Customs clearance: 3 do’s and don’ts
By 2020, nearly 4,000 parcels were being sent every second worldwide. Dizzying figures, and the changing landscape in eCommerce means that even more packages are being sent internationally. As a web shop owner, you therefore increasingly have to take care of international parcel shipping. When you ship products within the European Union, you don’t have to deal with customs or possible costs. But the moment you buy or sell products outside the European Union, customs issues must also be dealt with. And that will probably cost you a lot of time. And therefore a lot of money. To get you started, we would like to give you some information about customs clearance.
What does customs clearance actually mean?
When a parcel is cleared through customs, it actually means nothing more than that your products will be delivered to your customer soon. Cleared through customs is in fact a release of those products. It is possible that the consumer will have to pay additional costs after customs clearance, so-called clearance costs.
Officially, Customs can hold a package for a maximum of 30 days. If you do not sell anything illegal, the parcel will arrive at your customer’s premises as usual. Unfortunately, it is not possible to contact Customs for any questions regarding parcels. To prevent customs from detaining your parcels, we give you three handy do’s and don’ts to optimise your customs clearance process.
Don’t: Doing international business unprepared
When a parcel goes through customs, additional charges may apply. Therefore, it is essential to prepare well for the customs process. You avoid unexpected surprises, both for you and your customer. There are three steps to this process:
1. Security check
Customs conducts a security check for all parcels. They check whether the import of these products is allowed in the country of destination. If this is not the case, customs will stop your parcels.
2. Clearing of the parcel
Once your parcel has successfully passed the security check, it will be cleared through customs. During this step, a variety of factors are calculated and checked, such as customs formalities, VAT, customs duties and any other costs (e.g. environmental rights). The recipient of the parcel must pay these costs directly.
3. Delivery of the parcel
Are all documents in order and have all costs been calculated? Then customs will release the parcel. From this moment on, the parcel will quickly reach the consumer’s doorstep. Please note that the entire customs clearance process can take several days. Want to know more about customs clearance, VAT, import duties or other formalities? Please contact one of our experts.
Do: prepare documents
To avoid delays at the border and the additional waiting time for your customer, it is important that you have the required documents in advance.
- Commercial invoice: include all required information in the commercial invoice. This invoice is used by customs to classify and process the shipment.
- Customs Documents: If your shipment is inspected by customs, it is mandatory to include customs documents with the shipment.
- Certificate of Origin: based on a COO (Certificate of Origin) a country can decide whether or not you are allowed to import a product into that country. With a COO, the country also checks whether the MFN (most-favoured-nation) import tariff applies. This tariff is usually lower than the general import tariff. In general, you do not need a COO within the European Union.
A complete and correct commercial invoice is the key to a smooth and swift customs clearance. Customs needs this information to determine possible import duties and taxes. So by correctly filling in the commercial invoice, you prevent delays on your shipments and thus for the consumer.
Extra tip! Describe the goods very explicitly on the commercial invoice. The description must indicate what the product is, what it is made of and what it is used for (if any). Write down the value of the products in the currency described on the invoice.
Don’t: Stating the wrong value
In order to maximise profits, as a web shop you can examine which aspects of your business you can save on costs. Some eCommerce companies therefore decide to falsify information on customs documents, such as noting a lower value of the parcel. In this way, sellers hope to pay less import tax or even avoid it. We do not recommend this! If customs questions your valuation, this can lead to delays and fines. The following scenarios can happen:
- You receive a fine for tax evasion. In the worst case, you may even be charged with non-payment of tax.
- The parcel is confiscated.
- The costs are higher. If you declare a lower value to customs and do not provide proof, customs may estimate the value of the products. This may increase the costs.
- The insurance does not cover the damage. When a parcel is lost or damaged, you will be reimbursed based on the amount noted on the parcel. As a result, the insurance does not cover all the damage.
- You build up a bad reputation. Customers can leave negative comments if the prices are higher due to customs fraud or fines.
Do: Be transparent about the (additional) costs
As an eCommerce store you should always be aware of the expectations of your customers. Especially in case of customs fees, which your customer might have to pay, depending on the Incoterm you choose.
If the customer is not aware of the extra costs, he or she may refuse the package at the front door. As a seller, you are then not only responsible for the return costs, but you also have to pay the customs fees. And this is the least of your losses, because the chance that you will lose the customer is considerable. Therefore, always be transparent about the possible extra costs involved in international parcel shipping. According to research, acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing one. All the more reason to retain customers and be transparent about costs!
Don’t: Avoid prohibited products
The last thing you want as a shop owner is for your parcels to be detained by customs. It is your responsibility to comply with the current government regulations of the country your package is shipped to. To avoid delays or rejected packages, please note that the following items are generally not allowed to be shipped internationally:
- Clothing, electronics of known brands without sales rights
- Food and beverages for human consumption
- Drugs and medicines
- Plants and seeds
- Weapons and knives
- Cash and bank cards
- Batteries for electric bicycles and other vehicles
- Forbidden toys (e.g. Fidget spinners)
Do: Save time and money
To make sure that the parcel shipping process runs smoothly and the parcels arrive on time, you can work with B2C Europe. We operate between the sender (you as a webshop), the transporters and your customers. But what exactly is the advantage of working with B2C Europe?
B2C Europe is your independent partner in logistics. We have our own distribution network and warehouses. This gives you access to all the major transporters in Europe via just one point of contact. You save money because of our purchasing volume and time because we pick up your parcels for you and return them for you. This allows you to focus on your business. Because you no longer have to negotiate with transporters yourself. We work together with carriers such as Correos, Hermes, LaPoste, DHL, PostNL, DPD and UPS. A tailor-made solution for your business, with only one integration.
And do you trade outside the EU? Then we will prepare the necessary customs invoices for you and we will advise you about your export and import shipments without obligation. We also keep an eye on all consignments and liaise directly with you and the carriers to prevent any problems during transport.
Contact one of our experts to discuss your business case.
Maersk announced its intent to acquire B2C Europe on August 6th, 2021 and today it is announced that A.P. Moller – Maersk has completed the acquisition.
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