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AskWaves: What is a customs broker for international shipping?

Customs brokers: Who are they? What do they do?

Customs broker can help facilitate the movement of international goods. Pictured is the U.S.-Mexico border crossing in Otay Mesa, California. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

This is part of FreightWaves’ AskWaves series. If you have a question for our editorial team to explore, click here. For more AskWaves articles, click here.

Cross-border supply chains can be time consuming and complex.

A customs broker can help navigate cross-border freight. But companies should know what to look for in a customs brokerage.

What is a customs broker?

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), customs brokers are private individuals, partnerships, associations or corporations licensed, regulated and empowered by CBP to assist importers and exporters in meeting federal requirements governing imports and exports.

Brokers submit necessary information and appropriate payments to CBP on behalf of their clients and charge them a fee for this service. 

Customs brokers also perform the following functions:

  • Act as the liaison between you and the customs authority.
  • Ensure your commercial documents comply with regulatory requirements.
  • Prepare and electronically file relevant paperwork.
  • Make sure your goods are correctly classified so you’re charged the right duties and taxes.

There are about 11,000 active licensed customs brokers in the U.S. 

Who is eligible to become qualified as a customs broker?

To be eligible to be a licensed customs broker in the U.S., you must be a U.S. citizen and at least 21 years old and not be a current federal employee.

How to become a customs broker?

Individuals interested in applying to be a customs broker must pass a CBP exam and undergo a background check.

The broker exam covers everything from the U.S. harmonized tariff schedule to the right to make entry directives to the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) entry summary business process.

Once an individual passes the exam, he or she must submit a broker license application with appropriate fees.

Finally, if the application is approved by CBP, then the individual is now ready to begin working as a broker. 

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]