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A Simplified Guide to Seamless International Shipping

Phuc Le
December 14, 2023

Prior to the delivery of your international shipment to the customer, it is essential for the goods to undergo customs clearance. Customs clearance involves the procedural steps required to facilitate the entry of goods into the country.

Importantly, each country enforces import duties and taxes on goods crossing its borders. This serves various purposes, including generating income, safeguarding the economy, protecting the environment, and ensuring the well-being of the citizens.

Yet, what transpires within a customs office often remains a mystery for many merchants, creating a potential hurdle in the path to successful cross-border shipping.

Fortunately, for the majority of merchants, the customs clearance process is straightforward and involves a simple four-step procedure. Armed with the necessary documents, completing customs clearance becomes a straightforward task, constituting a minimal challenge for 99% of merchants.



Importing goods internationally can unlock a world of opportunities, but navigating the customs clearance process can feel like a daunting maze. Fear not, fellow entrepreneur, for this guide will be your compass, leading you through the process in four simple steps!

Step 1: Assemble Your Documentation Arsenal

Accuracy is paramount! Gather these essential documents to ensure a smooth journey:

  • Commercial Invoice: Detailing your goods, their value, and origin.
  • Bill of Lading (BOL): Acting as your shipment's official receipt.
  • Packing List: Itemizing the contents of your shipment with precision.
  • Certificate of Origin: Verifying where your goods were born.
  • Import Permits: Required for specific products needing special authorization.
  • Insurance Certificate: Protecting your goods during their voyage.
Step 2: Calculate the Costs of Entry

Prepare for potential financial obligations by understanding the relevant tariffs and taxes. Research your goods' Harmonized System (HS) code to unlock the applicable duty rates. Many countries offer online duty calculators for your convenience.

Step 3: Submit Documents and Conquer Customs

Following the assessment, customs requests payment for applicable taxes and duties. If the shipment surpasses the tax threshold, customs officers verify whether duty and taxes have been settled. Furthermore, certain restricted goods may incur fees irrespective of their value. The choice between shipping with Deliver Duty Unpaid (DDU) and Deliver Duty Paid (DDP) becomes crucial at this juncture.

  • Delivery Duty Paid (DDP) entails prepayment of import duties and taxes. Most express courier services, such as FedEx, have customs brokers who handle this payment on behalf of the shipper at customs. DDP ensures a smooth customs clearance process, with the shipping cost covering any import fees.
  • Delivery Duty Unpaid (DDU) indicates that import duties and taxes are unpaid. In this scenario, the customs officer forwards the shipment to an independent customs broker for fee collection. Customs brokers charge variable fees encompassing brokerage, storage, and late payment, making this option potentially expensive. With fees unpaid, the broker contacts the recipient for payment, which may lead to customer dissatisfaction.
Step 4: Be Ready for Inspection (Optional)

While not all shipments require physical inspection, some goods might be subject to a closer look by customs officials. Ensure your packaging is accessible and compliant with regulations. Be prepared to answer questions about your shipment and provide any additional documentation requested.

Bonus Tip: Consider enlisting the services of a customs broker to unlock valuable expertise and ensure compliance, streamlining the process for a smooth import experience.

By following these four steps and understanding the key documents involved, you can navigate the customs clearance process with confidence, ensuring your imported goods reach their destination efficiently and seamlessly. Remember, proper preparation and proactive communication are key to a successful import journey.



The thrill of importing new goods can be dampened by the confusion surrounding duties and taxes. Fear not, intrepid importer! This guide will serve as your compass, navigating you through the process and demystifying these often-daunting aspects of international trade.

1. Unlocking the Secrets of the HS Code:

The Harmonized System (HS) code is your gateway to duty calculation. This standardized code acts as a fingerprint for your goods, revealing their applicable tariffs. Uncover your HS code through official government websites or specialized resources like SimplyDuty or Easyship.  Over 98% of traded goods worldwide are classified by the HS code system. (Source: World Customs Organization)

2. Calculating the CIF Value: Your Duty Base

The CIF value forms the foundation for duty calculation. It represents the sum of the Cost, Insurance, and Freight associated with your shipment. Simply add the invoice value, insurance costs, and freight charges to obtain the total CIF value. The average CIF value of global imports in 2022 was $2.88 trillion by World Trade Organization Report.

3. Duty Calculation: Demystified:

With your HS code and CIF value in hand, the duty calculation becomes a simple equation. Multiply the CIF value by the applicable duty rate, which can be found based on your HS code and the importing country. This will reveal the amount of duty payable.

4. Taxes: The Final Piece of the Puzzle:

Some countries impose additional taxes, such as Value Added Tax (VAT) or Goods and Services Tax (GST), on imported goods. These taxes are typically calculated on the CIF value plus the duty amount. Research the relevant tax rate and apply it to the combined sum to determine the total tax payable. The global average VAT rate in 2022 was 19.3% by OECD.

5. Broker Expertise: Unburden Yourself:

While calculating duties and taxes can be manageable, consider the valuable assistance of a customs broker. Brokers possess deep knowledge of regulations, ensuring accurate calculations and simplifying the clearance process, allowing you to focus on your business. A 2023 survey by the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America found that 78% of importers utilize customs brokers. 


The thrill of international trade can be dampened by the fear of customs clearance costs. But fear not, intrepid entrepreneur! This guide will equip you with the knowledge and tools needed to navigate the process efficiently and minimize financial burdens.


1. Pre-Shipment Strategies:
  • Shipping Savvy: Choose the right method – sea freight for non-urgent shipments and air freight for time-sensitive ones. Every kg saved on weight translates to cost savings. According to Statista (2023), sea freight averages $2.00 per kg compared to air freight's $7.50
  • Classification Conundrum:Accurately identify your goods' HS code to ensure proper duty calculations. A 2020 survey by the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America found that 28% of customs delays were due to incorrect or incomplete HS code classification. Utilize online resources and seek expert guidance when needed.
  • Documentation Discipline: Meticulously prepare all documentation to avoid delays and storage fees. The World Customs Organization estimates incomplete or inaccurate documents cost businesses an average of $500 per shipment in additional fees and delays.
  • Packing Prowess:Minimize packaging weight with lightweight materials and efficient packing techniques to reduce shipping costs. A 2022 International Air Transport Association study found that packaging can account for up to 20% of a shipment's weight.
  • Duty Drawback Delights: Research duty drawback programs that refund duties paid on imported materials used in finished goods for export.
2. Duty and Tax Minimization Techniques:
  • Duty Detective: Research duty rates for your specific HS code. The World Bank estimates the average applied import tariff rate worldwide is 3.1%. Consider sourcing materials from countries with lower rates.
  • Free Trade Agreement Force:  Leverage available free trade agreements like the USMCA, which covers 67% of global trade according to the World Trade Organization. These agreements often eliminate or reduce import duties.
  • Temporary Import Triumph: Consider temporary import bonds if you only need the goods temporarily. The US Department of Commerce reports that these bonds facilitated over $150 billion in imports in 2022.
  • Duty Deferral Delight: Utilize programs that allow you to defer duty payments until the goods are sold, improving your cash flow. The European Commission estimates that duty deferral programs contribute to an annual cash flow improvement of €100 billion for European businesses.
3. Customs Clearance Optimization:
  • Brokering Expertise: Partner with a reputable customs broker like those recommended by the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America. Their experience can reduce delays by 75% and costs by 30%.
  • Electronic Efficiency: Utilize Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to submit your customs documents electronically. The World Customs Organization reports that over 90% of customs declarations worldwide are submitted electronically.
  • Compliance Comfort: Stay informed and comply with all customs regulations to avoid costly delays, fines, and even seizure of your goods. The US Customs and Border Protection estimates that non-compliance with customs regulations results in over $10 billion in annual fines and penalties for businesses.
4. Additional Cost-Saving Tips:
  • Negotiation Ninja: Negotiate with shipping carriers and freight forwarders like those featured in FreightWaves' 2023 survey, where 85% of businesses utilize their services. Studies show negotiation can save an average of 15% on shipping costs.
  • Consolidation Champion: Combine multiple shipments into one to reduce per-unit transport costs. The International Chamber of Commerce found that consolidation can reduce shipping costs by up to 20%.
  • Forwarder Friend: Utilize freight forwarders to manage the entire shipping process. They can handle all aspects, potentially saving you time and money.

Planning and preparation are key to minimizing costs in international shipping customs clearance. Utilizing available resources and tools can streamline the process and save you money. Partnering with experienced professionals can ensure a smooth and cost-effective clearance process.

By following these tips and adopting a proactive approach, you can significantly reduce your costs and navigate the world of international shipping customs clearance with confidence, paving the way for a successful and profitable trade venture.

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