Customs Clearance

Highland can coordinate customs clearance with brokers in USA. We also arrange customs clearance in all other countries through our partners worldwide.

We are familiar with and follow all customs rules and regulations. We guide each client through the process. With many DAP and DDP export shipments we will arrange clearance in most countries of the world, provide detailed advance quotes, duty rates and advise of possible additional documents required.

While many countries have a simple customs process with electronic releases, there are still many regions that are very paper intensive and the cost of the clearance process is then correspondingly high. In these markets, the clearance can take several days or more and often this means additional storage at the port and airport. This must be taken into consideration for any DAP or DDP shipment.

Even when exporting on DAP terms, make sure you clarify with your buyer(consignee) who will be responsible for storage in his country caused by slow clearance. Without defining this in advance, those costs will fall back to the exporter (shipper) even though they may have been caused by the consignee.

Specific to USA Imports


US Customs requires a customs bond for each shipment. This is to assure that the duty is paid even if the client defaults or classification/duty rate is changed after import.

A bond can have two forms: single transaction or annual bond.  Generally, any regular importer with annual imports over USD 100,000 per year should have an annual bond. Highland can advise on the best options and arrange for both.


Any cargo imported to USA is subject to trademark rules. US Customs is authorized to enforce the trademark law.  If your products contain any trademarked logos, etc make sure you have a letter of authorization from the trademark owner. Otherwise cargo will be seized by US Customs.


Generally all products being imported to USA must have a label showing country of origin. If during Customs exam any problems are found, cargo will be held for remarking.

Customs exams

A significant portion of USA imports are being inspected. The exams can have several different forms, such as X-ray, visual, tailgate and intensive.  It is important to keep in mind that any and all costs related to the exams must be paid by the importer of record or the party normally responsible for paying clearance and duty. Many companies are unpleasantly surprised at this extra cost they did not budget for.

Heat treated wood

Any wood packaging used must strictly comply to the ISPM-15 standards.

If non-compliant wood is found, Customs may not allow for fumigation or destroying of the wood. They may require that the whole shipment is re-exported back to the country of origin. This can of course create immense problems and additional costs.

Additional customs charges

Besides the rate of duty, US customs collects two other fees on their bill (customs form No. 7501).

  • Merchandise processing fee (MPF): 0.3464% of cargo value (usually min. USD 25.00 and max 485.00 per entry). This applies to all modes of transport.
  • Harbor maintenance fee (HMF):  0.21%: this applies only to ocean imports via USA ports. No maximum cap on the fees. For high value cargo, this can add up to a lot of money even if the duty is 0%. For example a container arriving via Montreal, Canada port and continuing to Chicago via rail will not have the HMF fee since it arrived at a non-US port.

Declared value for customs

In the USA, the declared value for Customs is the exworks or FOB port of export value. This means that the cost of transport and insurance is NOT dutiable. Make sure the commercial invoices itemize the freight cost if the total invoice is showing CIF or DAP prices.  Otherwise, we will help you make the deduction separately so as not to overpay for duty.

This calculation is different from most countries in the world that demand duty based on the cost of the product “landed on their shores”, ie. including the freight to get it there.  Advantage USA!

Other agencies involved in clearance

Many other government agencies may be involved in approving a release for a specific shipment such as: Food and Drug Administration, Firearms and Tobacco, etc. Each if these can put their own hold on the cargo and demand an inspection.

Temporary imports

For goods that are coming to USA on temporary basis, we can help arrange clearance under a carnet or temporary import bond. This exempts the goods from paying duties.

Common uses are imports for exhibitions, cultural tours or goods coming for repairs and being exported back.

Goods made originally in USA coming back for repairs in USA have no duty assessed regardless of the actual tariff code of the goods, so carnet or temporary bond is not needed.

Importer of record

Every import shipment must have a registered importer of record in USA. Sometimes there isn’t one (such as with exhibitions or when the actual buyer does not want to act as one).

In these cases we can help register the foreign shipper as a US importer.

Remote customs entry

Highland can help arrange remote electronic customs entries in all ports and airports of USA. This allows for expedited clearance at competitive cost and time savings for the client. Customs clearance is a very involved process that must be handled by professionally trained staff.

Highland is happy to guide and help each client with this process.