How to import – the customs clearing process


An Introduction to customs clearing


One of the most important sources of income for any country's government is the collection of duties on imports. That is why all import cargo is to be cleared through customs before it can be collected from the terminal and delivered to the importer. This is such an integral, and also the most complicated part of how to import.


Lots of people think that customs are fools who do not know their jobs and can be bribed to suit the whims of the business or individual with less-than-pure intentions. Customs clearing is a very complex function and requires unique skills and knowledge and a very comprehensive infrastructure. Many have experienced the long arm of the law and realized that customs are not an organization to be messed with.


The fundamentals of the customs clearing that every importer needs to know when they learn how to import, is that the duties will be less on a commodity that is welcomed and much needed in the country of import.  Should a country not really need the specific product, a much higher rate of duty will be enforced.


There is a system in place called the “Harmonized Customs Tariff”, which differs from country to country, but is essentially the same as far as classification of products are concerned. The customs tariff prescribes the duties payable to customs upon importation of all goods into a country. That is where the importer is utterly dependent on the clearing agent who is trained in all aspects of customs clearing, customs tariffs, duties, etc, which forms an integral part of how to import.


All customs tariff classifications are based on certain uniformed codes, which to be fully understood, needs years and years of practice and involvement. The customs official in your country knows his power and is not afraid to let you know it, so best to conform to all basic rules and legislation and keep your side clean. Always keep in mind that all these strict rules and regulations are for the good of all concerned and should be adhered to at all times.


The customs clearing process entails a customs bill of entry to be processed through the local customs office. It is best to make use of the services of a clearing agent to do this for you. The charge for this service is nominal and a lot of time can be saved by using a professional person that knows the tariff code applicable to your commodity.


Basic information required by customs is the price of your product, the freight rate applicable, the commodity and commodity code, terms of sale, importer and exporter details, country of origin, how the product is packed, vessel name and voyage number and weight of the shipment. You will also have to disclose your importers code, which must be applied for through your customs office prior to import. All this information will be captured on the customs bill of entry.


Along with the bill of entry, customs requires the following documents:

  • Invoice
  • Packing list
  • Certificate of origin (only required by some countries)
  • Transport document, called Bill of Lading.

These documents will be supplied by the overseas seller.


You will also need the arrival notification which will be issued by the shipping line or operator, also called "ANF".


I trust you now have some food for thought and that you are looking forward to the day all your dreams come true and you can start thinking about actually making money with your new-found knowledge of how to import.


Congratulations, you now know the basics of how to import, with emphasis on the customs clearing process. Keep on the lookout for more informative articles on this exciting industry.


To get a better understanding of the whole importing process, read my first article in the series, How to Import – The Forwarding and Clearing Process.


Interesting fact: In 2003, Japan had the biggest merchant shipping fleet in the world with 3 942 ships.