How to fill out a customs form for international shipping

Customs form filling

When shopping internationally you may be required to pay import duty and other taxes to customs when the item is received (imported) at your country.

Some documentation will needed to be completed in order for your shopping to pass through customs. Normally when you buy something from a shop they and the courier or shipping company that does the delivering will complete the documents for you, but what are they and what if you need to fill out the customs forms yourself?

What are customs forms?

There are several documents, often known as customs declarations, that customs may require, these include:

  • The consignment note
  • Commercial invoice
  • Electronic label
  • Customs declaration form
  • Export label

As a shopper you will not need to know about some of these forms, they will be completed by the seller or the carrier on your behalf. Lets have a look at them.

The commercial invoice.

This is a document that tells customs what the package contains and will be completed by the seller or organisation shipping the shopping. This is very important.

It will include the company name, an air waybill or tracking number, goods description, HS code (this is the code that tells the customs how much duty is to be charged), the Incoterms (International Commercial Terms), this tells customs who is paying the duty and a statement of origin among other details customs need to know.

How to fill in a commercial invoice

If you are the seller and are filling in the commercial invoice be sure to fill in as much of the required information as possible. A quick guide:

  • Give a full and accurate description of the goods
  • Classify the goods with the correct HS (Harmonised System) code.
  • Identify the country of manufacture
  • Determine the incoterms
  • Identify and gather customs documentation
  • Check if the item is banned
A sample commercial invoice, from FedEX

Other customs documentation

Other customs forms include a:

  • Certificate of origin (COO)
  • CITES certificate (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)

These forms tell customs where the product originated from and that they are not made of endangered species.

Where to I get the customs forms?

If you are required to complete the customs forms before exporting you will need to identify the correct forms to fill in, the carriers should have a list of the forms you will need to complete on their website.

Another place to look is on the customs website of the country you are sending the items to.

Once you have filled in the forms

Once you are filled in all the forms they need to be submitted in paper or electronically to the carrier so that they accompany the package in transit. You will need to provide 3 copies of the paperwork.

I am a shopper, do I have to fill in a form too?

If you are a shopper and have bought or are thinking of buying something from overseas then you should not have to fill out any customs forms as these will be completed by the seller or their agent when the package is shipped or exported.

What happens if the forms are not fully completed?

If the forms are not completed accurately, or forms are missing then this will cause a delay at customs. It is important that the documents are completed accurately.

Will I have to pay customs duty?

The answer is most probably. Many countries have different duty threshold and exemptions, for example if you item is of low value or a gift you may be exempt and therefor not pay.

Also when you purchase your item the seller will tell you if you need to pay duty in advance before the item reaches the border (Delivered Duty Paid DDP) or if you will pay after (Delivered at Place DAP, used to be DDU).

The seller will make you aware of which at checkout, if you pay in advance the carrier will arrange payment otherwise you will be sent a bill when the package is delivered for you to pay.

Sources:

https://www.fedex.com/en-gb/shipping-channel/ecommerce/customs-documents.html

https://www.dhl.com/discover/en-my/e-commerce/e-commerce-advice/how-to-prepare-a-commercial-invoice

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