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Importing to the U.S.: Do I Need a Customs Broker?

According to the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in order to import goods for commercial purposes, valued over $2,500, you must post a customs bond ensuring all duties, taxes, and fees owed to the federal government are paid. This also applies to a commodity subject to other federal agencies requirements (such as firearms or food).[1]

An importer can use a customs broker to clear the goods through CBP, relying on the broker’s bond to secure the transaction. Customs brokers are licensed by CBP, and are authorized by U.S. law to act as agents for importers. Customs brokers prepare and file the necessary customs entries and other paperwork and obtain the CBP bond.[2]

While a convenient option for importers, there is no legal requirement to use a customs broker when importing to the United States.

So what is required to import into the United States?

If an importer opts not to use a customs broker, the importer must be educated on the CBP’s many policies and procedures as well as the entry requirements specific to the particular commodity being imported.[3]

The importer must file entry documents with the port director where the goods are coming in. Imported good are not legally entered until after the shipment has arrived in the port of entry, delivery of the merchandise has been authorized by CBP, and estimated duties have been paid.[4]

The Importer is responsible for arranging the examination and release of the goods. Importers are also responsible for contacting other relevant agencies besides CBP, for example,  if the importer is bringing in food, the Food and Drug Administration must be notified.[5]

In some cases, the importer may be required to obtain a permit, license, or other certification, depending on the good imported and/or the policies of local or state authorities which, may require a license in order to do business. [6]

As mentioned, a customs bond is required when importing merchandise for commercial purposes that are valued over $2,500 or a commodity subject to other federal agencies requirements (i.e. firearms or food).

Importers must hold either a single entry or a continuous customs bond. A continuous bond is recommended if importing frequently and through various ports of entry. To do business with customs  using a continuous bond, importers must apply for permission through the entry office at the port where the goods are imported.

If importers fail to file all of the paperwork or properly follow each CBP procedure, they face major fines and risk seizure of the merchandise. Importers operating without a customs broker, must know the requirements of each type of import to successfully import their goods. According to Vanderbilt University’s Procurement Services, while importers are not legally required to use a Customs broker, few businesses or organizations:

Have the human or financial resources to keep pace with the constant regulatory and technological changes throughout the world which are specific to each country involved in the international shipment of goods.[7]

A customs broker is familiar with the Tariff Schedule, the list of duty rates for important items, and the regulations governing importations (found in the Code of Federal Regulations vol 19, ensuring the importer’s goods are cleared without any costly delays or fines.[8]

Again, it is not required to use a customs broker to import to the United States but importers might, at the very least, want to consider using one for difficult-to-import products such as cosmetics, foods, live animals, and vehicles.


[1. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (2015). When is a Customs Bond Required. Retrieved from https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/734/~/when-is-a-customs-bond-required.]

[2. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (2006). Importing into the United States. Retrieved from http://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Importing%20into%20the%20U.S.pdf]

[3. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Tips for New Importers and Exporters. Retrieved from http://www.cbp.gov/trade/basic-import-export/importer-exporter-tips]

[4. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (2006). Importing into the United States. (Page 11).]

[5. (2006, Page 11).]

[6. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Tips for New Importers and Exporters.]

[7. Vanderbilt University, Procurement Services. (2009). International Shipments: Customs Brokers, Why and When to Use a Customs Broker. (Page 1).]

[8. (2009, Page 1).]

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9 thoughts on “Importing to the U.S.: Do I Need a Customs Broker?”

  1. These are the kinds of processes that not many people really know about. Your article is actually helpful in making me feel a little more informed as well as convincing me of the necessity of professional help. One thing that I have been wondering about is what to look for in a really great customs broker. Do you have any tips about this? Being new to importing, I want to be sure that I find the perfect person!

    1. John Page says:

      That is a really good question that I do not know the answer too. I will have our blogger research this and write a blog about it soon.

    2. Jill Delong says:

      Thank you for reading our post about Customs bonds and brokers! Great question. The first thing to look for in a customs broker is experience and relationships with reputable Surety Companies. A broker cannot give the best service or a reasonable quote without those relationships. In which case, the client would be getting taken advantage. If the broker does not know that there could be a better quote from a differing market, the client has to suffer by paying more premium. At Surety1, our connections with customs bond markets give us the $259 per year guarantee for Import Bonds (Activity Code 1). This is of the lowest rates for importers, so our experience speaks for itself.
      Another aspect to look for in a customs broker is precision and general knowledge of customs procedures. More often than not, a first-time importer is not well versed in requirements imposed upon their trade. Consequently, their broker will need to advise them accordingly. One miscommunication could cost an importer money, and even worse: their product. So we make sure to do all we can to make clients aware of what is required of them by customs. Precision and quickness is also valuable at Surety1. We understand that customs bonds need to be executed in a timely manner to satisfy the requirements for entry. We will never disappoint in terms of price or service. If you’d like to know more about what our customs specialist can offer you, don’t hesitate to call Surety1! 877-654-2327.

  2. Ryan says:

    Would it be necessary to hire a broker for
    Importing goods (one time only)that are not for commercial use, such as furniture for personal use? Is there a limit as to the value of goods?

    1. John Page says:

      I am not sure about that question. We write bonds, we are not a customs broker, but thank you for visiting our site.

  3. Rugh says:

    I am interested in importing an older Volkswagen van from Mexico. Is this something you guys could help me with?

    1. John says:

      You will need a single entry bond we do not offer those.

  4. Sharon L Hoffman says:

    where do I find a customs broker? I am importing a live cat, arriving in Minneapolis, MN on KLM Airlines. Or do I need a different type of broker. I wasn’t told what kind of a broker to get from my seller in the Ukraine.

    THank you!

    1. John says:

      CBO webpage about customs brokers

      IS the link about customs brokers on the CBO website.

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