by Kevin Chen
What to do when your shipment is stuck at customs
Having a shipment stuck at customs can destroy your customers buying experience and incur cost in terms of lost revenue, when either incoming or outgoing goods get stuck, but what is the best thing to do when your shipment is held at customs?
There are many reasons why a shipment might be stuck at customs, these reasons can differ in severity from high (your goods are prohibited) to low (having the incorrect paperwork). Whatever the reason your goods are held, these simple tips will help you get your goods moving avoid issues with customs in the future. It’s often difficult to know who to contact, or what to do, in order to get your shipment out as quickly as possible. These tips will help you find out what is going on with your shipment and help you get it on time.
Contact your 3PL provider
Your first action should be to contact whoever has shipped your goods. For numerous reasons, the shipper will often only talk to the seller about the shipment. Contact the seller, find out what is happening with the shipment and if they missed out any of the important documentation required to smoothly move your shipment over the border. Your seller will be able to contact the shipper and get more information concerning your shipment and the problems faced. You should also make sure that you are given a tracking code from your seller, which will enable you to accurately track your package. The best way to do this is generally through the courier’s website, where you will be able to find out what is happening. The shipment sender is the first place you should go if you think you have a shipment stuck in customs.
Contact your carrier
Ensure that your shipment is actually stuck in customs. Often express shippers like DHL or FedEX will be able to have customs clear your shipment. Generally, the best way to contact carriers is by phone, but beware, often carriers use premium rate numbers which can quickly become expensive. Contacting the shipper will help you to identify if there is anything you can do to speed up your shipments time in customs. Make sure you have your tracking number on hand, as it will help you shipper locate your package.
Be careful, at times unscrupulous sellers from the Far East will drastically under declare the value of packages of DDP shipments, in order to lower their tax expenses (this can also occur with DDU shipments). Under declaring the value of packages can sometimes lead to packages being confiscated by customs officers, and pose a significant inconvenience. While it might be nice not having to pay tax by under valuing a shipment, this is tax evasion, so make sure it doesn’t happen to you. Actively communicating with your shipper, and being aware of these situations, may help you get your package released quicker and avoid any potentially nasty situations.
Find out if there are outstanding taxes
Many countries impose taxes on shipments over a certain value, if these taxes are payable on your shipment it will be held until the outstanding balance is paid. If you use a standard express shipper or the postal service they will pay the tax for you (DDU), clearing your goods through customs and charging you an administration fee. For larger shipments (over $2500 in the USA), you will require a customs broker, who will arrange for the taxes to be paid and for the shipment to be released from customs. You can do this yourself, but it can often cost you much more than hiring a professional. Make sure you understand the customs clearing process, tax arrangements and that it is paid, otherwise you risk having the package returned to your warehouse or even destroyed.
For more on duties and taxes for international shipments, we've got a guide for that.
Ensure there is no missing or incorrect paperwork
Missing paperwork is one of the most common reasons for delays in shipping. Depending on the size and value of your shipment, the documentation required may vary. Even simple mistakes like the seller forgetting to attach an invoice or CN22 customs form can cause significant delays to your shipment. It can be quite difficult to find out what is missing, particularly when you don’t have the parcel. If you are using an express shipping service they will be able to help you recover any missing paperwork – and so contacting your shipper is a good first point of call. If you do indeed have a missing document, they will be able to advise you best, in may just be a case of emailing them a document. Incorrect paperwork can cause considerable customs headaches, make sure your documents are in order and aren’t in the wrong language or alphabet.
Unfortunately if you have chosen to use a slower form of shipping such as airmail, in many countries customs is a slow and stressful process. Be prepared to simply wait to receive your shipment. Often, shipments are held up in customs to check that the contents of the package and the value of the goods were declared accurately. There is little that can be done to stop or speed up these random checks and attempts to such may just be a waste of time. If you are a shipper, the best you can do is properly declare the items you send by carefully filling in the proper documentation.
If your shipment is sent via the postal system, waiting is often the best option, as tracking is notoriously unreliable and often it’s better to just relax. Your shipment will come eventually, but it might take some time. Keeping calm is part of the battle, try not to stress too much about the delays, your shipment will come eventually. Sometimes the package tracking can be inaccurate, packages can disappear somewhere and reappear elsewhere, hold on, it will come. Fortunately, the postal system is great when it comes to customs – your shipment will be automatically cleared and released, you just need to wait and pay any payable taxes if you’re approached, it is a very easy process but also very slow.
Using a platform like Easyship can help ensure that customs delays are a thing of the past for your business. Easyship ensures that all of the customs paperwork is in order and that your orders are delivered on-time. Customs delays can ruin the customer experience, and is the prime reason customers are hesitant towards ordering internationally. Make sure that your business has no problems shipping internationally by using Easyship.
Want to learn more? Check out our definitive guide to International Shipping