Custom clearance delays can be distracting. A good freight forwarder will deal with it for you.

Inspections are up – morale is down. Where does that leave you?

There is nothing more frustrating than getting that notice that your cargo is going through an inspection… Well, that’s not entirely true, because when you start digging around and realize what the delays caused by the inspection are going to do to the rest of your timing and costs, well, that’s when it gets worse.

So, who do you blame? What do you do next? What could you have done differently?

 MORE LIKE THIS: Dealing w/ Customs & the Unpredictable Importing From Saudi Arabia


Shippers have seen an increase in the customs clearance delays in 2016, whether, on import or export of personal effects or commercial shipments. Why that is, exactly, is uncertain, but we know it’s happening. Your forwarders, international shipping companies, along with the clearing agents won’t be able to do more than speculate on the subject.

The fact is that it’s out of our control, which means that we need to find a way to roll with the punches. But it’s also important to work with a freight forwarder who can anticipate inspections, help you understand your different options, and the level of risk vs costs when it comes to delays associated with customs inspections.

The blame game:

Shippers often feel anger and frustration with customs inspections that create delays & add serious costs. I get it. You probably want to identify the source of the problem, so you can minimize chances of it happening again in the future. I get that too.

Here are a few steps I suggest to take PRIOR to committing your shipment:

  1. Find a freight forwarder who is willing to explain risks with you
  2. Use a freight forwarder that is deeply experienced and well-networked, so they can put you on a route with minimal opportunities for delays if that is a concern
  3. Use a freight forwarder that is nimble, and able to deal with the domino-effect that occurs when delayed
  4. Use a freight forwarder that you are confident in being able to pivot quickly and provide updated cost estimates quickly

The point is, find a good freight forwarder from the outset, and you’ll have the guidance you need when customs does their thing.


Existing inspections trends based on shipment type:

Export Full Container Loads

For export of full container loads, whether personal effects or commercial shipments, we observe the highest inspection rate over other means of shipping.


Import Full Container Loads

Customs inspections happen more frequently on personal effects than commercial shipments


Import Ocean Consolidation

 Inspections are much less frequent.


Air import or air export inspections

It is a tiny fraction & of no apparent concern


What to expect when an inspection hits:

You have 2 sorts of inspections:

  1. a) Through a massive X-ray machine.
  2. b) 2nd intensive exam

X-ray inspections are quick. As an example, in Long Beach or Los Angeles, Customs will assign a company called Price Transfer to pick-up the container & bring it to their site for an x-ray. Price Transfer requires payments for their services, & delays create additional storage. Fees vary.

Intensive exam is decided by Customs, and is also performed off site by their chosen company (For Los Angeles and Long Beach, it’s the same company as before, Price Transfer). You may experience a partial or full exam. It is costly and can take 1 day to 2 weeks. Fees vary.

In conclusion, there is nothing you can do to guarantee you don’t go through a costly random customs inspection. In fact, we never even get an explanation as to why an inspection occurs. That’s not to say that you can’t minimize inspections for other reasons, but when lady luck draws your number, it’s about working with people that you feel confident will navigate through all of the other challenges that now lie ahead.

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