Clearing Customs: A How-To
You have a great product. It’s so great, in fact, that it’s drawing attention from all corners of the world — something you might not have imagined or prepared for. So now that you’ve become a global company how can you make sure your shipments move across borders quickly and smoothly? Where do you go for answers? Stay put — we have them here.
Stanislas Clement is a customs expert. As a senior regulatory affairs advisor for FedEx, it’s his job to keep on top of a country’s import regulations, to understand on a deep level what any developments mean for his customers, and to translate it into easy to understand shipping guidance. He and his team also make recommendations to other countries on updating their customs policies and technology. And when a shipment experiences complications, he works to expedite and clear those deliveries as seamlessly as possible.
Moving between these two worlds has given him a number of insights on best practices for how businesses of any size can cut down on customs delays and keep their goods on track.
Thanks to today’s computer technology, a package’s shipping info will often arrive far ahead of the package itself. “Ninety-two percent of our shipments into the U.S. are cleared before they even land,” Clement says.
Not all countries have the infrastructure to clear imports from the air, but Clement hopes to see more markets heading in this direction. In terms of speed and efficiency, it can’t be beat. However, when importing is all about that wireless data, the shipper needs to make doubly sure the data is as complete as possible. Here are some tips Clement has for customers:
- Pay attention to which customs forms you need. Even if you are already exporting into one country, specific requirements can vary from region to region and even by country.
- Determine which documents to use, and, for fewer errors, submit and store them electronically.
- Fill out all forms fully and accurately. For instance, when paperwork asks for the monetary value of your goods, don’t round down. Customs officials can flag a shipment if they suspect it to be undervalued. The more detailed your descriptions, the easier it is for agents to approve your shipments and send them on their way.
In recent years, Clement has seen e-commerce lead to a dramatic surge of first-time exporters.
“You open up a site and suddenly you’re an international company. A lot of folks don’t realize that,” he says. As long as there’s connectivity, consumers can be from all reaches of the world. “When there’s a good price and good service, they’ll purchase it.”
Which means you need to be somewhat knowledgeable about how customs is handled in the countries you’re (inadvertently) doing business in. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the rules and regulations of a foreign country, Clement says you’re not alone. The surge of new exporters has also meant a surge of people looking for export guidance. Luckily, resources are available, and that makes it easier than ever to find answers. You can get information on regulatory requirements and export compliance for overseas markets on export.gov.
In addition, from time to time FedEx creates webinars, and every day we personally answer shipper questions. When a customer asks Clement about an area outside of his expertise, he can refer to a huge online database and a team of qualified colleagues stationed all around the world. And differences in time zones means he can often get the information within 24 hours.
Another advantage to relying on this network? “Because we’re on site and on the ground, we can identify what’s trending,” explains Clement. As economies wax and wane, Clement keeps an eye on which countries currently offer the best opportunities.
He also recommends the Customs section of the FedEx® Small Business Center as a useful source of information. The site is clearly categorized into topics making it simple to find answers.
Unfortunately, due to constantly shifting political situations, following the world of international shipping means tracking an ever-changing set of import regulations. Sometimes, the rules alter overnight, leaving customs officials and businesses alike scrambling.
The stakes can be high. “You could get seized. You could get fined. It’s becoming more and more difficult to ship,” Clement says, “and that’s why it’s important to have the right partners, to not only get the shipment overnight but to have the information to get it cleared.”
If your shipment is held or delayed by customs, the advanced tracking feature on fedex.com will automatically inform you of the reason for the delay and will immediately begin to work with you or the consignee to obtain the missing information required to clear the shipment.
One of the best ways to eliminate unexpected delays? Get your clearance news from a source that gets updates even before the changes are implemented. Clement is involved with putting out the FedEx regulatory news and alerts, designed to keep shippers everywhere in the know and on-schedule. It’s available for free, no registration required. And in the democratizing spirit of the Internet, companies receive fast, high-quality information, no matter their size. “It’s the same for everyone.”
For more up-to-date customs guidance, visit the Customs section of the FedEx Small Business Center.
You can also speak directly to a FedEx Customer Service representative or access other FedEx and U.S. resources for information on shipping internationally and growing your business globally. Go to the FedEx International Shipping Resources page for phone numbers and helpful links.
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