Exporting to the united states: how to comply with U.S. customs requirements

Export your goods to the U.S. and make sure your documents comply with U.S. Customs


The United States remains one of Canada’s most important trading partners. Importantly, nearly 80% of Canadian companies exporting to the U.S. are considered non-resident “importers”.

If you export to the U.S., you will most likely be acting as an importer of record for your products. You will be considered an importer of record even if you do not have a physical presence in the U.S. As such, you are responsible for all financial transactions (US import duties and taxes). You must maintain books and records related to customs declarations.

Also, since regulations impose severe fines for fraud or negligence, you must be careful to provide accurate and complete information about your exports. U.S. customs procedures are complex and often different from those in Canada. However, if you are well prepared, shipping goods to the United States can be relatively simple.

Avoid unpleasant surprises when clearing u.s. customs with your goods

 Who hasn’t heard of companies whose goods were held up at customs because of a declaration error? Or received a hefty bill for violating an obligation? Perhaps this has already happened to you? There are many advantages to validating your compliance with U.S. Customs:

  • Avoid paying fines
    • Failing to provide a valid certificate of origin or to retain documents carries a $10,000 USD or 40% of the goods’ value penalty
    • A first failure to provide accurate and complete information to U.S. Customs results in a US$5,000 penalty, and a US$10,000 on subsequent occasions
  • Save time and money by not having to monopolize your employees to respond to auditors
  • Detect errors and take corrective action within the timeframe required by law
  • Maintain a good reputation with the U.S. customs authorities, because if you are audited once and are non-compliant, they will keep an eye on you

Complete your customs documentation and comply with u.s. customs requirements

Whether you are a new exporter to the U.S. or already doing business there, it is essential to ensure that the documents you send to the authorities are accurate. It is also important to update your documents annually, since some regulations may change along the way and have an impact on your declarations to U.S. Customs. CQI can help you with this important part of your export project.

Step 1
U.S. customs declaration

We will check your customs declarations to ensure compliance and make any corrections required. In the United States, a Formal Entry is required if the value of the goods exceeds US$2,500. An Informal Entry is required if the value of the goods is US$2,500 or less. U.S. Customs also requires that the clearance be performed by a U.S. Customs Broker who acts as a bonded agent on behalf of the importer.

Step 2
Certificate of origin and cusma (former nafta)

We can help you complete your certificates of origin allowing you to benefit from the Canada, United States and Mexico Free Trade Agreement (CUSMA). This agreement allows products originating from these three countries to benefit from preferential tariffs. This means that products originating from the CUSMA territory can trade in these three countries duty free (0%), provided that the products meet CUSMA’s rules of origin. In such cases, the exporter must produce a certificate of origin.

Step 3
Documentation required for customs clearance

We will assist you in preparing the required documents and ensuring their compliance. Your shipment must be accompanied by the following documents:

  • Commercial invoice, meeting U.S. Customs requirements
  • CUMA certificate of origin
  • License or permit for controlled products
  • Bill of lading
  • Packing slip

Step 4
Occasional follow-up assistance

Our international transportation and customs compliance experts will be available to answer any questions that may arise along the way and help you comply with regulations so you can get your goods to their destination. We can also help you set up a monitoring system to keep track of your customs documentation and find information quickly to answer any questions from U.S. customs authorities. In fact, as the importer of record in the United States, you must keep all documents related to your imports for five years from the date of importation, in paper or electronic format.

Let cqi guide you through the us customs compliance process

In closing, even if you are dealing with a customs broker, you, not your broker, are ultimately responsible for the information provided to the authorities. It is therefore to your advantage to know how U.S. customs works and to have a good understanding of the documentation required to comply.

Don’t hesitate to call on CQI for all your questions regarding U.S. customs. We can also guide you in terms of customs compliance when attending an industrial fair or trade show as an exhibitor and having merchandise, a booth or other marketing materials to move.

Our American neighbors have a large territory and huge differences in sectors of activity and ways of doing business from one state to the other. Fifty states equal fifty countries, and chances are there is a market waiting for you in the United States! CQI can support your expansion projects in the United States by developing a strategic export plan and market studies for specific states. Find out more about our Horizon 360TM Export Coaching Program.

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