Frequently Asked Questions | Atlantic Customs Brokers and International Freight Forwarders
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Questions and Answers

What is a Freight Forwarder?

International Freight Forwarders are non-asset based service providers that coordinate the international shipment of goods for individuals or for companies. We are licensed by the federal maritime commission to do so, and use the services of ocean carriers to all points in the world. As independent freight forwarders, we explore all available shipping options to best satisfy the requirements of our customers.

What is a Customs Broker?

A customs broker is licensed by the Department of the Treasury to conduct Customs business on behalf of clients importing products into the United States. Becoming licensed as a Customs Broker requires that the applicant must first pass a test conducted by U.S. Customs on the laws and regulations pertaining to the entry of goods into the United States. If the applicant successfully passes the test then he or she must undergo a comprehensive background investigation by U.S. Customs.

What does a Customs Broker do?

Brokers submit necessary information and appropriate payments to CBP and other government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, U. S. Department of Agriculture, and the Fish & Wildlife Service, on behalf of their clients.

Brokers must have expertise in the entry procedures, admissibility requirements, classification, valuation, and the rates of duty and applicable taxes and fees for imported merchandise. They also arrange for the transportation and delivery of the merchandise to the named destination.

Do I have to use a Customs Broker?

There is no legal requirement for you to hire a Customs broker to clear your goods. However, many importers opt to do so not only for the convenience, but because realistically, they do not possess the knowledge or technology to effectively clear and deliver goods through Customs. Some entries can be particularly complex. Although the importer is always ultimately responsible for knowing CBP requirements and for ensuring their importations comply with all federal regulations, using a Customs broker also reflects a degree of reasonable care on the part of the importer in their transactions with Customs.

Before I import, what should I consider?

Requirements for importing specific commodities depend on a wide variety of factors.

Some information, such as whether an item is subject to quota, dumping, or countervailing duty restrictions, or restricted from entry because they originate in an embargoed country, can be determined only if you know the item’s Harmonized Tariff Schedule classification number.

Other requirements depend on other governmental standards. Many of the items governed by these various rules cannot be imported without a permit from the related agency. These agencies include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA,) the Department of Agriculture (USDA,) Fish and Wildlife, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA,) Consumer Products Safety Commission, and the Department of Transportation.

Merchandise and their packaging must comply with country of origin marking regulations.

The importation of trademarked and copyrighted items is restricted by contractual agreements that give exclusive rights to specific companies or individuals to distribute the product.

What is an HTS Code?

A HTS Code is a numeric code utilized in a global system of nomenclature that is used to describe merchandise.

Through the application of this code, the appropriate duties are determined. It stands for Harmonized Tariff System, a system which is used by nearly every country in the world.

What documents are required to clear a shipment?

Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney is required by Customs to be in our possession prior to acting on behalf of an importer. In the case of a corporation, the form must be signed by a corporate officer or other individual duly authorized to sign on behalf of the corporation.

Commercial Invoice

There is no specific format for an invoice, but it should be in English, and show the buyer and sellers names and addresses, describe the product in enough detail to ensure admissibility and proper classification, terms of sale, purchase price, and currency used. The invoice must also indicate the country of origin, and contain enough packing details to enable Customs to readily locate and identify a particular item should they wish to examine the product. The packing information is frequently prepared as a separate Packing List, and should also indicate the gross and net weight of each invoice line. Any selling commissions, assists, royalties, packing and proceeds must be also factored into the price or if not included in the value advised to us prior to entry.

Please note that country of origin and country of export are not necessarily the same.

If the shipment contains returned American goods, additional information will be required. Based upon the country or origin or merchandise shipped, additional documentation may be required.

Proof of Ownership

The transport document from origin to destination, such as an ocean bill of lading or air waybill, generally satisfies this requirement.

What is a Customs Bond?

A Customs Bond is required by Customs to protect the revenue of the government and guarantee the importers compliance with all Customs and other governmental laws and regulations.

A bond is not designed or intended to protect the importer, it is designed to protect the government. In lieu of a bond, the importer may post cash equivalent to the required bond amount.

There are several types of bonds that are utilized based upon the specific circumstances. We recommend that frequent importers take out a continuous bond.

Customs Brokers routinely issue bonds on behalf of licensed surety companies for this purpose.

What is an Importer Security Filing (ISF or 10+2?)

For containerized ocean shipments, Customs requires an electronic “Importer’s Security Filing” (ISF), listing important details about your shipment, at least 24 hours before it is loaded on a vessel bound for the U.S.

Does Customs Require an Import License?

CBP does not require an importer to have a license or permit, but other agencies may require a permit, license, or other certification, depending on the commodity that is being imported.

Do I need to insure my shipments?

Cargo insurance is a critical, but often overlooked aspect of the international transaction. Carriers limit their maximum liability substantially; ocean carriers limit their liability to $500.00 per unit shipped, and airlines limit their’s to about $9.00 per pound.

Additionally, further limitations may result from fire, acts of God, or “unforeseeable circumstances.”

In fact, if containers are damaged or lost at sea during an ocean voyage, and the carrier declares a condition called “general average” all the other cargo owners on the vessel must help pay for that lost cargo.

Please see our section on marine insurance.

How are your fees assessed?

Generally, our fees are based upon the complexity of the entry to be filed with Customs. For example, our fees for a shipment with a single item that is not subject to the regulations of another federal agency would be less than for an entry with multiple products. Other factors that would affect fees include importer security filing requirements (for ocean shipments) and bonding requirements.

How long does it take for my shipment to be delivered?

There are multiple factors that will affect the length of time required to obtain release from Customs and subsequent delivery. In actuality, two releases are required prior to delivery; the Customs release, and the freight release.

If the importer has a continuous bond on file, quite frequently the merchandise can be released by Customs within hours if not minutes. However, based upon the history of shipments from the shipper or to the importer, physical review of documentation or examination of the actual goods may be required. If an exam is required, based upon workload, as well as the type of exam, substantial delays may be incurred. The importer is responsible for payment of any additional expenses as a result.

For the freight release to be in place, payment of any charges due must be made, and if required, an original bill of lading must be surrendered to the international carrier as well. Once the merchandise is available for pickup at the importing carriers facility, the trucker will schedule the pickup and subsequent delivery.

What are User Fees?

There are two user fees applicable for most shipments:

The Merchandise Processing Fee (MPF) Effective October 1, 2019, the MPF for formal entries is 0.3464% of the entered value, subject to a minimum fee of $26.79 per entry and a maximum fee of $519.76.

The Harbor Maintenance Fee (HMF) is assessed against ocean arrivals only. The rate is 0.125% of the entered value with no minimum or maximum.

As part of our services, we calculate these fees on your behalf.

What is ``Liquidation?``

Liquidation occurs when Customs has made a final review of the information provided for a specific entry and is closing their file. Most entries liquidate 314 days after date of release.

How long must a Customs records be kept?

Customs requires that importers, exporters, carriers and brokers keep all entry documents on file for a minimum of 5 years from the entry date or the date of the last activity that required the maintenance of records.