A seamless shipping experience through customs involves foresight, planning and a seamless transit process. However, it’s not unusual for delays to occur, some out of your control. These are six of the most common reasons cargo gets held up in customs.
Incorrect or missing documentation
Shipping internationally involves a great deal of paperwork. Make sure you understand all the requirements involved, including:
- Product codes
- Textile samples
- Content description
- Shipment documentation
When it comes to documentation, one of the most common errors is a vague content description. All descriptions must be detailed and accurate, including quantities and value. Product information should include brand name, model and serial number. If a name or address is not complete, the shipment will get delayed.
Depending on the products, you might need to secure certain government forms, such as a Dangerous Goods Declaration or Toxic Substance Control Act declaration. Other U.S. federal agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC), might also require documents. Agencies like these in other countries may also have specific requirements; these should be investigated in advance of shipping.
Documentation and information must be complete and accurate for cargo to get through customs.
Late receipt, loss of documents
Documents arriving behind schedule will always cause a delay. However, paperwork that goes missing during transit is also a common problem. Any document loss can cause issues for the receiver, who cannot get cargo released without them. In the meantime, the container can incur heavy demurrage due to not being discharged within the agreed-upon timeframe.
Losing the original bill of lading would be the most problematic setback. If this occurs, you would first have to take out an advertisement in the local classifieds about the loss of the original bill.
Then, you would have to secure a court order advising the shipping lines to deliver the cargo to the receiver. The carrier will need a Letter of Indemnity, relieving them of liability in the event of personal injury caused by the delivery.
Holds and exams
Any cargo entering the U.S. from another country is subject to holds and exams by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to verify compliance with laws and regulations. A vehicle and cargo inspection system exam uses a giant X-ray machine to peek inside your shipment without the need to open it. A tailgate exam, on the other hand, looks inside cargo without physical handling. Some batches are subject to intensive exams in which agents go through each batch piece by piece.
The U.S. government can place holds on shipments, a common factor in delays. The U.S. Department of Agriculture can place a hold on any goods to ensure animal and plant health. Packages that are not properly fumigated from a country with known issues may get flagged.
If you’re shipping products such as food, cosmetics or drugs, the FDA can also place a hold. The agency typically asks for more information and will physically inspect the cargo. In some cases, they may take a sample of the product for further testing.
Incorrect tariff classification codes
The United States, along with more than 200 other countries, bases product classifications on a system of six-digit tariff codes for more than 200,000 commodities. The purpose of the system is to establish shipping uniformity among nations, especially those with open trade agreements. Without codes, the global commerce market would be a mess.
In Canada, around 20 percent of shipments arrive with the wrong tariff classification code. As a result, the government loses approximately $21 million in tariff revenue each year.
However, identifying the right code can be challenging. The general rule of thumb is to choose a category heading most specific to your product. Misclassified cargo will get held up at customs.
Late container returns
Loaded shipping containers get sent to the container yard at a port. Each slot on the shipping vessel has a cut-off date, or time of return for the loaded container. If not returned on time, the container could miss the scheduled ship, delaying arrival. Late containers are a prevalent cause for delay of sea shipments.
Avoid setbacks due to late containers with proper planning. By configuring all domestic and international logistics ahead of time, the container can get returned on time, reducing holdups. When buying free-on-board shipping – a term for when goods get delivered from one destination to another through maritime, inland or air shipments – always be very specific with suppliers about deadlines.
Port or terminal congestion
Congestion happens when a port or terminal has more shipments than it can handle. In China, it’s common for this to happen around Chinese New Year, which occurs near the end of January and beginning of February. It’s best to anticipate these dates and time your shipping needs strategically.
Some ports are on the search for streamlined solutions. The Port of Oakland, for example, just signed a 13-year lease with Shippers Transport Express. The transportation firm moves loaded containers away from the docks, relieving congestion and speeding up the flow of cargo. The firm can haul 300 loaded containers off the terminal each night, and stores them at a less crowded pickup point nearby.
International shipping process, especially goods crossing into the United States, can be a tricky process. A great deal of documentation is necessary, and one little mistake – such as a vague product description or missing serial number – can cause a major setback. Planning will ensure you have everything you need for a secure and timely shipment.