Importing 101

New to importing? Let CustomsNow™ show you the way...

CustomsNow™ can guide you through the process of becoming an importer while minimizing the risk of delays or penalties. Following is a high-level explanation of the key steps and requirements in the import process. CustomsNow™ is a fully licensed customs broker that you can retain to help you at every step of the way.

And when you’re ready to do it yourself, CustomsNow™ provides user-friendly, ACE-certified and Customs-approved software that enables you to “direct file” some or all of your transactions with top-notch customer support.

Importing Requirements

Customs Bond

A customs bond is required to import into the United States. This bond ensures that U.S. Customs will be paid the duties owed. There are two types of bonds available -- a single entry bond and a continuous bond. While a single entry bond may be suitable for new importers with limited, sporadic shipments, a continuous bond is appropriate for more frequent imports. CustomsNow™ can assist you in securing your bond with a reputable surety.

Notify Party

It is critical that the bill of lading or air waybill for your incoming cargo list your customs broker (or yourself, if self-filing) as the Notify Party. To prevent delays or late-filing penalties, give the overseas contact/factory complete details of the U.S. contact for customs clearance prior to shipment.

Granting Power of Attorney to Your Customs Broker

Providing your customs broker with a Power of Attorney allows them to act on your behalf. Specifically, the broker can assist with determining the correct tariff number (which determines the duty rate to be applied), prepare your customs entry, pay duties, answer any questions that CBP may have about a specific entry, and much more. CustomsNow’s standard POA and related documents are available here.

Importer Security Filings (ISF)

If your import shipment will be arriving via an ocean-going vessel, then you must submit an Importer Security Filing (ISF) Customs at least 24 hours prior to your shipment being loaded on the vessel. Both customs brokers such as CustomsNow™ and freight forwarders offer this service. For those importers that prefer to self-file their ISFs, CustomsNow™ offers an ACE-Certified ISF solution that captures all of the information necessary to prepare, submit, and manage your ISF filings.

Entry Filing

Entry filing is a single electronic submission of information to U.S. Customs via the Automated Broker Interface (ABI) module (dedicated electronic “pipeline” to CBP) that consists of 2 parts. The first part, usually referred to as Entry or Cargo Release, requests that your cargo be released into your or your agent’s custody. If Customs decides to examine the shipment, the filer is notified via the electronic response of the Cargo Release. If so, as is generally the case for a new importer, there may be additional charges for the examination from Customs and/or the warehouse that prepares the exam.

The second part of the entry filing, called the Entry Summary, provides Customs with the estimated amount of duties and fees owed. Upon review, a CBP Import Specialist may request a copy of the invoice in order to validate that the correct tariff number was assigned to the product being imported.

As with ISFs, importers may hire a customs broker (such as CustomsNow™) to handle their entry filings. However, many importers choose to direct file some or all of their entries, using CBP-approved software such as CustomsNow™’s.

Partner Government Agency (PGA) Declaration (e.g. FDA, FCC)

If your shipment is subject to the oversight of any of the 47 Partner Government Agencies, such as the Food & Drug Administration or the Federal Communications Commissions, these PGAs may require submission of additional information in order for your shipment to be released. This information is sent to U.S. Customs electronically along with the Entry/Cargo release transmission (either by an importer’s customs broker, or by the importer itself if direct filing). CBP then forwards the information to the appropriate agency and serves as the conduit for receiving the PGA’s release on the cargo.

Payment of Collect Freight Charges

Even if an importer’s supplier pre-pays the freight to the U.S. port (e.g., the terms of sale are “Cost & Freight Los Angeles”), it is very likely that the carrier or forwarder will require some fees, such as a handling fee or warehouse fee, to be paid before they will release the shipment. Usually, the broker, or the self-filing importer, will pay any outstanding fees directly to the appropriate party.

Payment of Duties

CBP requires that an importer pay all duties and fees within 10 days of Customs’ release of an import shipment. The exception to this rule is if the importer has applied for and been approved for Periodic Monthly Statement (PMS) processing. In this case, all duties and fees owed for a given month are payable by the 11th business day of the following month. While customs brokers typically pay the duty on behalf of their smaller clients, many larger importers and all direct filing importers pay their duties directly to CBP to ensure they are paid timely and their accounting departments have all of the information necessary to properly book the payment in their ledger.

Issuance of a Delivery Order to the Destination Carrier

Once your shipment has cleared Customs and you have paid all freight charges, your shipment will be made available for pickup by either you or your nominated carrier. If you don’t have a preferred carrier, many customs brokers can assist you in locating the appropriate type of carrier. The broker will typically issue a delivery order to the carrier with all delivery instructions necessary to complete the delivery. Direct filing importers are fully capable of handling this function for themselves.

Recordkeeping Requirements

CBP requires that the importer and the customs broker retain all entry-related documents for a minimum of 5 years after obtaining a customs release. These documents can be retained in either a digital or paper filing system. The documents that typically must be retained are listed below and will be provided to the importer by the broker once the entry has been submitted:

  • Customs Form 7501
  • Copy of the Commercial Invoice
  • Copy of the Packing List
  • Copy of the bill of lading or air waybill

Automated Commercial System (ACE)

ACE is the new system of record for trade transactions that will replace the Automated Commercial System (ACS), US Customs’ legacy system. While the advent is ACE is discussed in detail on our ACE overview page, new importers ,when selecting a customs broker, should make sure the broker is using ABI software that is ACE-Certified by US Customs, as is CustomsNow.

Exceptional Support

Experienced Licensed Customs Brokers on support staff.

Go at your own pace

As a Licensed Customs Broker, CustomsNow™ can even assist you in transitioning to self-filing your customs ISFs and entries as your volume and understanding of the process increase.