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Do I Need A Customs Broker? When to Get Help

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Many first-time importers don't know when they need a customs broker. Fortunately, knowing when and when not to hire a customs broker is easier to determine than you might think.
Jacob Lee
March 25, 2022
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Last Modified: March 21, 2023

When first-time importers are planning to bring goods into the country they often ask themselves “Do I need a customs broker?” Importing goods regardless of their size, amount and how many is a complicated task. Knowing whether or not a customs broker is needed is one of the many things that leaves first-time importers scratching their heads. 

According to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), you will need a customs broker if the goods you are importing are regulated by another government agency. However, even when one is not required, you may need a customs broker for tariff classification, document submission, post-entry services, and more.

In this article, we will discuss the services customs brokers provide and when you need one.

What Does A Customs Broker Do?

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The services that a customs broker provides can vary based on whether or not the broker works for themselves or if they work for a company. What they all have in common is that they assist importers and exporters in following the federal rules and regulations involved in international shipping. 

Importing is a process filled with research and due diligence that takes up time. Working with a customs broker removes all of that work because they take care of these responsibilities for you. This saves you time, allowing you to focus on other tasks. Any part of the importing process that you do need to handle on your own can be done with a broker's guidance.

Customs Broker Qualifications

If the prospect of hiring a stranger to help you import or export your commodities seems a little risky, that’s completely understandable. Rest assured, Licensed Customs Brokers are reliable and trustworthy. 

Every active customs broker must be licensed by the CBP after completing the customs broker license examination that tests them on:

  • The HTSUS, or the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States
  • Title 19 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)
  • Specific Custom Directives
  • Customs and Trade Automated Interface Requirements Document (CATAIR)

To pass the examination, potential customs brokers must score at least 75 percent. Because of the qualifications that they must meet and the constant involvement with the importing process, customs brokers are very reliable sources to count on. In fact, CBP requires customs brokers to “be of good moral character.” 

Are Customs Brokers Required for International Shipping?

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If the goods you’re importing to the country are not regulated by any other government agency other than CBP then there is no legal requirement to have a customs broker involved with your import. However, if government agencies other than CBP regulate goods you’re trying to import, you will require a Licensed Customs Broker. 

Some government agencies that will require you to have a customs broker present during the importing process include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Even if you’re not importing products regulated by other government agencies, having the assistance of a customs broker is still helpful.

Do I Need A Customs Broker For Alibaba?

When it comes to importing goods from Alibaba, the same regulations and Customs rules apply. That said, you should use the services of a customs broker when importing from Alibaba regardless of whether or not the goods you want to import are regulated by another government agency. 

The manufacturers on Alibaba typically can’t provide you with the international shipping regulations, tariff classification, procedures, or documentation you will need to import their products. Customs brokers on the other hand can provide you with all of this information.

How Can A Customs Broker Help Me? 

Customs brokers can provide various types of services to an importer during the Customs clearance process. All of the services that a broker can provide will make importing a much easier and less time-consuming process for you. 


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A simple but useful service that customs brokers provide is consulting sessions. During a consulting session, you will be able to ask the customs broker any questions that you might have relating to shipping goods. 

Your broker will provide you with answers to your questions and help you through the entire process. Customs brokers will ask you questions of their own during the consulting session as well.

A customs broker is supposed to understand the needs of the importer and the best way for them to do that is to determine the things you have and haven’t considered. If you’re importing for the first time, there’s a good chance that parts of the importing process are unknown to you. 

When a customs broker asks you questions that you don’t have the answer to, they will use that opportunity to help you identify these issues that need to be taken care of.

File Documents on Your Behalf

Numerous documents are required to be submitted when you import goods into the country. Filling out the information that each document requires accurately and correctly is often intimidating for first-time importers. Customs brokers can either do this for you or help you do it yourself.

Some of the basic documents that importers need to provide are:

  • Commercial invoices
  • Packing lists
  • Bill of lading (BOL)
  • The arrival notice
  • Importer security filing (ISF)

Depending on the goods coming into the country, you may need additional paperwork. For example, hazmat materials will come with separate paperwork that will need to be provided as well.

Documents like packing lists, commercial invoices, ISF and the BOL will require descriptions of your goods. Writing out descriptions on your goods might seem easy, but the process can be difficult. Customs brokers know exactly the correct wording that must be used and what details should be included in the paperwork that will eventually go to Customs for your import to make entry. 

Ensure Duties are Paid On Time

Most items that are imported into the country will have duty fees attached to them. Failure to pay duty fees on time can result in your goods being held up at Customs. To make sure that doesn’t happen, your customs broker will make sure that these fees get paid when you hire them. 

Instead of paying Customs directly, you will instead submit the payment for your duty fees to your customs broker who will then submit it to Customs on your behalf. This guarantees that duty fees are always paid on time which will prevent your goods from being held by Customs. 

Assist You in Finding the Correct HTS Code

The United States Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTSUS) is used to identify taxes placed upon certain items that are imported into the country. The correct HTS code must be applied to your import otherwise you could end up paying more taxes for your goods than necessary. 

As we noted earlier, customs brokers are tested on their knowledge of the HTSUS. Customs brokers are useful in this respect because they can identify the code that corresponds with the import quickly and correctly. 

Although your customs broker can identify HTSUS codes for you, it doesn’t hurt for you to understand more about how these codes work. Our article on HTSUS codes and what they mean when you import will make their purpose clear to you.  

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Securing Import Data

One part of importing that is often overlooked is the fact that you must keep records of your imports for at least five years following the date your import made entry. This is a legal requirement that all importers are held to by CBP. Customs brokers can show you how to store all the data about your import.

While the custom broker that helps you get your imports into the country will have copies of your data, it’s also important to have your own. Customs brokers, like importers, need to have records of imports they bring into the country for their own legal reasons. 

That said, you should still have your record of import data on file which is something a broker can also help you with.  

Post-Entry Services

Mistakes can always occur during the importing process. Luckily, mistakes can be corrected if they’re caught in time. Post-entry services are just another one of many services provided by customs brokers. 

The purpose of post-entry services is to ensure that any import filing that you have done on your own is correct. If any mistakes are present, the customs broker will notice them and tell you how it needs to be corrected. 

More Accessible Than CBP

CBP might be the government organization that oversees regulations for imports and exports, but they aren’t the most accessible source of help during the importing process. Ports are busy places and CBP personnel are usually tending to other responsibilities around the port. 

Customs brokers are more reliable because their whole purpose is to help an importer get goods across the border and into the country. Unlike CBP, customs brokers tailor their service specifically to your needs.

How To Hire A Customs Broker

Every customs broker has a different process that importers have to follow to hire them. At USA Customs Clearance, our process is a fairly simple one. First, you will have to grant us the power of attorney or POA. Granting POA gives us the legal authority to transact customs business on your behalf. 

After granting us POA, you will simply need to fill out an actual customs bond for us. Once you have completed these two steps, you will officially have USA Customs Clearance at your disposal to help you with the importing process.

How Much Does A Customs Broker Charge?

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Customs broker's rates can vary based on whether they work for themselves or if they answer to a larger agency. Despite the variation in rates, the table below will show the price of different charges that importers will be expected to pay when they’ve hired customs brokers

Costs Associated with a Customs Broker

Basic Formal Entry$125.00
Other Government Agency Involvement$45.00
Annual (Continuous) Customs Bond$550-600
ISF Single Transaction Bond$125
ISF for Ocean Transportation$125.00-$150.00
ISF Filing Charge$35-$45

Single-entry bonds are excellent if you don’t plan on importing regularly. However, if you will be importing repeatedly, then getting an annual or continuous customs bond is the way to go. After paying for this type of bond, you can make any number of imports for an entire year. 

Our article on the different types of customs bonds will provide you with more information about bonds and how they can help you when you import goods. 

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Is A Customs Broker Worth It?

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Having the help of a Licensed Customs Broker when you import or export goods is well worth it, especially if you’ve never imported before. There are two main ways customs brokers can help you when you import goods into the country. 

Less Work For the Importer/Exporter

Customs brokers greatly reduce the amount of work an importer or exporter will have to do when they’re going through the Customs process. You will still have to fill out some documents yourself, but the customs broker will take care of most of them for you. Even when you fill out your documents, you will still have a customs broker to help you if you need the extra support.  

Saves Time

The importing process takes up a lot of time. Whether you’re importing once or you plan to start an import/export business and import regularly, your time is extremely valuable. With the support of a customs broker, you will be able to quickly complete the requirements expected of you. 

Choose USA Customs Clearance To Be Your Customs Broker

At USA Customs Clearance, you will find a knowledgeable team of customs brokers who will make you their first and foremost priority. We can provide you with all the customs broker services we’ve gone over with top-class customer service.

Another great feature of USA Customs Clearance is that our services go beyond international trade and Customs compliance. We also consider other aspects of the supply chain when it comes to moving your goods. 

If you need someone to pick your goods up from the airport or the cargo port, then we can find a carrier to pick them up and deliver them to your or a customer. Warehousing is another service we provide in case you need to keep your imported goods somewhere safe for an extended amount of time.

Whatever services that need provided while importing your goods and after they have arrived, we can offer you. Schedule your consulting session and tell us everything that you need to have for your import to be a success.

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