International Freight Forwarder and Customs Broker Based in China

Understanding Customs Regulations When Shipping From China To The US

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International shipping can be a complicated process for new shippers trying to ship their cargo from China to the U.S. Shipping from China to the US involves several steps, including documentation, tariffs, duties, and inspections. Hence, we will lead you through all the steps you need to know about customs regulation between China and the U.S.


The Role Of Customs In International Trade


Customs in China and the U.S. are vital, ensuring that cargo, products, and other goods entering the country conform to international and national laws. Below are two of the most important roles they play:


1. Ensuring Compliance With National Laws And International Agreements


As stated earlier, Customs are sanctioned by their country to act as guardians of legal compliance for international trade and shipping in and out of the country. By doing this, they ensure that goods entering or leaving a country adhere to national laws and international agreements on safe and ethical trading.


2. Protecting Economic Interests, Public Health, And Safety


Additionally, customs regulations protect the country’s public health. They do this by inspecting food, pharmaceuticals, and hazardous materials imported into the country. Meanwhile, they also address safety concerns related to weapons, explosives, and other dangerous items that could harm citizens within the country.


Required Documentation For Customs Clearance


Before you can ship your products in or out of a country, you need to have some important documents and clearance from the Customs. If not, you won’t be able to ship your products whether by ocean or air freight.


1. Commercial Invoice: 

The commercial invoice is the most important document for customs clearance. For any import or export, the commercial invoice acts as a detailed bill of sale for your shipment. Customs use the invoice for duty calculation, ensuring accurate classification, and verifying compliance with regulations. 

The invoice should include:

  1. Description of goods (be specific, avoid generic terms).
  2. Quantity of goods (units).
  3. Value of each item and total invoice value (currency).
  4. Harmonized System (HS) Code (classifies goods for customs purposes).
  5. Incoterm (defines responsibilities of buyer and seller).
  6. Name and address of importer and exporter.

2. Bill Of Lading (B/L): 

The bill of lading is also another important document you must have else your shipment isn’t leaving the country. This document is a contract between the shipper and carrier, acting as a receipt for the goods and a document of title. There are two main types of bills of lading. They correspond to the two means of cargo shipment:

Ocean B/L:  This bill is used for ocean freight. It provides details about the shipment’s origin, destination, description of goods, and ownership transfer upon delivery.

Air Waybill:  Similar to the ocean bill of lading is used for air freight. It functions similarly to an ocean B/L but is specific to air transportation.


3. Packing List: 

The packing list is a more detailed document on the content of cargo. Customs use it to inspect and verify the accuracy of the commercial invoice. The document provides a detailed itemization of the shipped goods like the number of the packages and the weight of each content in the package.


4. Certificate Of Origin: 


Each product being shipped in or out of a country must prove its origin and where it has been produced. This document certifies the country where the goods were produced. Shippers will benefit from this because Customs may grant preferential duty rates under trade agreements. It can also let you know the import restrictions on certain goods.

Not that worry, the certificate of origin is issued by a chamber of commerce or government agency in the exporting country. Specific requirements for specific products may vary depending on the country.


5. Other Necessary Documents: 


There are also other specific sensitive products or cargo that might need extra documents. This depends on the specific product or country, such as

  1. Import permits for restricted goods.
  2. Phytosanitary certificates for plant or plant products.
  3. Health certificates for food or animal products.
  4. FDA approval for food and drugs (applicable in some countries).

Customs Clearance Process In China


Exporting goods from China to the U.S. requires you to have some documents and adhere to China’s customs regulations before your shipment can be approved. Below are some of the steps you must follow.

Initially, confirm the goods being dispatched, their value, and HS code (Harmonized System Code, which is a six-digit numerical code used to classify internationally traded goods at the border). Arrange freight forwarding and obtain the necessary documentation commercial invoice, packing list, bill of lading, and other necessary documents discussed above.

If not requested physically, then electronically submit a customs declaration to Chinese customs. The declaration must detail the goods, their value, and their intended destination. As for the cargo, the Chinese customs may physically inspect the goods to verify the declaration’s accuracy and ensure compliance with regulations. Next up, once the inspection is complete, any applicable duties or taxes are calculated and paid by the shipper. After paying, customs will release the goods for export.


Customs Clearance Process In The US


When the goods arrive from China in the US, importers must submit relevant paperwork to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This paperwork includes necessary documents such as the commercial invoice, packing list, bill of lading, and certificate of origin. After, the CBP will review these documents to verify the value, nature, and compliance of the goods.

Moreover, the products will not be fully allowed into the U.S. if you haven’t paid the required import duties and tariffs. Importers are required to pay import duties assessed on their shipments. The amount of duty depends on the type and value of the imported goods. Notably, goods imported for personal use typically have a lower duty rate than commercial goods.

In accordance with U.S. regulations, the CBP officers will inspect the goods physically. The inspection process ensures that the goods comply with US regulations and that there are no prohibited items or security risks.

When your goods safely pass the inspection, and any applicable duties and taxes are paid, the CBP will release your goods. Then, you can then take possession of your cargo.



Common Challenges in Customs Clearance and How to Overcome Them


Most times, new shippers fall short and compromise their shipments due to common challenges that could have been avoided. Pay close attention as we clarify these errors.


1. Documentation Errors


Even minor mistakes in your customs documentation can lead to significant delays or even shipment seizures. Your errors could range from inaccurate HS code classification and missing or incomplete information to inconsistencies among your submitted documents. We advise that you invest in training for yourself or staff on proper customs documentation procedures to minimize errors. Better still, you could consider using software tools that will help streamline your documentation to ensure consistency. If all these might be confusing, work with a Customs broker who will guide you through the documentation process.


2. Delays In Clearance:


Other times, there might be delays not because of documentation issues. Typically, Customs clearance can take time depending on how large your cargo is and how long it will take to inspect it. If your cargo contains restricted or sensitive products, then it will take longer. An innocuous factor that could also lead to a delay is when there is port congestion which delays entry and clearance.


3. Compliance Issues:


You should know that the success of your shipment depends on the Customs of each country. This means that you must comply with every requirement they request of you. If you fail to comply with customs regulations there will be serious consequences. The consequences could range from fines and penalties to shipment seizure.




Customs regulation and clearance are important to the successful delivery of your goods from China to the U.S., or anywhere in the world. As an importer or exporter, expect you will have to deal with customs regularly. Therefore, you must know the regulations and be up to date with any changes made to the country’s customs policy. It will be helpful to have a customs broker if you are new to this to ease the process for you.