While importers and customs brokers alike are aware of the necessity and importance of being well-informed of all the rules, regulations, and protocols to follow in order to clear their shipments across borders and ports correctly, quickly, and economically, there are several aspects of the entry process that demand a closer look. Customs Entry, in general

A customs entry is a formal declaration of specific information on the imported merchandise entering the country; this form is typically prepared by a customs broker (vs. the actual importer) and submitted to customs. It contains the details of the merchandise, including: the customs classification number, the country of origin, a description of the merchandise, the quantity, the cost, insurance and freight (CIF) value of the merchandise, and the estimated amount of duty to be paid. If all the “Ts” are crossed, the “Is” dotted, and the Customs Officer finds everything is in order, the merchandise is cleared and released to the importer and/or allowed to pass through customs (once, of course, all fees are paid).

Formal Entry vs. Informal Entry

Formal entry is designated for merchandise that must be covered by an entry or surety bond because its summative total – after all the disparate areas on the official form are added together – exceeds a certain dollar amount (typically at least $2,500). This bond ensures the payment of the duties and compliance with customs requirements. Because the dollar/value amount of the goods is high, the items are usually being imported for commercial/resale purposes. Established importers that have entry bonds on file with Customs can take their goods before they pay their duties, taxes, or other fees.

Informal entry refers to goods at the customs border that do not need to have an entry bond because their value is less than $2,500. Because of their low dollar value, these goods are usually imported for personal consumption or enjoyment. Although in most cases an informal entry can be granted if the goods are valued at less than $2,500, there are variations and exceptions to this general protocol. Variations of Informal Entry

As cut and dry informal entry may, at first, appear (valued goods total less than a certain amount), there are several variations of this entry that must be understood thoroughly to ensure the merchandise clears the customs border without a hitch. One exception to the “valued under $2,500 rule” includes textiles. For this type of trade-sensitive merchandise, a lower value of $250 applies. A variation, or subcategory, of informal entry is known as “Section 321” which allows the duty-free entry of merchandise valued at $200 or less – as long as it is imported by one person on one day (such as a vacationer walking across the border into Texas while transporting a $150 chess set purchased at a flea market in Juarez).

How These Laws Benefit the Trade Community

Today’s laws regarding importing have shifted the legal responsibility to the importer (or his hired customs broker acting on his behalf). The importer must declare the value, classification, and rate of duty applicable to all the merchandise he is trying to bring into the country. This benefits and protects both the trade community in general and the professional importer personally. Fly-by-night importers who don’t follow the established protocols will have their merchandise seized at the border. Legitimate importers who are ready and willing to take responsibility for their shipped goods can rest assured knowing that others are not unfairly having goods moved across the border without being held to a standard of operation. Without such laws, prices, products, and people would be adversely affected.