Working in international shipping isn’t without it’s difficulties. And while we all know that there are a lot of moving parts involved in international ocean freight or air shipping, U.S. based shippers traditionally assume that shipping over the border to Canada or Mexico will be relatively simple. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case.
Cross-border shipping is actually quite difficult. While the country you’re shipping to may be accessible by rail or road, it doesn’t negate from the fact that you’re dealing with two separate governments which involve tons of preparation, origin and destination Customs, and lots of documentation/paperwork.
If you’re relatively new to cross-border shipping, or are just hoping to deepen your understanding on the topic to prevent issues in the future, here are a few things to consider:
Find a Customs Broker in Time
A Customs Broker is incredibly important when it comes to shipping over the border. They are essentially representing you as a business on your behalf to U.S. and destination Customs. In other words – they need to have any and all information you would be expected to have at the border pertaining to your shipments.
If you don’t get a customs broker on time, your freight isn’t going to be making it over the border. While you technically could get a customs broker within 5 business days if you’re lucky, it’s smart to plan for a minimum time of 2 weeks to get one set up.
If you don’t have a customs broker set up in time, you can expect to have your cargo held and delayed at customs, as well as incur fees as time goes on.
Ensure Shipment Details are Correct
You might think that’s a “no duh” point, but you wouldn’t believe the number of shippers who “guestimate” or round up dimensions and weights on shipments. As you may assume, U.S. Customs isn’t too keen on that approach.
If you’re doing cross-border shipping, it is absolutely essential that you ensure all shipment details are correct. This involves making sure your Bill Of Lading and Commercial Invoice are completely congruent with one another, and that all dimensions, weights, and products in your shipment are correctly listed. Even minor differences between documentation and what you are shipping can land you in huge trouble with Customs (once again contributing to major delays and fees.)
Establish Communication Protocol Between You and Your Customs Broker
This is a big one that many shippers skip out on. Businesses work to find a customs broker, decide to start working with them, and then assume that everything is ready to go. They send their shipment on its merry way only to figure out that documentation isn’t in order and proper paperwork for transferring the cargo into the hands of necessary carriers ready.
Before you get to a discussion about what you’re shipping, where to, etc., make sure that you establish a communication protocol with your Customs Broker. How far in advance do they need documentation? What all do they need? After documentation is sent, what action items are left for both of you to do, and in what order does everything need to happen? Are there any shipment-location specific action items, and if there are, will you have necessary access to tracking data?
Finding Help with Cross-Border Shipping
If you’re new to cross-border shipping, or would like to learn how you can further streamline your process, please don’t hesitate to just call us and ask your questions. We deal with shipments to Canada and Mexico frequently and have several insights we’d be happy to share with your team! Shippers are often taken by surprise by GRI’s, Canadian-specific documentation needs, and other details that get overlooked during the first shipment.