Finding a customs broker
July 31, 2009 7:34 AM   Subscribe

How do you go about finding and choosing a customs broker?

I have inherited some antiques and art that are going to be shipped to me in the Chicago from the UK -- nothing specially valuable individually, but worth the cost of shipping. I have been asked if I have a customs broker. I've never imported anything before so I'm rather lost, and as I'm away from home at the moment and have somewhat limited internet access my usual first recourse of Googling and asking around aren't going to work for a little while. Any suggestions and information would be useful

Do I really need a customs broker?
What can a broker do that I can't do for myself
What do I need to know to choose a broker?
Where do I best find one?

I f you have specific recommendations they would be welcome too.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin to Work & Money (5 answers total)
FWIW there were a couple older ask questions about this: this one and
this one; not sure if you looked at them. The second looks pretty appropriate for your situation.
posted by reptile at 8:52 AM on July 31, 2009

I had a pretty similar experience a few years ago. I was lost too. I subsequently found out that customs brokers are rather useful and that they're attached to trucking companies (and, of course, other people who physically import goods.)

In all likelihood, you do need a customs broker. You may be able to do this yourself but it's a hassle and it might take some time. I seem to remember that in the US you can do this yourself if you have time and if the thing that you're importing costs less than a certain amount but I have no idea as to how it works in the UK. Anyway, as you're lost I think you should get a broker. You can probably get one out of the yellow pages. You should tell them what you're importing and ask them how much they'll charge. If you don't like the price, shop around. Sorry I can't be more helpful, but I think you have the bare bones here.
posted by ob at 9:03 AM on July 31, 2009

Hi, I'm studying to be a US Customs broker [taking my licensing exam in October], and currently working in a brokerage office.

You don't need a broker, but it makes things a heck of a lot easier, especially in a larger port like Chicago. They'll know exactly what paperwork you'll need and what kind of entry you'll want to file with Customs -- for instance, your items may qualify as 'personal effects' and thus subject to duty-free entry into the US as opposed to a standard consumption entry, which is subject to all kinds of things. If your shipment doesn't qualify under personal effects restrictions, your broker will be able to properly classify your items according to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States, which is a beastly thing that no sane person should tackle on their own. If your shipment requires a single-entry bond -- kind of an insurance policy on the imported goods, it basically makes sure that Customs will get their duty money -- your broker can take care of that for you, too.

In choosing a broker, you're going to want to find someone who is knowledgeable and willing to take the time to answer any questions you might have and make sure that you understand the process. In Chicago, I'd recommend Kellie at The Camelot Company. [Not a self-link; I'm in Pittsburgh.] You can also contact your local CBP office and they should provide you with a list of brokers licensed to work in their port. Shop around if you have the opportunity and talk to them.
posted by alynnk at 9:18 AM on July 31, 2009

If the articles are truly antique the good news is that they are duty free. The artwork may or may not be duty free. See chapter 97 of the Harmonized Tariff linked above. Be sure to read the notes at the front of the chapter. You may only be looking at paying the Customs Merchandise Processing Fee which is 0.21% or $25, whichever is greater, to a maximum of $485 (unless the value is $11K+ it is $25).

You may be able to handle this yourself. If you contact the port office one of the Officers will probably be willing to walk you through it.

I am a Customs broker (but not yours, blah' blah) but I haven't dealt with anything this small in a very long time. You may need to obtain a single entry importer bond. If you aren't worried about a few $100 it would be simpler to engage a broker. Both FedEx and UPS have brokerage arms with offices in Chicago. This is the full list of Chicago brokers.
posted by Carbolic at 11:38 AM on July 31, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everybody for the above. Any more thoughts or recommendations are welcome.

Yes I had seen the earlier threads, but though helpful they were dealing with commercial importation rather than things that I own that I am sending to myself, which seems somewhat different.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 11:43 AM on July 31, 2009

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