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Customs Broker Basics: Answers to Your Cross-Border Shipping Questions

Did you know the value of goods getting shipped over the U.S.- Canada border every year is approximately $700 billion? The U.S.- Canada border is one of the busiest borders worldwide for freight shipping. Moreover, almost 62% of those shipments are shipped via truck.

Trucking has become the preferred method of cross-border transport due to the combination of cost, timing, and visibility. Because thousands of trucks cross the border every day, there is an industry of experienced cross-border professionals who can make the customs process easier.  

Understanding how the process works helps to ensure your goods can cross the border with minimal delays and zero financial penalties. Preparing a cross-border shipment takes care and consideration. To simplify your process, our first suggestion is to partner with a reliable customs broker. 

What is a customs broker?

A customs broker is a licensed individual or company that works with border agents to ensure goods being imported or exported meet all of the requirements. They are responsible for facilitating the clearing of shipments with customs. 

Do I need a customs broker?

In some cases, you won’t need to hire a customs broker for a cross-border shipment, however they will make the process much easier. While you may be able to clear your own shipment, there is a lot of documentation and paperwork involved. The smallest error may cost you significant time and money. Customs brokers are experienced professionals who help you avoid cost delays and penalties. 

Does it matter which side of the border my customs broker is located on?

Yes, it does matter which side of the border your customs broker is located on. For the U.S.-Canada border, you will need to have a customs broker located on the side of the border you are sending the freight to. 

  • If you are shipping to Canada from the U.S., you will need a Canadian customs broker.
  • If you are shipping to the U.S. from Canada, you need a U.S. customs broker.

Many customs brokers have partners on either side of the border who they work closely with. Depending on who you choose as your customs broker, in some cases you won’t have to get two separate customs brokers if you are shipping both ways.

How long does it take to get a customs broker?

You should allocate at least two weeks to set up your customs broker. Your customs broker will be in charge of your entire shipment, so it’s important for them to have as much information as possible regarding your shipment. They need to get acquainted with your shipper and carrier, so it’s important to dedicate ample time for them to gather all the information they need. 

What documentation is required for cross-border shipping?

Documentation is important for cross-border shipping. Both the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) require specific documentation in order for a shipment to clear customs. They need to know what you are bringing into their country, and where it came from. Remember, shipments get held at the border if documentation is done incorrectly, or if something is missing.

Your customs broker advises you on the proper documentation required for your shipment, including the following required documents for cross-border shipping:

  • BN or EIN
  • Bill of Lading
  • Certificate of origin (CO)
  • List of items
  • North American Free Trade Certificate of Origin (NAFTA CO)
  • Import Permits

How important is choosing the right transportation partner?

Choosing the right carrier is another important aspect to consider when planning your cross-border shipment. You will want to choose a transportation provider who has proven experience transporting cross-border freight. It’s important for you to choose a carrier who has keen attention to detail and ample experience. 

Cross-border shipping can be a complex process, but with the right documentation and licensed professionals, it can be a lot easier. For more information on importing into Canada, read this blog post

Categories: Customs, Global Trade
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