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When you’re shipping goods internationally by air, sea, or land they must pass through customs. This procedure allows the goods to legally enter or exit a country. When your shipment is cleared, following the production of any necessary documentation confirming custom duties have been paid, then your shipment can be processed.

So, what is customs clearance? Read on to find out more…

The customs clearance process explained

Customs clearance is compulsory and export or import clearance has to be acquired before any cargo can leave the port or airport of origin or be delivered to its final destination.

A customs officer will study your shipment paperwork to verify that it’s all in order. Depending on the value and type of goods the officer will check to see if taxes and duties have been paid. If not, the shipment will be marked as DDU (Delivery Duty Unpaid) and will not be released until all taxes and duties have been paid for.

These charges can quickly add up and will be forwarded to an independent customs broker to collect the required amount. Once it’s confirmed that outstanding DPP (Delivery Duty Paid) has been settled in full your shipment will be released to continue to its final destination.

Export documentation

Documents required for customs clearance include:

  • Purchase order from the buyer
  • A commercial invoice
  • Packing list
  • Shipping bill
  • Bill of lading or air way bill
  • Certification of origin
  • Any other specific documentation required as per exporting country regulations

Import documentation

Documents required for customs clearance include:

  • Purchase order from the buyer
  • Sales invoice of the supplier
  • Bill of entry
  • Bill of lading or air way bill
  • Packing list
  • Certificate of origin
  • Any other specific documentation required as per importing country regulations

Import customs procedures in Spain

If Spain is the country of destination for your goods you need to understand the rules and regulations. Customs clearance in Spain is classified using the harmonised system. Import duties and taxes are due on goods imported to Spain outside of the EU, with duties ranging from 0-17%, with the general tariff averaging around 4%. Foodstuffs, textiles, and clothing can experience some protection measures which often result in higher tariffs.

There are many documents required and these include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Power of attorney for import declaration
  • Import declaration
  • Import transit declaration
  • Registration list for entry
  • Import licence application
  • Inspection certificate

Restricted items include all firearms and ammunition, animal skins, chemicals, and drugs. You’ll need to carefully read the Customs Regulations for up-to-date accurate information on goods forbidden or restricted to Spain. You can also contact Spain’s Custom Service or look on the international carrier-specific page.

Payment methods for customs duty are by cash in Euros, by cheque, money order, or wire transfer. Payment terms may also be offered via collection or customs credit.

How to make the customs process quicker

Customs clearance time will be faster if you make sure your shipment is properly loaded. When this isn’t done correctly delays can occur with searches and examinations being carried out. Container guidelines including proper stowage and space utilisation should be followed to ensure a smooth passage.

If customs authorities have questions, the duration may be extended from online customs entries taking as little as 24 hours, up to a few days or even weeks for complex issues.

There’s always a lot of paperwork involved in international shipping and it all needs to be accurate and complete. You’ll need to provide business information, inventories, and cargo value.

Rules, regulations, and laws differ from county to country, so it can be extremely helpful to have a specialist – a customs broker or freight forwarder– to guide you through the process.

Finding a customs broker

Freight forwarders have access to licensed customs brokers worldwide, and letting them handle customs clearance for you is by far the simplest option. Customs brokers will help you with:

  • Verifying if you’re complying with customs regulations
  • Handling the majority of paperwork on your behalf
  • Avoiding shipping problems with regards to trade agreements
  • Informing you if goods are unsafe for shipment
  • Reducing any potential risks involved

Your customs broker will also be able to keep you up to date with the status of your customs clearance and tell you immediately if there are any delays or hold-ups. You may also be able to track your cargo via online services provided.

The cost of customs clearance

Individual customs brokers will charge different prices depending on the range of services they provide. If you’re using a freight forwarder with a customs broker as part of the import service, your price will reflect the customs elements.

Fees will be based on the imported products alongside their point of origin and value. Your cost will typically include:

  • A flat fee to cover the customs clearance charge
  • Delivery costs
  • Inspection fees
  • Agency and bank transfer fees

Usually, total costs to clear customs are between 20-30% of the shipment’s value.