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Keeping great records: a guide

Maintaining a paper trail of documentation as an importer or exporter is a must. If you are audited, clear and complete records need to be at your fingertips. But, which documents need to be kept? For how long? This week, we offer you a clear guide to keeping great records.

What does “records” even mean?

In a broad sense, you need to keep documentation of all activities related to the import and/or export process.

This includes documentation related to:

  • The quantities of goods received, price paid, the country of origin, vendor, product, and all other related product information;
  • Any importation, declaration or entry;
  • The transportation or storage of merchandise carried;
  • The filing of refund duty and/or import taxes of any kind;
  • The completion and signature of a Free Trade Proof of Origin documentation;
  • The collection and payment of fees and taxes to the border agency/ies; and
  • any other activity subject to laws or regulations administered by border agencies.

Records can include:

  • statements, declarations, documents;
  • electronically generated or machine readable data;
  • electronically stored or transmitted information or data;
  • books, papers, correspondence;
  • accounts, financial accounting data;
  • technical data; and
  • computer programs necessary to retrieve information in a usable form

Who is required to keep the records?

In general, records must be kept and maintained if you are:

  • an owner, importer, exporter, consignee, importer of record, entry filer, or other person who:
  • imports/exports merchandise, files a refund claim for import duties and/or taxes, transports or stores merchandise carried or held under bond.

Border agencies may also allow an agent to maintain and keep your records on your behalf, such as a customs broker or consultant, provided the proper requests have been made to CBP and CBSA.

Filing_Cabinet_89421525_sHow long should I keep my records?

The United States’ border agency (CBP) requires documentation to be kept for five years from the date of entry.

The Canadian agency (CBSA) requires it kept for six years, plus the current year from the date of importation (customs release).

What if I need help?

There are lots of great resources to guide you to keeping accurate and up-to-date records.

In addition to comprehensive guides on importing and exporting, CBSA has published recent memoranda:

The CBP has published a comprehensive PDF document:

If you’re looking for support on maintaining your records, we can help.

Our customs professionals on both sides of the border are ready to make your recordkeeping hassle-free.


Contact us today!

Maintaining records. It's what we do.


Information provided by: Customs Consulting Dept. - Cole International

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