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Calculating and Understanding Customs Clearance Service Charges

Are you wondering how fees are figured out? What all goes into the cost of obtaining Customs clearance services? How do companies decide what to charge?


Well, you’re in the right place! In this article, we’ll break down the general makeup and pricing structure for Customs clearance services to the nuts and bolts. Keep reading for all the details.

Customs Clearance Functions Pricing Structure

Core Charges:

The foundation of the Customs clearance pricing structure is built on several essential components – sometimes, they are presented in a lump sum, but most often, they are quoted separately. All brokers will offer a general entry fee and ISF charge, and most have a third fee covering some security or compliance elements:

  • Entry Fee:

    This is the base charge for processing and filing the necessary documentation for Customs clearance. It usually includes general handling, documentation gathering, tracking and tracing, problem resolution, and duty payment functions.

  • ISF (Importer Security Filing) Submission:

    ISF submission is a mandatory requirement for ocean shipments entering the United States. It involves providing essential information about the cargo before it departs the country of export.

  • Security Surcharge:

    A security surcharge is applied to cover additional security measures imposed by regulatory authorities.

Add Ons:

Beyond the core charges, add-ons may be applied based on the complexities and specific requirements of the entry. Customs or government agency requirements can introduce variations in the standard fee structure. Common add-ons include Participated Government Agency (PGA) filings (for example, FDA, EPA, USDA additional filing in association with primary Customs entry filing); additional entry line-item fees for shipments/entries that include many different parts which must be individually reported to Customs; License or other particular documentary filing based on product entry requirements… just to name a few.

Customs Duties/Fees:

There are typically three components that make up Customs Duties / Fees: the primary element is the applicable duty rate corresponding to product HTS (Harmonized Tariff Schedule) classification, along with the Merchandise Processing Fee (MPF, 0.3464%) and for any ocean shipments, there is also Harbor Maintenance Fee (HMF, 0.125%). There may be additional duties for certain products based on HTS and country of origin that may be applicable – these are special tariff programs and protective economic measures taking the form of a special tariff program and/or anti-dumping or countervailing duties.

Any Customs duties or fees incurred are considered a passthrough, meaning they are billed at cost. However, a disbursement fee may be applied to cover significant amounts of the underlying cash forwarding function. Importers can also take advantage of alternative payout methods to avoid any disbursement.

In any case, your nominated service provider should work diligently to levy the same rate as quoted and only levy additional charges where applicable. Always seek the most efficient processes for handling entries to alleviate extra steps that may have an associated cost. Transparency is key for importers to develop an understanding of rate structures and costs so they do not see an invoice and assume that a long list of fees means they are being “nickeled and dimed.” When comparing costs, importers should always be aware to make sure they are comparing similar and complete rate structures. Often, importers believe they are getting a good deal because of a lower entry fee, only to be disappointed when not also considering a higher ISF fee and other add-ons; the adage, “apples-to-apples,” is important when comparing numbers.

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