U.S. Customs

PHOTO: U.S. Navy by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Holly Boynton, via Wikimedia Commons

Automated Commercial Environment

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is going paperless. The Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) digitizes the processing of import and export data and will soon regulate all trade activity into and out of the U.S.

Export reporting information can now be sent electronically through the ACE’s two digital mediums, the Electronic Data Interchange and the ACE Secure Data Portal.

This guide provides a detailed breakdown of how the ACE works and who can benefit from it.

Customs Brokers

Your U.S. customs broker will clear your goods through customs and deliver them to their final destination. Brokers in the U.S. are licensed, bonded and regulated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Using a U.S. customs broker is usually mandatory, but using a broker has benefits:

  • They will be aware of changes in regulations before you are.
  • They prepare all export documentation that Canadian Customs and U.S. Customs require.
  • Your broker will arrange the bond required for the value of goods you are shipping plus any duties.
  • Using a broker makes clearance a quicker prospect.

Customs brokers can be found at the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America.

Source: TCS

Entry of Goods

The Canadian government has no reporting requirement for U.S.-bound exports, even those classified as restricted. Although restricted goods may require a license or permit from a government body like the CBSA or others.

However, for goods that are shipped through the U.S. to another country you will need to file an export declaration with the CBSA (if the goods are valued above CA$2000).

There is no comprehensive guide on which products are controlled, regulated or prohibited, but you can get in touch with the Government of Canada’s Trade Controls & Technical Barriers Bureau. The CBSA has information on this subject as well.

Source: CBSA

On the American side of the border, there are two ways your goods can cross the border:

1. Formal Entry

This type of entry requires the use of a U.S. customs broker and is necessary for any shipment valued at more than US$2000.

Formal Entry is also required for any shipment of controlled goods, regardless of the value:

A U.S. customs inspector can require a formal entry at his or her own discretion, even if the goods are not controlled or over $2000 in value.

A formal entry requires the following:

  • A commercial invoice, which represents the exact contents and value of your shipment
  • A NAFTA Certificate of Origin
  • Importer ID Number, used by U.S. customs to establish bond coverage
  • Bill of lading or airway bill (not needed for mail shipments)
  • Entry manifest
  • Entry/immediate deliver, used for time-sensitive shipments
  • Harmonized System tariff classification
  • Other permits or licenses, or a packing list (depending on the product)

2. Informal Entry

This type of entry does not require a broker if the shipment is accompanied by the exporter, or if the consignee comes to the port of entry to collect it.

Goods are considered an informal entry if they are valued at less than US$2000 and they are not controlled goods.

Clearing Customs

After goods arrive at the point of entry, they will be examined by U.S. customs officials to determine their value, the validity of labeling, the validity of the invoice, whether requirements of other U.S. agencies have been met, and whether or not they contain prohibited goods.

Once the goods are in order, they are allowed to proceed into the U.S. The broker then determines the duties or fees payable and files this information, along with any payment due, with U.S. Customs.

Penalties and Seizures

It’s rare that exporters are penalized for clerical errors or omissions, but negligence can draw penalties of up to four times the duty or 40 per cent of the value of the goods. Outright fraud can result in your shipment being seized.

If you discover errors after your goods have entered the U.S., notify your broker right away and you may be able to avoid penalties.

The best thing you can do to avoid complications is to be as thorough as possible.

Source: TCS


Every item imported into the U.S. has to be clearly labelled with its country of origin.

You also need to determine your product’s Harmonized System code before you can export it.

Source: TCS

The Canada U.S. Trusted Trader Programs

There are several programs run collaboratively by both the Canadian and U.S. governments that can help you trade in the U.S.

Free and Secure Trade Program

The Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program is a commercial clearance program designed to streamline cross-border commercial shipments.

FAST members benefit from reduced delivery times and dedicated lanes for faster border clearance.

Partners in Protection Program

This is a CBSA program which enlists help from private industry to improve border security. Partners in Protection (PIP) is a voluntary program, and its members agree to adhere to high security standards. Members are recognized as trusted traders.

Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism

The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism was developed to enhance security at border crossings. If you export goods to the U.S., it may be in your interest to become a member of this program. As with PIP, you may be viewed more favourably by U.S. organizations.

U.S. Legislation Affecting Exporters:

The Bioterrorism Act

Implemented in 2003, this legislation governs imports of food for human and animal consumption into the U.S. If you are bringing these products into the U.S., you will have to register with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with providing the name of a U.S. company to act as your agent. You must also notify the FDA of your shipments in advance of their arrival at the border.

The Trade Act

As of 2003, exporters are required to submit certain cargo and conveyance information to the U.S. Customs before the goods arrive at the border.

Source: TCS

Conformity Assessment

Conformity assessments help to ensure that products and services have the required characteristics and that these characteristics are consistent from product to product and from services to service. These assessments include sampling, testing, inspection, certification, quality and environmental system assessment, and registration. This also includes accreditation of competence of those activities by a third party and recognition (usually by a government agency) of an accreditation program’s capability.

The Standards Council of Canada (SCC) can help you understand accreditation programs, services and activities; identify applicable standards, regulations and conformity-assessment procedures that would apply to the market acceptance of your product; find competent standards authorities to contact in Canada or other countries; and locate standards published by a specific technical committee.

For conformity testing, CSA International and Underwriters Laboratories Inc. are good places to start.

For information on U.S. standards development, check out the American National Standards Institute and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The SCC operates a service called ExportAlert!, which will tell you about pending changes to trade-related regulations.

U.S. Agencies Responsible for Incoming Goods

Federal Trade Commission

The FTC’s labeling requirements cover goods that are consumed, as well as textiles, clothing, wool, fur and leather.

Food and Drug Administration

The FDA regulates food labelling in the U.S. and has authority over labeling of dietary supplements, cosmetics, drugs, medical devices, animal foods and cosmetics.

Department of Agriculture

The USDA is responsible for commercial food safety, packaging and labeling, through its Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms

The ATF is in charge of alcoholic beverage labelling.

Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA regulates chemical products coming into the U.S., along with pesticides, fungicides, rodenticides and anti-microbial agents.

Consumer Products Safety Commission

The CPSC is responsible for the labelling of hazardous substances.

Department of Labor

The DOL also regulates hazardous products.

Source: TCS