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How to Import – Internet Purchases, Postal Service, Couriers and Freight

There are three ways goods can be sent to you from abroad. In order to avoid costly problems, you and the seller of your goods should agree on which will be used the international postal service, a courier service, or freight carriers. International Postal Service: Merchandise shipped through the international postal service is forwarded upon its arrival in the United States to one of Customs International Mail Branches for clearance. If the item is less than $2,000 in value and is not subject to a quota or is not a restricted or prohibited item, a Customs official will usually prepare the paperwork for importing it, assess the proper duty, and release it for delivery. This procedure is generally referred to as a mail entry.

Packages whose declared value is under $200 ($100 if being sent as a gift to someone other than the purchaser) will generally be cleared without any additional paperwork prepared by Customs. However, Customs always reserves the right to require a formal entry for any importation and generally exercises this option if there is something unusual about the importation, or if important documents such as an invoice or bill of sale do not accompany the item.

If any duty is owed, Customs will charge a processing fee for clearing your package. Duty and the processing fee are usually paid at your local post office, where your package is forwarded.

  • Hint: To speed a package through Customs examination at a port’s International Mail Branch, the seller should affix a completed CN 22 or CN 23 (Customs Declaration Form) to the outside of the package. This form may be obtained at local post offices worldwide.
  • Plus: Pretty economical.
  • Pitfalls: If the item’s value is more than $2,000, it may be held at the mail facility until you can arrange for a formal entry. This may require either hiring a customs broker to clear your goods or you may file the paperwork yourself.

    Lost packages are hard to find. Since most packages sent through the mail do not have tracking numbers unless they are insured or you’ve paid to have a tracking number, it can be impossible to trace a “lost” package. If a package is lost a “tracer” should be initiated by the sender of the package.

    Courier Shipping: Goods shipped by courier, express, or other commercial service usually are expedited through Customs by a customs broker hired by that commercial service and then delivered seamlessly to your door. Customs brokers are not Customs employees. There are a number of different charges associated with these services, including shipping and handling, the fees charged by the service for clearing the merchandise through Customs, as well as any Customs duty and processing fees that may be owed on your importation.

  • Pluses: Get seamless delivery. All you have to do is sign for the package when it arrives. In most cases delivery is quick and reliable. When there’s a problem, there is a tracking number that can help resolve the matter.
  • Pitfalls: Many people have found the various charges and fees levied to be higher then they expected, and sometimes exceed the cost of their purchase(s).

    Buyers often have the misunderstanding that when the purchase price includes shipping and handling, all the costs associated with clearing the package through Customs are covered by the seller. They don’t realize that brokers fees and Customs duties may be an additional charge that the buyer is responsible for.

    Freight Shipping: Merchandise shipped by freight can arrive in the United States at an air, sea or land port. If your goods are being shipped by freight, you should ask the seller to instruct the freight company to forward them to your doorstep, which may entail the shipper’s use of a customs broker to clear your goods. Alternatively, ask that the goods be forwarded to a port of entry near where you live so that you can clear or “enter” them yourself (advisable only if the shipment is under $2000 in value. See Formal Entry below.)

  • Pluses: Can be economical, particularly, if you’re prepared to handle the logistics of clearing the goods through Customs yourself.

    Also, the best way to handle large bulky purchases.

  • Pitfall: If the freight company has not been instructed to forward your goods, they could end up sitting on the dock at the port where they first entered the country. If this is the case….
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