If you have ever sent a parcel to a non EU destination then you are likely already familiar with the words ‘customs clearance’. You may even have experienced the frustration of a customs clearance delay first hand, or worse yet, had your parcel held by customs until you provide the additional clearance details they need.
Well, whilst there is nothing you can do about the actual customs clearance process, or the customs regulations, there are things you can do to prevent your parcel experiencing a clearance delay in the first place.
Customs Authorities are local government authorities and their jobs is to assess and inspect any imported goods that arrive into their country, and to levy duties or taxes that they may deem applicable. Couriers and shipping agents have no hold over customs authorities, and cannot influence their decision on duties and taxes.
If you are sending a parcel outside of the EU, you will have to provide a shipping invoice (also sometimes known as a ‘customs invoice’) for customs clearance. This is a mandatory requirement, and all goods travelling across the EU border will be accompanied by a shipping invoice. If you don’t provide a shipping invoice with your parcel, it will not leave the UK, and the courier will likely refuse even to collect it.
The shipping invoice should be as comprehensive as possible, and must include the following information:
- Shippers address (collection address)
- Receivers address (delivery address)
- A ‘sold to’ address ( only if this address is different from the receiver’s address)
- A ‘goods description’ (e.g. clothing; 2 x denim trousers, 4 x cotton socks, 1 x cotton t shirt)
- A reason for export (e.g. free of charge samples, a gift, sale of goods)
- A total value of the goods, as well as a breakdown of the individual values of each item
The customs authorities will use all of the information on the invoice to determine if they need to apply any import duties and taxes to the shipment. Make sure you break down all the information, and give as many details as possible to avoid customs applying the wrong import charges to your goods.
Always be honest with the information you provide on the invoice for customs; any discrepancies could mean severe delays with the delivery of your parcel! Once the customs authorities have your parcel in their possession they legally own it (until it’s released), and if you don’t comply with their regulations they have the authority to cease your goods permanently.
A tariff code is a universal customs clearance code used by the clearance authorities to determine the level duty and tax for each item you’re sending. As every product has a different level of duty and tax, customs will use the ‘tariff classification’ for each of your items to decide how many charges to apply. You can look up the tariff code for your goods prior to sending your parcel and add this tariff code onto the shipping invoice for custom clearance. Doing so will help to ensure a speedy and accurate clearance process at the other end. It’s important to note that your courier cannot do this for you. It must be the shipper of the goods who completes the shipping invoice.
Duties & Taxes
Every country applies different amounts of duty and tax to different categories of goods, and whilst it may seem unfair that your receiver will have to pay import taxes or duties when you have already paid for the delivery, unfortunately this is a legal requirement. Remember that your courier does not apply the duties and taxes – it’s the government’s import legislation in the country you are shipping to.
Duties and taxes will vary from product to product and country to country, and can change frequently. Therefore, your courier cannot advise you of how much these charge will be in advance; the only way to find this out is by contacting the customs clearance authority in the destination country and provide them with the details of what you are sending.
Always include your receiver’s contact details, including telephone number and email address on the shipping invoice to avoid extra delays with clearance.
Tax IDs & Import licences
In addition, your receiver may need to provide their tax ID, or apply for an import licence in order to clear the goods through customs in the local country. To avoid delays with customs clearance, find out if this is required in advance by contacting the local clearance authority in the country you are shipping to. Alternatively you could ask your international courier to investigate this for you prior to booking your parcel.
If a tax ID is required, then ask your receiver to provide you with this information so you can add it to the shipping invoice prior to shipping, to avoid any additional clearance delays.
Following these simple tips will really help to ensure that the customs clearance of your parcel is as accurate, fast and smooth as possible.