5.9 Customs procedures

International shipments enter a country through a seaport, an international airport or a land customs point. Countries control the flow of their imports and generate revenue through customs inspections, duties and taxes. Government customs agents will not release imported goods until all duties are paid or a customs exemption certificate is provided. If clearance action is not taken promptly, goods may be held in a ‘bonded’ warehouse and accrue storage charges.

In some specific cases when a state of emergency has been declared, the local authorities can grant free access with simplified custom procedures to import relief items for a determined period of time.

Generally, customs clearance can begin once the shipping documents arrive. Having the correct documentation in place before the consignment arrives allows quicker clearances, with minimum expenses. Required documents vary between countries and requirements may change.

The CO or emergency logistician should stay up to date on changing documentation and procedure requirements, including responsibilities and routing of supplies. To avoid unnecessary delays and costs, the procedure should be well documented, with a clear understanding of handling costs and other fees.

It is highly advisable to contract a clearing or forwarding agent to handle the complexities involved in receiving and clearing international consignments. Forwarding agents usually provide the most comprehensive service, including transportation services to carry the goods from the port to the final destination.

Check import restrictions before sending an international order. Some commodities may not be permitted or may require special documentation (for example, food products, drugs, telecommunications equipment).