International Shipping – Customs Brokerage

If you have never ordered an item from outside of your country, you might have missed a great opportunity to explore a vast range of high fidelity audio products available in Asia (primarily from China and Hong Kong) at great price for outstanding performance.

Here is a quite list of in’s and out’s for international order:

1. When you order from a vendor located outside of your country, you (the buyer) is the importer of the item you purchased, in the eyes of your country’s customs.

2. As an importer, you are legally bound to pay government assessed tax and duty at the time of the item arrived to your country’s customs, before it is being released to you by courier delivery driver. Your international seller is not responsible for the tax and duty in your country as they are a foreign entity.

3. International courier such as Fedex, DHL or UPS etc all have in-house customs brokers to process the paperwork to help you complete your importation seamlessly. You do not have to run around to find a customs broker to represent you to import your parcel.

4. Your international seller (located in another country) will attach ‘customs invoice’ with the parcel when the courier picked up the parcel in the seller’s country. This ‘customs invoice’ has detailed description of the item and its ‘declared customs value’ for duty and tax assessment. It is the seller’s responsibility to provide the ‘customs invoice’ with the parcel, but sometimes this attached document is lost in transit during parcel handling. In that case, the courier’s customs broker at your country will call you to request a new copy of the ‘customs invoice’ before they can clear customs for you.

5. In order for the courier in your country to reach you, you should always include your phone number in your delivery address and seller will include it on the parcel. If you get the request for ‘customs invoice’ from courier, DO NOT PANIC. You should immediately contact your seller (usually by email since they are in another country, or maybe another continent) to politely ask for a copy of the customs invoice then forward to the courier in your country, then your parcel is back on track again. Please note that the missing document is NOT your seller’s fault – they must have provided it in the first place otherwise the parcel wont’ be picked up by the courier. But courier may have lost it when the parcel being handled through many shipping hubs. Always maintain politeness and do not jump up pointing fingers to the seller at this time – it’s unfair to the seller and won’t earn you a ‘thumb up’ as a future recommended buyer in e-commerce world. Remember – buying and selling are two equal partners doing business together. Treat each other with respect and trust. If you cannot trust a seller, you shouldn’t buy from the seller in the first place.

6. When your parcel is cleared customs (i.e duty and tax have been assessed, if any), the courier will arrange delivery of your parcel with a COD (cash on delivery) ‘customs brokerage invoice’ to collect such duty and tax plus a brokerage fee from you (the importer) before they can actually hand over the parcel to you. You can pay this COD invoice by cash or credit card as you wish at the time of delivery to the driver. They usually come with a credit card swipe terminal. Make sure you get a copy of the COD invoice – usually a copy is affixed to the box already. This is also a good time to examine the parcel for any visible damage – if any found, ask the driver to record it on your parcel delivery note so that you can have a chance to claim for serious damages later on.

7. Let’s admit – none of us likes paying tax, let alone duty or fees. But this is part of importing an item from outside of your country to your residence country. When you are buying from a domestic vendor, the vendor may have done all the importation work themselves as importer and have paid a round of duty and tax. So typically for exactly the same item purchased from domestic vendor is more expensive than directly purchased from overseas yourself – because you have to pay for the domestic vendor / importer for their work and their profit margin to keep their business running and employee paid, plus pay for domestic vendor’s service if provided.

8. Duty and tax are assessed based on the ‘declared customs value’ shown on the customs invoice. Each country may have a minimum threshold for assessing duty and tax on a one-time importation for personal use (Most consumer purchase is considered one-time importation). For example, USA has a limit of $200 USD but Canada has a dismal $20 limit. EU countries may have different threshold – you can find this information out from your own country’s customs agency website. Once the value of the parcel is over this threshold amount, the in-house customs broker at the courier company has to file a special document with your country’s customs to get the exact amount of tax and duty you owe, plus a ‘brokerage’ fee for doing these paperwork. This is the amount on the COD invoice you get at delivery – it’s a combination of duty, tax and brokerage fees. Some courier’s in-house customs broker may call you ahead of time to pre-notify you that you have a parcel coming from out of country and ask you to ‘prepare to provide customs invoice to clear customs, otherwise the parcel will be returned to its origin’. Do NOT panic when you receive a routine phone call like this – it’s just a pre-notification and often the parcel hasn’t even get to your country yet. At this time check the parcel tracking number to see if it is moving as normal. All courier companies will put a note ‘customs clearance delay’ in parcel tracking history if indeed there are some documents missing and causing clearance delay. And most importantly, they will give you reasonable time to provide the missing documents before they actually return the parcel back to sender.

9. As far as I know, for USA amplifiers have 4.9% duty and for Canada it’s 6.5% for the time being (April 2013). For vacuum tubes, both countries have 6.5% duty rate. However, as many tubes parcel fall under the value of $200 in USA, no duty will be assessed in that case. Keep in mind that duty is assessed on the ‘declared value’ on the customs invoice provided by the international seller or shipper. In some countries such as China, seller is often not the shipper listed on the customs invoice because only special approved companies in China is registered with Chinese government and can export from China. Many individual sellers in China use ‘exporters’ to ship out their parcels and meet Chinese government export requirements. Do not panic if you see your parcel arrived with an unknown name as shipper – it’s just how paperwork works in today’s e-commerce economy. The key is to buy from a repeatable international seller who will help you to navigate the process to get your parcel to your hand safe and sound.

10. I hope the above explanation will help buyers to ease their concern for purchasing from overseas.

Happy shopping globally.

Rachel @ Grant Fidelity

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