Need help with your US Imports from an international freight forwarder? Here are some things to consider!

International freight forwarders can rescue you from US import craziness

Are you looking to bring merchandise into the United States from abroad?

You should know that whether the goods are commercial for re-sale or merely personal effects and household goods, you can expect a wide range of costs, and to meet those costs, there are a wide range of services out there to help you.

Whether importing by Ocean or Air, there are numerous considerations one should make when determining how to go about it. Approved International freight forwarders will help you short-cut the process and eliminate a lot of the headaches, and here’s why:

1: Getting Started

First, the shipment has to be picked up from the supplier’s or shipper’s door in the foreign country from where the international shipment will commence. There will several factors involved in determining pricing up front, such as determining if the shipment will be expedited by air transport or sea transport, whether it is commercial goods or household personal affects, or whether the pick up location is a commercial, industrial, or private location.

We recently had a customer who wanted to import cabinetry from German to the United States for his private residence. Immediately, he called two freight forwarders. One was a larger, international outfit, and the other was us. He wanted reach AND solid customer service, so he was hoping he could find both within at least one of us.

2: Large vs Small

A large forwarding corporation with many branch offices throughout the world may have the size and resources to gain business from larger companies, but smaller forwarders have just as many resources at their disposal to move shipments from point A to point B to point C and so on. It may not seem that way at first, but freight forwarding is about tapping into a logistics network, and it doesn’t matter if you’re large or small, none of us own every piece of the supply chain. We’re forwarders. The very nature of our business is that we’re plugging you in with multiple resources to get the job done.

There exists an unofficial international fraternity of freight forwarders, so even though large forwarding corporations may have branch offices in every major country and can merely use the services of their overseas bureaus, smaller firms that don’t have their own offices stationed overseas are at no real disadvantage. In fact, being smaller, makes us more nimble and flexible in our usage of resources, because we’re not limited by corporate agendas to push everything through our satellite offices.

A forwarder based in the United States will use the services of a forwarder based in Germany to make the preliminary shipment arrangements for getting the goods transported to the United States. Such preliminary arrangements often include arranging pick up from the supplier’s door in Germany, warehousing and cargo inspection to ensure the suitability of the shipment for international transport, whether by air or ocean, export customs clearance so that the shipment is cleared by German customs to be expedited from the German seaport or airport, necessary pre-departure customs filings required by the United States customs, and transfer of the cargo to the seaport or airport of departure.

3: Who does what

The forwarder in the country of origin of the shipment typically arranges all the transport services up the the seaport, airport, or inland point at the country of destination. Depending on where you are based in the origin or destination country, the local forwarder would in effect provide all the services required for the international shipment.

It’s whomever is closest in proximity to you that will handle the bulk of the heavy lifting.

In the case of our customer with the kitchen cabinets to be shipped from Germany to the United States, they worked with us directly to sort out the details. 

4: Import & Export Fees

There are two sets of charges you can expect to encounter: Import and Export.

EXPORT: These include some of the preliminary arrangements listed above in addition to any other fees and services required to bring the shipment out of the origin country and to the destination port in regards to the kitchen cabinets shipping from Germany.

The expectation by many is that these ared fixed fees, but the reality is that there are many instances where random charges will occur. A great example of this are customs inspections. Shipments, whether in the origin or destination countries, are at the mercy of the customs offices in either country and can be subjected to exams if there are any inconsistencies in the shipment details, especially in the filing that the forwarder submits to the customs office in order to secure release of the shipment for expedition from the exporting country. 

IMPORT:  This set of charges may or may not include delivery to the delivery location of the final receiver of the cargo, depending on the freight terms, or incoterms, agreed upon between the seller in the exporting country and the buyer in the receiving country. One of the most important and crucial charges for customs clearance into the United States is the Importer Security Filing (ISF) fee. It is not an expensive fee, averaging anywhere from $ 75.00 to $ 125.00 per shipment, nor a very elaborate process, but the timing of this filing is very important.

For about the last five or six years, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), the regulatory federal agency that overseas and regulates all ocean imports and exports to and from the United States, has required that all importers of record in the United States to pre-file the details of their foreign shipments to United States customs at least two business days before the estimated departure date from the exporting country. Of course, those of you looking to import goods into the United States who enlist the services of knowledgeable international freight forwarders don’t have to get stuck in the details of these issues.

Failure to provide the ISF filing to U.S. customs in the time frame required can result in U.S. customs holding the shipment once it arrives at the destination seaport in the U.S., thus causing port demurrage and per diem charges to be incurred. Demurrage and per diem charges and any fees incurred and charged by the steamship line and their associated port terminals if the container is not retrieved by the importer or importer’s agent before the port’s last free day. 

5: Other fees

CUSTOMS ENTRY FEES: These typically range from $ 150.00 to $ 250.00 per shipment. This is the official request from the U.S. importer or their agent to U.S. customs to have their shipment cleared and released for entry into the U.S. This fee typically allows up to three harmonized tariff codes to be submitted to U.S. customs for review.

HARMONIZED TARIFF CODE: This is a commodity classification that determines how much duty and tax will be levied upon the U.S. importer by U.S. customs. Each tariff code is ten digits in length and is applied to specific commodities based on the materials of construction, commodity characteristics, and intended final uses. 

CUSTOMS BOND FEE: This one is also required for import clearance into the U.S., which typically ranges from $ 4.00 to $ 10.00 per $ 1,000.00 of the declared shipment value. An importer bringing goods into the U.S., especially commercial merchandise having more than $ 2,500.00 of  value and especially goods subject to federal agency regulations, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), are required to purchase a customs bond which acts as a surety to U.S. customs that all applicable duties and taxes will be paid.


Importing to the US can be a monstrous hassle without the right resources at your side. Whether you’re using a big or small freight forwarder, having one at your side will help you navigate through the most challenging issues and better understand the total costs involved prior to executing the order.

Interested in learning more about YOUR import to the US? Get a free quote today!

GET a quote




Tell us a little about your project, we’ll respond same day (Monday – Friday, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm).