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6 reasons why your goods are held up at Customs


Goods getting stuck at Canadian Customs is one of the most frustrating delays that importers experience. Long delays can result in additional costs and unhappy customers.

Importers occasionally experience unpredictable delays at the border, but the majority of potential issues can be avoided by taking care of crucial shipping details before products move. Companies that proactively work to avoid the six most common hold-ups at Customs ensure that their goods flow smoothly across the border. 

6 reasons why your goods are held up at Customs

1. Wrong tariff classification code

Incorrect tariff classification is one of the most common causes of delays at the border. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) estimates that around 20% of all products crossing the border have been misclassified. Harmonized System (HS) codes include a myriad of classifications for different types of products, which can make it difficult for importers and exporters to apply the right code.

The complexity of HS codes isn’t an excuse for misclassifying products. Businesses must carefully select the correct codes or risk their imports being held up at Customs. Incorrect codes invite additional scrutiny from CBSA agents, who can decide to examine your shipments in closer detail.

2. Incomplete documentation

The CBSA requires importers to submit all required documentation when shipping goods across the border. Required documents include, but aren't limited to, a commercial invoice, bill of lading, licenses, permits, certificates, and other required documentation.

If a document is missing or hasn’t been fully completed, the agency can stop the shipment at Customs and prevent it from moving to the destination. Importers should arrange all required documentation before the products move.

3. Incorrect valuation of product

Goods imported across the Canadian border must have a correct valuation of the product shipped. The CBSA lists six different methods to calculate the valuation of products, with the transaction value considered the preferred method of determining a valuation.

Different methods of valuation can be used to determine the value declared at the time of import. Delays occur when it's determined that the incorrect value declared shows that the goods have been undervalued. In other words, don't try to list the value of your goods at a dollar when you can provide the actual value.

The six types of product valuation methods include:

  1. Transaction value – The value listed on the commercial invoice that shows the price that the Canadian purchaser paid.
  2. Identical goods transaction value – When the transaction value isn’t available, the value of identical goods can be used to determine the valuation.
  3. Similar goods transaction value – If the transaction value or the value of identical goods isn’t available, similar goods may be used as the valuation method.
  4. Deductive value – If identical or similar goods can’t be used as a benchmark, the valuation may be determined based on a commonly available selling price in Canada.
  5. Computed value method – This method of valuation considers the cost of production, expenses, and the profit that the exporter would gain from selling the product in Canada.
  6. Residual basis of appraisal – When the previous five methods of valuation can’t determine the value, the shipper applies a valuation method that is least likely to require an adjustment.

In addition to delayed shipments, an incorrect valuation could result in financial penalties or a refusal to allow the product across the border.

4. Incoterm errors

Incoterms determine which party is responsible for carrying out crucial shipping details. This includes who is responsible for loading and unloading, duties paid, dealing with Customs, and other key aspects of importing and exporting goods.

If there’s a mistake in the Incoterms, shipments can get held at the Canadian border because no one has taken responsibility for a crucial aspect of the importing process. For example, if the Incoterms are unclear, a shipment can be held while different parties try to determine who takes responsibility for duties and taxes. Applying the correct Incoterm clarifies each party's responsibilities, preventing mix-ups at the border.

5. Unexpected inspections

One of the CBSA mandates is ensuring that imported goods don’t present a risk to Canadians. Most shipments will enter Canada with a minimal delay, but the CBSA does select some imports for a more thorough examination.

In some cases, a risk assessment will prompt border agents to conduct a lengthy examination. In other scenarios, the CBSA randomly selects imports for a lengthy inspection. As such, if your shipment has been flagged for inspection, you may experience an unexpected delay at Customs.

6. Failure to comply with regulations

Importers must comply with all federal and provincial regulations to ensure a seamless clearance process at the border. The CBSA administers more than 90 acts and regulations on behalf of other federal departments, agencies, and international agreements. The Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act, for example, requires English and French labelling for all products sold in Canada.

Companies that don’t comply with all regulations can experience delays, monetary penalties, or the shipment refused entirely. Product labelling is one of the many regulations importers must comply with to ensure a smooth importation process.

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