Before You Buy From A Foreign Supplier - Check With A Customs Broker

Before You Buy From A Foreign Supplier - Check With A Customs Broker

For those who engage in global trade, a Customs broker is a vital piece of the international puzzle, and we aren’t just saying that because we are one. The pure volume of knowledge and specialized services provided by a trusted Customs broker to an importer is comparable only to those offered by a lawyer or a doctor. Certainly, you could defend yourself in court or Google-diagnose, but it is as inadvisable as it is dangerous and unnecessary. 

A Customs broker aims to help businesses and individuals navigate the often complex world of international trade. When it comes time to buy from a foreign supplier, there is no one better equipped to guide you and make sure you arrive at the other end confident in your purchase and headache-free. 

The benefits of using a Customs broker for cross-border transactions are many, but if you are curious about how we can help you get the most out of your foreign supplier purchases, then read on because there are many considerations to take into account when importing goods from foreign countries.

Customs Duties

While it is true that duties have generally trended downward over the past few decades, they are still very much a part of the global trade equation, and there are many ways for an importer to get it wrong. From assuming an import’s country of origin to simply misunderstanding what was covered under USMCA, there are pitfalls at every turn when importing, and it’s only through expertise that you can confidently know your costs, fees, and duties. 

One of the great benefits of using a Customs broker for cross-border transactions is the expert analysis you get on your imports. There is no guesswork when you have a broker on your side - we use our decades of industry knowledge and experience to determine how much you will have to pay in duty with confidence and accuracy. 

Countervailing or Dump Duty

These duties are essentially countermeasures to protect domestic industries and help contest against ‘unfair’ foreign competition. A perennially topical example is Canadian steel, which has significant duties placed on imported steel in an effort to even the playing field. For many importing businesses, these are not duties that are often thought about until they are confronting your shipment. A Customs broker can help you identify potential countervailing or dump duties before you ship. 

Other Government Departments and Agencies

One of the more common questions we get is simply ‘How can a Customs broker help me navigate import regulations from foreign suppliers?” If you are a person who is easily frustrated by paperwork or bureaucracy, then this is one of the most valuable services of a Customs broker. Our intimate knowledge of Customs regulations makes us uniquely valuable for an international importer, as knowing what organizations and regulations might affect your shipment is crucial for a smooth import process. 

Some of the organizations you might have to contend with when you ship goods internationally into Canada or the US include: 

  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency
  • Health Canada
  • Transport Canada
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada
  • The US Food and Drug Administration
  • The Department of Transportation
  • The US Department of Agriculture

Depending on your import, they all are going to want different things, not the least of which includes…

Special Documents and Certificates

If you are planning to import exotic imports like snakeskin boots, cars, or even pets, there are complex documents and processes involved - which is to say nothing of the sheaf of paperwork involved in mundane objects like soils, plants, meats, fruits, and vegetables. These items all require special documentation dictated by large regulatory bodies with many rules and little flexibility in their execution. In most cases, these documents have to be originals, which is particularly challenging if you are purchasing from an overseas supplier. Knowing what you need so you can ensure that your supplier includes them in the shipment is paramount to an easy import, and we can help you understand what you need before anything starts rolling. 

Free Trade Agreements

Without looking, do you know how many countries Canada has a free trade agreement with? At the time of writing, it’s around 55. If all you could think of is USMCA, that makes sense since it is the most prolific, but it would be wrong to think of it as standing alone. Not only are some items not covered by USMCA, but there may be opportunities to put other agreements to work on your behalf. Not only can a Customs broker help you with certificates of origin, but we can also help you identify opportunities to take advantage of other FTAs internationally. There are opportunities for those who know where to look for them, and it’s our job to know where to look.

Export Procedures  

There are a litany of additional corner cases, exceptions, considerations, pitfalls, and advantages waiting for the importer who relies on a Customs broker. Whether you are looking to see if you can import your golf cart today (you can’t; it counts as a self-propelled vehicle, and US Customs needs 72-hour prior notice for those) or if your shipment of novelty postcards from Mexico counts under USMCA (it should), a Customs broker can help you get through all the steps needed - no matter what it is you are trying to import internationally. 

When considering a foreign purchase - consult with a Customs broker first. Not only will this save you time, money, and frustration, but it will move you one step closer to your dreams of maximized profit potential.

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About Author
Gloria Terhaar
CCS (CA/US), CTCS, CBSA Prof. Designate

Gloria Terhaar began her career in Canadian customs brokerage 2007. She currently works in our Canadian division as a Trade Compliance Supervisor and Regulatory Compliance Specialist. Gloria has extensive experience in all aspects of documentation and regulatory requirements as they relate to importing products into Canada. Gloria is often called upon to train industry with some recent talks for MNP, the Surrey Board of Trade, TFO Canada and the BC Produce Marketing Association. In 2018, Gloria also participated in the Canadian Produce Marketing Association and the Canadian Horticultural Council advocacy event "Fall Harvest" in Ottawa where she participated in advocacy efforts for the Canadian produce industry.

While we strive for accuracy in all our communications, as the Importer of Record it is incumbent upon your company to ensure that you are aware of the requirements under the new regulations so that you maintain compliance as always.
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