US Importers Should Establish Basic Customs Law Compliance Procedures

Importing goods into the US requires compliance with US Customs law, which is actually a complex set of statutes, rules, procedures and regulations that are located in a variety of sources. In addition to the statutes and regulations pertaining to determination and collection of customs duties, there are numerous laws and regulations pertaining to import transactions, particularly those that deal with various aspects of international traffic and trade. Moreover, given that imports present serious and substantial homeland security issues for the U.S., a plethora of new restrictions and procedures have been adopted to reduce the risk that terrorists will use U.S. ports to import dangerous and illegal items into the U.S.

General explanations of basic import requirements are provided on the website of the US Customs Service (“Customs”) at In addition, Customs regularly updates and revises a publication called Importing into the United States: A Guide for Commercial Importers (Importing Guide). The Importing Guide, which is written with the new importer in mind, is an extremely useful Customs resource. It provides the importer with a nuts-and-bolts type of guidebook to the importing process. It contains a great deal of general and specific information concerning basic import requirements, including lists of quotas and other restrictions on a variety of generic merchandise. A more succinct, but still very helpful, pamphlet on importing is also published by Customs is United States Import Requirements. This Customs resource offers only very general explanations of basic import requirements. It does, nevertheless, contain a number of references to other relevant Customs publications or sources for obtaining additional information.

Both Customs and the International Trade Resource Center offer the following suggestions of strategies for importers and their suppliers to work together in speeding up the customs clearance process: 

1. Include all information required on your Customs invoices.

2. Prepare your invoices carefully. Type clearly. Allow sufficient space between lines. Keep the data within each column.

3. Make sure that your invoices contain the information that would be shown on a well-prepared packing list.

4. Mark and number each package so that it can be identified with the corresponding marks and numbers appearing on your invoice.

5. Show on your invoice a detailed description of each item of merchandise contained in each individual package.

6. Mark your goods legibly and conspicuously with the name of the country of origin, unless they are specifically exempted from the country-of-origin marking requirements, and with such other marking as required by the marking laws of the United States. Exemptions and general marking requirements are detailed in the Importing Guide.

7. Comply with the provisions of any special laws of the United States that may apply to your goods, such as the laws relating to foods, drugs, cosmetics, alcoholic beverages, radioactive materials, and others.

8. Observe closely the instructions with respect to invoicing, packaging, marking, labeling, etc., sent to you by your customer in the United States. He or she has probably made a careful check of the requirements that will have to be met when your goods arrive.

9. Work with Customs in developing packing standards for your commodities.

10. Assure the security of your goods is maintained at all times. That means, for example, not allowing your goods to become a hiding place for illegal drugs or other contraband.

11. Consider using a carrier that utilizes the Automated Manifest System and a customs broker participating in Automated Broker Interface (ABI).

Companies should establish an internal department or unit to oversee importing activities and should create and enforce internal policies relating to compliance with laws and regulations governing the entry of goods in to the US, with special emphasis on steps that need to be taken to comply with US customs laws by preparing and filing appropriate documents, making sure that all applicable tariffs and duties are paid, and keeping all required records pertaining to importing activities.  For information on how to help your clients with customs law compliance, see Business Transactions Solution at Westlaw Next.

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