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What should I do when my shipment is stuck at customs?

Why is my package stuck in customs?

There are many reasons why a shipment might be stuck at customs, these reasons can differ in severity from high (your goods are prohibited) to low (having the incorrect paperwork).

  • If you think you have a shipment stuck in customs your first action should be to contact the seller who has shipped your goods. The shipping company often will only talk to the seller about the shipment. Find out what is happening with the shipment by contacting seller and if they missed out any of the important documentation required to smoothly move your shipment over the border. Your seller will be able to contact the shipper and get more information concerning your shipment and the problems faced.
  • Second option is to contact your carrier, but please ensure that your shipment is actually stuck in customs. Contacting the shipper will help you to identify if there is anything you can do to speed up your shipments time in customs.
  • Find out if there are outstanding taxes you owe to pay. Many countries impose taxes on shipments over a certain value, if these taxes are payable on your shipment it will be held until the outstanding balance is paid. If you use a standard express shipper or the postal service they will pay the tax for you (DDU), clearing your goods through customs. If your products have high commercial value, like for example, in the US, items whose value is worth over $2500 you will require a customs broker will arrange for the taxes to be paid and for the shipment to be released from customs.
  • Ensure there is no missing or incorrect paperwork. Missing paperwork is one of the most common reasons for delays in shipping. Depending on the size and value of your shipment, the documentation required may vary. Even simple mistakes like the seller forgetting to attach an invoice or CN22 customs form can cause significant delays to your shipment. Incorrect paperwork can cause considerable customs headaches, make sure your documents are in order and aren’t in the wrong language or alphabet.
  • Finally, just wait. Unfortunately if you have chosen to use a slower form of shipping such as airmail, in many countries customs is a slow and stressful process. Often, shipments are held up in customs to check that the contents of the package and the value of the goods were declared accurately. There is little that can be done to stop or speed up these random checks and attempts to such may just be a waste of time. If your shipment is sent via the postal system, waiting is often the best option, as tracking is notoriously unreliable and often it’s better to just relax. Your shipment will come eventually, but it might take some time. Keeping calm is part of the battle, try not to stress too much about the delays, your shipment will come eventually. Sometimes the package tracking can be inaccurate, packages can disappear somewhere and reappear elsewhere, hold on, it will come. Fortunately, the postal system is great when it comes to customs – your shipment will be automatically cleared and released, you just need to wait and pay any payable taxes if you’re approached, it is a very easy process but also very slow.

Why is my parcel stuck in Canada customs?

The customs release of a shipment can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several days depending on circumstances. Once your Customs Broker has completed your entry for customs and transmits the data, it takes about 20 minutes for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to receive it. Now that your entry has been received by the CBSA, it is now up to an officer to review the entry and either accept or reject the shipment – This step of course can take anywhere from just a few minutes to a few hours depending on the number of Customs staff available and congestion at the port of crossing.

There is however, the possibility that prior to its release, your shipment may be Held for inspection. If your shipment is inspected, it will be placed in a bonded warehouse and inspected by Customs officers at their earliest convenience. Generally, Customs officers will visit multiple sites during the day and process their releases in the afternoon. The process can take anywhere from 12-48 hours and even longer during high traffic periods.

Customs releases are also not guaranteed. There are a number of reasons a shipment can be rejected:

  • Temporary rejects: This may happen when information keyed into the entry does not match up exactly with the shipments paperwork. Customs will notify the broker and a change to the entry will be made
  • Permanent Rejects: There are several reasons why a shipment may be rejected from Canada all together. A mis-declaration (declaring apples when you are crossing with oranges), under-valuing your goods, or simply not permissible in Canada for health and safety reasons. If this is the case, you will either have to have the goods shipped back to the supplier or have the goods destroyed by the CBSA at your own expense.

What can I do if the parcel I am expecting is in Canada customs?

The status of a parcel sent to you from another country indicates that it is to be reviewed by customs. You need to wait for the package to clear customs. Here’s how the process works:

  • Canada Post presents all incoming international parcels to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for customs review. Once a parcel is with CBSA, Canada Post cannot intervene or inquire about the status of the parcel. Times for packages to clear customs vary. Delays can occur due to the package itself, its documentation or volumes at customs.
  • The CBSA visually inspects each parcel or piece of mail.
  • Package contents that are not on the prohibited items list and not subject to duties or taxes are released for delivery. Packages that require further inspection or duty and tax assessment are held for further action.
  • Once your package has cleared customs, it is handed over to Canada Post for delivery. Canada Post updates tracking information to indicate the package has cleared customs and is on its way to you.

Why is my parcel stuck in UK customs?

Customs clearance normally takes a matter of minutes or hours but it can take days or even weeks if there’s something wrong or your goods need to be inspected. We generally say that from your goods landing in the UK you’ll have them delivered to your door in about 7 days and the customs clearance is only a fraction of that time.

UK Customs is a border control unit that monitors and controls what is allowed to leave the country; if goods are allowed in, Customs are also the ones that charge UK Duties and Taxes. Customs is a protective measure, put in place to ensure that nothing harmful to the UK can enter.

Why Do Goods Get Held By Customs? What To Do If Your Goods Are Being Held

Make sure that your goods are actually being held by customs. It may be the case that goods are simply being delayed and you need to wait. Unfortunately, the shipping process can be hit with delays on occasion.

There are many reasons that your goods can be held at customs. Most of these reasons are due to the fact that customs can’t (from their perspective) safely clear your goods. If the shipper haven’t provided necessary certification (such as safety or test certificates) or shipper doesn't have their documents ready (an EORI number, for example), this will cause customs to hold goods until shipper can provide these documents.

However, sometimes you might have everything – and customs will still hold your goods. A reason that this often happens is that they want to test goods for quality or compliance to UK standards.

Why is my parcel stuck at Langley HWDC?

There can be huge delays at HWDC. It's Royal Mail international hub and when parcel volume is high like during Christmas, parcels take longer time to be processed. It will eventually be released. All I can advise is to be patient.

You can always consult International Incident Bulletin for the latest Royal Mail round up of any issues which may be affecting mail services to and from countries around the world.

For example as of August 31, 2021: Items to some EU destinations are also experiencing customs delays. This is the result of changes to the EU’s VAT rules for items from non-EU destinations from 1st July. Also delays should be expected as a result of ongoing COVID-19 reduction measures and reduced air transport capacity.

Heathrow Worldwide Distribution Centre (HWDC) is a sorting office for inbound and outbound international mail operated by Royal Mail. Located close to Heathrow Airport, the HWDC is situated in the town of Langley, Berkshire.

HWDC is one of the most automated postal centres in Europe. Automated conveyor systems transport trays of mail to automated mail processing equipment and manual or special handling workstations. The conveyors read the bar code labels on the trays and then transport them to the desired destination. When the mail is sorted on the automated mail sorting equipment, the letter destination image is lifted by high speed optical cameras. Both inbound and outbound mail are then automatically sorted into groups.

Customs Clearance Process

Here's what happens when your shipment arrives at customs.

  1. A customs officer examines your customs paperwork These documents must be accurate and complete, specifically the shipping label and commercial invoice. The commercial invoice is most important because it lists the contact information for the shipper, the receiver, as well as the export date and airway bill number.

  2. Import duties and taxes are assessed using the customs paperwork. Import fees vary depending on the type of goods, their value, and specific import regulations in the receiving country. Import duties are assessed on goods that exceed the de minimus value, or the minimum taxable threshold for imported goods.

  3. Customs requests payment for taxes and duties, if applicable. If your shipment exceeds the tax threshold, the customs officer checks if duty and taxes have been paid. Additionally, certain restricted goods may incur fees regardless of their value. At this point, the choice between shipping with Deliver Duty Unpaid (DDU) and Deliver Duty Paid (DDP) becomes relevant.

    Delivery Duty Paid (DDP) means that import duties and taxes have already been paid. Most express couriers services like FedEx have customs brokers who will process this payment on your behalf at customs. With DDP, the price you paid for shipping covers any import fees, and this is reflected on the attached shipping label. In other words, using DDP is the best way to ensure a smooth customs clearance process.

    Delivery Duty Unpaid (DDU) means that import duties and taxes are unpaid. In this case, the customs officer forwards the shipment to an independent customs broker to collect the required amount.

    Customs brokers are middlemen who charge fees for facilitating the customs clearance process. These variable fees can be expensive because they include brokerage, storage, and late payment.

    With customs fees unpaid, the broker will contact the recipient to collect payment.

  4. Your shipment clears customs once all duties are paid. Once customs clearance is complete, your chosen courier service transports the shipment from customs to the end-destination. Shipments rarely get stuck at customs. When they do, it's usually because of faulty paperwork.

Who should I contact to find out if my package is stuck in customs?

If your package is held at customs, you should contact the courier company in charge of your shipment. Normally, they should be able to help you with the customs clearing process, or even, just identifying the problem. Before contact, make sure you have the tracking number to give it to the courier to check its status.

What are the fees that apply in case my package is stuck in customs for a long time?

The shipping provider may charge:

  • a customs clearance fee or customs handling fee for processing all the necessary documentation
  • an advancement fee for paying the duty and VAT on behalf of the sender
  • a security fee for screening or x-raying the goods, a fee for preparing the customs declaration or other

Is your packages getting ‘Held at Customs’ status?

‘Held at Customs‘ means the package you are sending to the destination country is held by the officials of the importer country’s customs office. These government bodies hold the packages until they ensure that only permissible items cross their border and the taxes (Duties & Excise) are paid for the import.

There are multiple reasons you might get the message “Held at Customs”. Some of the most prominent of them are:

  • Incomplete Documents
  • Unpaid Customs Duties
  • Sending Restricted or Prohibited items

So, if there are even slight mistakes in these documents or there are unpaid duties, you may end up wasting weeks just to get the package cleared through customs.

VAT, Custom Duty, and shipping tax definitions

Import Duty. A tax imposed by a government on goods from other countries. Increased prices on imported goods make these products less "desirable" so buyers are encouraged to support the domestic market.

GST. Goods & Services Tax. This tax is charged in stages, then reimbursed to everyone except the end buyer. It’s different from VAT because it’s a flat-rate percentage of the total transaction, instead of a percentage of value added.

VAT Tax. Otherwise known as Value Added Tax. This tax is charged to consumers when they buy any good or service.

Commercial invoice. A required document in international shipping that describes the items in the shipment and their value. Commercial couriers and customs brokers refer to this document to process and clear your package through customs.

Customs clearance costs when package was shipped within European Union

The European Union is a customs-free zone. Goods produced in member states of the EU, or any other country with specific contracts for free circulation of goods, will not be subject to customs charges. In most cases, when shipping within the European Union, there are no additional customs clearance fees.

What is customs clearance?

If parcel is being shipped internationally across borders, the shipment will go through customs. The customs authorities will make sure it is following the regulations of the importing country. This means that they will check if the shipping parties have provided all the required documentation and that the customs fees for the international shipping are paid.

Who pays for the customs fees for international shipping?

Customs duties are usually paid by the receiver unless otherwise agreed with the sender. The amount of money that the receiver would have to pay depends on the data provided in the customs declaration, the supporting documents or the additional information the customs officers may request.

Can I refuse to pay the customs fees for international shipping?

Yes, but keep in mind there are two possible scenarios if you refuse to pay the customs fees:

  • You can refuse to pay customs for your shipping, and the package will be destroyed.
  • Parcel is returned to the sender. When you refuse to pay the customs fees for the international shipping, the sender will have to cover the shipping costs.

Why is my package stopped in customs?

There are many reasons why a package can be stopped in customs:

  • The customs in the delivery country require more information.
  • The paperwork is not done as required.
  • The package contains any prohibited or restricted items.
  • The mode of transportation the package is being shipped with (air, road, rail, sea).

How long will it take for the customs to release my package?

It depends on each case specifically, but it may take from few days to a couple of months. How long the customs will hold your package will depend on whether you have paid the taxes and duties, if you have provided them all the required documentation, whether the box contains prohibited or restricted items or the transportation method.

What To Do If Your Shipment Is Stuck in Customs

Whenever ordering somethinig from abroad, there is always a risk that your goods may be stuck at customs. Some of the ways to lower that risk are to ensure all the paperwork is correct, and that the duties & taxes are paid before shipping. However, even if everything is done right, your shipment still has a chance of being stuck in customs.

The paperwork was submitted with consignment errors. Most countries require at least a commercial invoice indicating the value of each line item for the shipment to be cleared. Without a commercial invoice, customs will not be able to determine the value of the shipment and determine the duties & taxes payable. Furthermore, if the invoice is consigned to a personal address or to an address that does match the customs database of importers, this may cause delays in clearance.

Customs flagged the shipment and it requires an inspection. Random inspections occur frequently when shipping internationally, especially when shipping to countries with stricter import controls. For example, in China and Brazil, almost each shipment is inspected to ensure import regulations are met, and if the proper permits and declarations aren’t met, the shipment will be subject to lengthy delays and potentially confiscation.

The declared value of the shipment is inconsistent with the accepted pricing customs has on file. A problem that you may face when importing into more regulated countries is how their local customs values the goods. When an item is imported, customs may deem the declared value of the item is not in-line with what they have seen in the past. If the declared value falls outside a valuation range customs deems acceptable, they will not clear the shipment and will require new paperwork is submitted with a higher valuation.

Why is my shipment held in customs and what do I need to do to resolve the delay?

Most delays in customs clearance do not require you to take any action. Reasons for your parcel to be held in customs include:

  • Physical inspection - Normally, your paperwork is inspected, and your parcel cleared. However, sometimes the contents of your package are also inspected, which takes extra time. This can take a day or two longer than normal.
  • Customs backlog - Sometimes if customs are busy, clearance gets delayed and parcels are queued awaiting clearance.

When your parcel is shipped to another country, the contents of your parcel and the customs paperwork that you sent with the parcel will be checked to assess if duty or tax is payable.

Once your shipment has been inspected, customs may request further information from the shipper or receiver.

What do I do if my shipment is stuck in customs?

If your shipment in stuck in customs, first check with your carrier and make sure there are no unpaid taxes. Should you come across unpaid taxes, pay them.

If that doesn’t work, your next point of contact is the shipper. The shipper then has two people they can contact: the carrier and, if they have one, their fulfillment company. The shipper may need to provide additional information in order to complete paperwork. In either case, it’s the shipper’s responsibility to resolve customs issues as long as you’ve paid your taxes.

That said, oftentimes, the only thing you can really do is be patient. International shipping is not always fast. Sometimes customs can hold on to packages for prolonged periods of time. You are very likely to receive your package at some point. Sometimes customs drags their feet. Sometimes the tracking information isn’t updated and your package actually is being shipped to you.

My Parcel is Held by Customs in Australia

You are expecting your parcel to be delivered to you by Australia Post, you find that the parcels delivery process has come to an abrupt halt and your parcel delivery status is now showing held pending customs clearance.

The Inspection of international mail items by local and international customs authorities is a standard part of the process of sending or receiving mail from overseas and generally the item continues on its delivery journey smoothly.

Here's what you need to do

  • Where your goods are declared or assessed as being valued at A$1,000 or more (excluding alcohol and tobacco), you must make an import declaration to Customs and Border Protection to clear your goods for delivery to you from Australia Post
  • Where goods are valued at A$1000.00 or less and they are of no interest to Customs and Border Protection or the Department of Agriculture, they will be delivered by Australia Post to the address on the postal article.

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