What are Customs? An Overview of Customs Forms & Fees

Understanding customs and some tips for properly filling out customs forms whenever you send an international shipment
what are customs
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Customs are a huge part of understanding the basics of international shipping. In a nutshell, customs are taxes on any international shipments. The customs forms you’ll need to fill out depends on the country that you’re shipping to, and whether the purpose of your shipment is business or personal.

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Where Can I Find Customs Forms?

If you use shipping software to buy postage, it will most likely help you generate a customs form for your international shipments. However, for your reference, here are some links to grab customs forms for all four major international shipping carriers (USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL):

Some Tips for Filling Out Customs Forms

  • Represent the contents of your package truthfully—it’s the law! If it’s a gift, call it a gift. If it’s merchandise, call it merchandise.
  • Declare the correct value of the item so your recipient pays the correct amount in fees. If you don’t declare the proper value of your items, your shipment will be hit with duties and tax disputes.
    • Heads up: items with high value go through more stringent checks. Therefore, always make sure to choose the proper packing material that makes it easy to unpack and repack your shipment.
  • Fill out the form COMPLETELY. Double-check that you included the names and addresses of both the shipper and seller, an accurate description of the items, exact purchase prices for the items, total weight of the package, and the right country of origin.
    • You may come across a field called “Harmonization Code.” This is not required, and it’s only helpful for non-English speaking countries.

Who Pays Customs Fees, the Shipper or the Recipient?

Generally speaking, the recipient is responsible for paying customs fees and import taxes, not the shipper.

Customs and import taxes vary from country to country, and different countries charge different values for different types of products. If a country’s customs department is holding your recipient’s package, then there’s a good chance your recipient needs to pay a fee in order for customs to release it to them. In this case, you should simply contact your recipient and let them know that’s what’s going on.

Help Prevent Surprises With Customs Fees By Managing Customer Expectations

The best way to avoid any surprises is to prepare your recipients for the possibility of paying customs fees. Even a simple disclaimer on your website would do the trick. In our experience, however, international shoppers typically expect to pay these fees if they have ever purchased anything online from a foreign country before. All that said, as long as you set the expectation with your international customers when they purchase something from you, then you shouldn’t run into any issues!

You Need to Include Commercial Invoices with International Shipments

Commercial invoices are an essential part of all customs forms. The commercial invoice is the primary document that foreign countries use for importation control, valuation, and duty determination. Also, commercial invoices identify the product(s) inside of packages. So, without these invoices, the destination country has no way to determine what the products are, and subsequently, how much customs duties and import taxes they need to charge the recipient.

What Kind of Info Appears in a Commercial Invoice?

Typically, you’ll find the following information printed in commercial invoices included with customs forms:

  • The name and address information for both the shipper and recipient
  • Phone numbers for both shipper and the recipient
  • Terms of Sale
  • Reason for exporting the item
  • A complete description of the item
    • What is the item?
    • What are the uses of the item?
  • Harmonized Tariff Codes, if known
  • Country or territory of origin (where manufactured) for each commodity
  • Number of units, unit value, and total value (purchase price) of each item
  • Number of packages and total weight
  • Shipper’s signature and date

Shipping Software Takes Care of All of This For You

If all the info above seems like a lot to keep track of, you’re not wrong! However, when you buy labels with shipping software, these commercial invoices get generated for you automatically along with customs forms, so you don’t have to worry about filling them out manually. On top of the huge savings you get by accessing special discounts from carriers like USPS, UPS, and FedEx, that’s another benefit of using shipping software to buy postage online. International shipping is complicated enough as is…so, let those guys take care of all this stuff for you!

Looking for some recommendations for shipping software? Check out our Reviews page to read recommendations written by shippers like you!

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