce these risks.
What is a customs hold?
When your shipment is under a customs hold, there is likely something wrong with it. Typically, a hold is the result of incomplete paperwork, or unpaid taxes. You won’t be able to move your shipment out of U.S. customs until you resolve the error that’s holding it up.
Types of customs examinations at CBP
There are three main types of customs examinations that CBP could do on your goods:
- VACIS/NII: The Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System (VACIS), also known as the Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) exam, is the least invasive customs inspection. Your goods may undergo X-ray and Gamma-ray imaging systems to scan for contraband such as narcotics and weapons.
- Tail Gate: In a Tail Gate exam, CBP officers will break the seal on a shipping container and physically examine your cargo. They won’t touch the cargo, but the Tail Gate exam is still more invasive than the NII.
- Intensive Exam: The Intensive Exam is by far the most invasive inspection of cargo by U.S. customs. CBP officers will unload the entire shipment and physically examine everything. They will repack everything once they’re done, but it’s likely some of your goods will be damaged if the CBP officers don’t pack everything as carefully as you did.
When either U.S. or Canadian customs officials examine goods for importation, the importer will have to pay fees to cover the inspection.
Dealing with customs
As a business owner, it’s important to understand how goods move through customs so you can be prepared for any nasty surprises. Examinations at the border delay your shipments, which costs you money.
At Border Buddy, we help importers and exporters expect the unexpected when it comes to customs clearance. When you work with us, we’ll ensure you’re always ready to deal with goods getting held up at customs so you can keep focusing on running your business. Contact us today to get started.