Customs brokerage is a collection of disciplines, services, and approaches that help businesses and individuals send and receive shipments across international borders. Customs brokerage is normally carried out by a licensed customs broker who ensures that the import, export, and management of goods meets national and international laws, regulations, and standards.
Firms that perform these services on behalf of clients are known as customs brokers or customs house brokers. In the US, customs brokers act as intermediaries on behalf of their clients and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Customs brokers ensure that shipments imported into the US meet all relevant federal requirements. Importers often outsource their customs requirements to licensed customs clearance brokers, who can provide a wide range of necessary and value-added customs services.
GEODIS is a licensed customs house broker for imports into and exports out of the United States and many other countries worldwide. The information in this guide relates to US-based customs brokerage services.
- Customs house brokerage greatly simplifies the import and export of products into and out of the US.
- Customs brokers must be licensed, and they act as intermediaries between clients and US government agencies, especially CBP.
- Customs brokers ensure that imports and exports meet regulations, file any required documents, clear goods through customs, obtain permits, deal with issues, and pay duties and other fees.
- Additional customs services include client education, duty drawback refunds, onward logistics, tariff engineering, reporting, and consulting.
- Customs brokerage is not mandatory but is recommended, as it removes a great deal of the overhead and inconvenience of dealing with complex federal processes and agencies.
The customs brokerage process
Here’s how the customs brokerage import process normally works:
- You provide pre-entry preparation information to a customs broker. This includes product details, tariff code classification, valuations, invoices, and shipment details.
- The broker reviews the pre-entry information, requests missing details, and carries out any early filing with the relevant agencies.
- Goods are received into the US. The broker files any necessary documents with CBP, reviews responses, and deals with any issues.
- A customs clearance broker monitors the release status of the goods and keeps you informed. The broker will coordinate any additional permits, licenses, inspections, or documentation.
- CBP marks products for release and removes any holds on the imported goods.
- The broker manages any payments of duties, taxes, and fees to CBP and other government agencies.
- The broker will carry out any post-entry activities, including audits, summary corrections, CBP requests, or other follow-ups.
- The broker will provide further integrated services as required, such as onward transportation and storage, foreign trade zones, tariff engineering, duty drawback, bond management, or other consulting.
- You work with supply chain partners to receive and process products.
Get in touch with GEODIS to learn how our services can help you with every step of the customs brokerage process.
GEODIS customs insights
GEODIS has a 50-year history dedicated to customs brokerage, longer than most of our customs brokerage competitors. We service multiple Fortune 500 companies in various key commodities. Our customers range from very large companies to small-to-medium size organizations.
The benefits of customs brokerage
Customs brokerage provides several benefits to businesses that can take advantage of it:
- Eliminate the hassle of importing and exporting goods: Let a licensed customs broker deal with federal agencies on your behalf so you can focus on running your business.
- Reduce the bottlenecks and delays in clearing goods through customs: Ensure that agencies have all of the correct and necessary documentation for fast clearance.
- Lower duties, tariffs, and other fees: Use tariff engineering, customs optimization, and duty drawback to keep your costs to a minimum.
- Mitigate your import and export risks: Comply with customs rules, get the licenses you need, avoid penalties, and minimize your overheads.
- Stay up to date with rules changes: Interact with your customs broker to get training and updates on rules changes that impact imports and exports.
Customs house brokerage services
Customs brokerage brings together many services associated with the import, export, and management of goods and documentation across geographical borders. We’ve highlighted some of the key duties of a licensed customs broker below.
Stay aware of rapidly changing customs rules and regulations
Import and export rules can be complex, and they can change rapidly. A customs broker stays up to date with the latest laws and regulations to ensure that their clients remain compliant with required standards.
Laws do vary significantly between countries and trading partners, so customs brokers are aware of how changes elsewhere will impact imports and exports with the US. Brokers will educate their clients on any changes required as a result of new or updated laws and regulations.
Understand the type, purpose, and nature of goods
Customs rules, tariffs, and classifications change depending on the nature of products being imported or exported. A customs broker can advise on the right methods for moving goods through customs to avoid delays, meet regulations, and reduce costs. Customs brokers provide accurate product classification that can save clients considerable time, money, frustration, and effort.
Prepare and submit customs documentation and declarations
Customs brokerage firms prepare official customs documentation, foreign trade documents, claims, and declarations on behalf of clients and submit that information to official government bodies.
Customs documentation varies depending on points of origin and entry, types of products, trade agreements, intended use of the goods, and several other factors. Brokers work with clients to prepare and file regulatory paperwork across many areas including:
- Declarations of import and export.
- Countries of origin and destination.
- Type and intended purpose of goods.
- Tariffs, duties, and other taxes.
- Clearance from specific agencies including the FDA, USDA, and others.
- Duty drawbacks and refunds.
- Special permissions.
In most cases, customs brokers will prepare and file documents electronically.
File documentation and obtain licenses from US regulatory agencies
There can be 40 or more US agencies involved in the customs process. Agencies that commonly receive customs documentation include US Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). A customs broker will file the necessary documents with each agency and obtain any necessary licenses and permits for the clearance of imported or exported goods.
File customs information using electronic systems
Most US agencies have transitioned to electronic systems, especially for customs clearance and control. A customs house brokerage will file documentation using these government systems to ensure complete, accurate, and fast data transfers. Customs brokers can offer a variety of electronic filing options including standardized processing, systems integration, document imaging, Electronic Data Interchange, and more.
Obtain permission and customs clearance of goods for import and export
Customs brokerage firms arrange for the approval and acceptance of goods through ports and other points of entry and exit in the US. This is known as customs clearance and requires the correct entry documents, processes, and admissibility requirements.
A customs clearance broker will also liaise with US government agencies and obtain required licenses, permits, or other compliance needs. Brokers may also arrange for onward transport of products to warehouses or other destinations, especially if they are part of an integrated supply chain and logistics business.
GEODIS customs insights
“For GEODIS, customs brokerage is an end-to-end product. It doesn’t matter what a client is bringing in, we want to give them a complete service. That extends from daily customs clearance transactions to trade services, or managing an FTZ. If you’re bringing in bananas, it’s not just about clearing customs. We talk to the FDA and the USDA, and get all of the licenses and clearance that our clients need. They don’t need to worry about all the individual aspects of it, we can take care of that.”
Brian Riley, Senior Vice President CHB, Americas
Manage a customs control tower for effective sharing, tracking, and reporting
A customs control tower will trace, coordinate, and report on customs flows in countries across the world. The control tower provides a centralized view of product movement and clearance, and provides clients with full transparency and tracking. The customs control tower can act as a centralized platform to gather, manage, and share information across all key stakeholders in the supply chain.
Calculate the value of goods and amounts due from tariff and duty payments
Tariffs and duties are taxes paid when importing goods into the US. These taxes can be charged at varying rates depending on the imported goods’ origin, destination, type, quantity, and other factors.
A customs broker will calculate the value of imported goods and any associated duties, tariffs, or other taxes. They will also help importers understand the total fees they will need to pay when importing goods, and suggest ways to lower those fees.
Make payments to government agencies on behalf of clients
Customs brokers can pay tariffs, duties, and other taxes on behalf of their clients. Brokers will remit payments to CBP and other government agencies for the import of goods. They can also provide detailed tracking to clients for accurate budgetary control.
GEODIS customs insights
“We’re the bridge between our customers, the customs agencies, and sometimes our customers’ attorneys. We often advise from a paralegal perspective, and provide our brokerage expertise on customs matters. There is so much involvement with customs that each day brings a new scenario where we can help our clients.”
Robert Chin Quee, Senior Vice President, Customs Brokerage
Advise on tariff and duty engineering
Tariff engineering allows importers to make changes to the design and manufacture of goods to lower the tariffs and duties paid. A customs brokerage can advise on realistic approaches to manufacturing and design to reduce the burden of tariffs.
Claim refunds as part of duty drawback
Importers can claim a refund of duties paid if they re-export previously imported goods out of the US. This refund is known as duty drawback. Products can be re-exported in their original form or after going through a manufacturing process. A customs brokerage will gather the necessary information and file a duty drawback refund claim on your behalf.
Provide inspection of goods
Customs brokers can act on behalf of CBP and carry out inspection services to ensure that goods are compliant and meet required standards.
GEODIS customs insights
Whether you’re importing or exporting, we offer in-depth customs brokerage across every transportation type—ocean, air, truck, and rail. We provide a wide range of value-added services, all designed to help you process, manage, and distribute your cargo. We handle every aspect of your end-to-end customs clearance process, including documentation, declarations, and payment of duties and taxes.
Assist with dispute resolutions and audits
Customs brokers can act as representatives on behalf of clients if they run into issues with government agencies, supply chain partners, or other stakeholders. Brokers are well-positioned to talk to CBP on the client’s behalf, as customs brokers are recognized by CBP as qualified and authorized parties. Brokers can also assist with audits, by preparing supporting information and helping clients navigate the audit process.
Consult on customs requirements and optimization
Brokers use their extensive experience to provide valuable advice to clients. For example, they might consult on labeling, packaging, customs quotas, routing of goods, free trade agreements, storage, port congestion, and a variety of other areas.
Integrate with other logistics services
Large customs brokers, and those that exist as part of an integrated logistics firm, can often provide additional services to clients transporting goods across borders. These services may include Foreign Trade Zones (FTZs), FTZ-bonded warehouses, customs bonds, temporary import and export, and several other services.
All GEODIS customs house brokerage services are handled in-house by licensed professionals.
Licensing of Customs Brokerages
Customs brokers can be licensed as individuals and as businesses. CBP issues and oversees customs brokerage licenses, and all customs brokers must pass strict exams to achieve their license. Customs house brokerage companies like GEODIS are required to have at least one officer who is a licensed customs broker. CBP empowers and gives authority to licensed customs brokers to conduct customs business on the agency’s behalf.
According to CBP, “Brokers must have expertise in the entry procedures, admissibility requirements, classification, valuation, and the rates of duty and applicable taxes and fees for imported merchandise.”
All GEODIS customs brokers are fully licensed by CBP.
GEODIS customs expertise
Our trade compliance experts bring their experience and knowledge gained from past careers in customs brokerage, forwarding, Customs and Border Protection, and import/export companies. Our team includes licensed customs brokers, certified customs specialists, certified export specialists, former CBP lead auditors, and CPAs.
GEODIS customs brokerage services
GEODIS provides a comprehensive, complete range of customs house brokerage services as part of an integrated logistics and supply chain business. Our customs brokerage services include:
- Providing end-to-end customs brokerage at all US points of entry, fully integrated with global ocean and airfreight operations.
- Preparing and filing customs documents electronically, including foreign trade documents, declarations, claims, and other information.
- Classifying products coming through customs according to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule.
- Clearing all goods through customs for temporary or permanent import or export.
- Obtaining any necessary licenses for the import or export of goods.
- Calculating and paying customs duties, tariffs, taxes, and other fees on behalf of our clients.
- Filing claims and collecting refunds as part of duty drawback.
- Transporting and storing goods as part of our international supply chain, transportation, and logistics services.
- Optimizing customs and carrying out tariff engineering to reduce duties and other fees.
- Storing goods in a Foreign Trade Zone, bonded warehouse, or other storage facilities.
- Centralizing customs reporting and information sharing via a customs control tower.
- Reporting and record keeping for all aspects of the import, export, and customs clearance processes.
- Consulting on all aspects of customs brokerage to help clients lower fees, remove delays, meet compliance, and optimize processes.
- Educating clients on important changes to customs laws and regulations so they are properly prepared for new rules and frameworks.
- Supporting clients with goods inspection, audits, and other regulations.
GEODIS customs brokerage membership
We are members of various government and trade organizations, including the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association, Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations of Customs and Border Protection, Trade Ambassador, Trade Leadership Council, and the International Federation of Customs Brokers.
We are also a WCO SAFE (AEO, CTPAT, PIP, etc.) certified partner who will act on your behalf to ensure compliant services and transparency throughout every step of your customs clearance process.
Get in touch with GEODIS today and discover how we can optimize your customs brokerage.
Frequently asked questions about customs brokerage
What government agencies are involved in the customs process?
Importing into and exporting from the US is a highly regulated process involving over 45 federal agencies. The central and most involved agency is Customs and Border Protection. As the largest law enforcement agency in the US, CBP is responsible for the regulation of the import process and administration of the regulations for numerous other agencies.
How does a customs broker help with import and export?
A licensed customs broker can be invaluable to a trading company, especially when navigating complex regulations and requirements. Customs brokerage brings real expertise to companies and helps customers avoid unnecessary costs and delays by managing the customs clearance process. Customs brokerage helps customers remove the overheads of dealing with customs and other government agencies, allowing them to focus on the management of their core business.
Are customs brokers located at or near ports or other points of entry?
They can be, and many customs brokers have a local presence near popular import destinations. However, systems like the Automated Broker Interface mean that many customs brokerage duties can be performed remotely, without requiring a local presence.
Am I required to have a customs broker clear my goods?
According to CBP, you’re not legally required to use a customs broker to clear your goods. However, it’s often a good idea to use a licensed broker as they can ensure that your paperwork is completed and filed correctly, and help you avoid delays and meet regulatory requirements.
Who is responsible for complying with CBP regulations?
Ultimately, it is the importer that must comply with CBP rules and regulations. Although a licensed customs broker can provide many services when importing goods, the legal responsibility for imports falls to the importer of record.
What does a US customs clearance broker do?
A customs clearance broker is specifically focused on getting goods through customs and having them released by CBP. A clearance broker helps to navigate the regulatory and licensing process, ensures that all of the necessary paperwork is completed and filed, and troubleshoots any issues with the entry or exit of goods.
What does GEODIS provide as part of its customs brokerage services?
GEODIS customs brokerage is a complete, end-to-end service that facilitates the customs clearance process for importers and exporters. A team of GEODIS experts acts as intermediaries on behalf of our clients. We interact with government agencies throughout the importation and exportation process, ensure that all the proper customs procedures have been followed, secure the lawful release of cargo, facilitate the payment of duties, taxes, and fees, and ensure that all government requirements have been satisfied.
How does the GEODIS customs brokerage daily entry process work?
We perform a customs brokerage daily entry process for our client accounts as follows:
- Receive documents from suppliers and importers.
- Review documents for discrepancies and inconsistencies.
- Follow up on any additional actions or information to ensure complete and compliant entries.
- Review the invoice product classification against the database provided by our clients.
- Processed entries using the Customs Automated Broker Interface (ABI) system.
- Prepare and transmit entries to CBP within five days of arrival, based upon document receipt.
- Monitor product entry status for any irregularities or delays such as manifest holds, audits, or inspections.
- Communicate cargo releases and dispatch delivery orders accordingly.
How big is the GEODIS customs house brokerage network in the US?
GEODIS US customs brokerage operates in 13 offices throughout the country. Practices can vary from port to port, and our staff are experts in the practices at their specific ports. Staff also develop relationships with personnel at their ports and their local carriers to facilitate the smooth flow of cargo within each port. Offices are not limited to filing entries in their local port, however, as each office is able to transmit entries into any port in the country. This allows certain clients to be centralized where all of their entries are handled by a single office which creates greater efficiencies and enhanced compliance.
Our customs experts will handle all import and export customs declarations for your goods in due time, and work with local customs authorities according to local constraints and agreed conditions. We will accurately carry out the movements of your goods to facilitate your international flows in a customs territory.
Does GEODIS provide client training and education on customs brokerage?
GEODIS believes strongly in sharing our knowledge and experience for the benefit of our clients. We offer several client education channels including seminars, email notifications, knowledge bases, account management, and other forums.
What value-added services does GEODIS provide to clients for customs brokerage?
GEODIS offers several value-added services, including Importer Security Filing and management services, foreign trade zone (FTZ) services, Merchandise Processing Fee savings initiatives, C-TPAT counseling, and Trade Services consulting including product classification, customs audit program, duty drawback, and reconciliation.