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What Do Customs Brokers Do? A Look At Their Role in Custom Clearances

August 17, 2020
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Customs clearances in Australia entails detailed procedures for various types of goods, medicines, concessions and even live animals (pets). 

The procedure typically consists of the following steps: 

  1. A declaration 
  2. Provision of necessary documentation for customs clearance
  3. The listing of duty-free concessions
  4. Payment of fees/charges. 

Handling all of these on your own can be challenging, especially if you’re importing large volumes of goods. In such instances, opting for professional customs broker assistance through a customs brokerage service can simplify the process. Here’s how the partnership with a professional customs broker would work.

What’s the Role of Custom Brokers in Clearance Procedures?

Customs brokers are licensed professionals who manage the documentation for the importation and exportation of goods in Australia. In other words, they act as intermediaries between their client and the government of Australia.

As professional customs agents; they may have to interact with multiple departments that play a role in the importation or exportation of goods. Key departments include Customs, Department of the Environment and the Department of Infrastructure to name a few.

Customs agents are responsible for classifying goods correctly, checking the clearance documentation and ensuring the absence of errors. When a customs broker does their job correctly, they will guarantee the clearance of goods quickly and effectively.  Licensed customs agents can manage entries in all Australian States. In addition, they can clear goods travelling by cargo, air, sea and post.

What Do I Need to Know About Customs Clearance Procedures?

Customs clearances depend on whether you’re importing or exporting goods.

Australian Customs and the Border Protection Service are the two entities responsible for the enforcement of clearance procedures. All goods that enter Australia have to be cleared. This means they don’t belong to the list of banned goods and they meet all requirements for entry into the country.

Import permits and various other documents will be examined before the clearance is granted.

For some product categories, importers may be required to carry special permits. There could be some special restrictions applying to certain categories of goods and anyone dealing with importation will need to be aware of such regulations.

Here’s one simple example of such special requirements. All products that contain industrial chemicals (cosmetics and cleaning products are just two examples) will have to be registered with the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS). Registration fees will also have to be paid.

Customs brokerage services providers are aware of these special regimes and the different types of permits or registrations required.

If you are new to importing, hiring a customs broker will be the smartest thing to do. You will speed up the importation process and you’ll also reduce the risk of committing a costly mistake.

What Are the Specific Steps in the Customs Clearance Procedure?

Anyone wishing to import goods to Australia will have to go through the following steps:

  • The filling and submission of an import declaration, whenever the value of the goods exceeds 1,000 Australian dollars
  • The completion of EOI checks for the verification of the identities of all involved parties
  • The filling and submission of self-assessed clearance (SAC) declaration
  • The provision of EOI and registration as a client in the ICS (for those who are not registered already)
  • The submission of invoices, bills of lading and necessary permits
  • Once these steps are completed, Customs and Border Protection will check the goods to make sure they meet all importation requirements, they’re not restricted or banned from importation
  • In the event of goods falling under quarantine requirements, an inspection by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources will also have to take place
  • The paying of duty taxes

As you can see, there are many steps and all come with potential risks of making mistakes. Such errors can contribute to costly delays and it’s best to make sure your documentation is in perfect order before getting started with customs clearances.

What Services Do Customs Brokers Offer?

Customs brokers give their clients access to an array of services. Some of the most important solutions delivered by such professionals include:

  • Customs and quarantine clearances
  • Tariff advice and concessions
  • Duty drawbacks and refunds
  • Air, sea or post customs clearance
  • Valuation advice 
  • The filling out of different documents like the electronic lodgement of full import declarations (FIDS)
  • Landed costing
  • Self-assessment clearance
  • Free trade agreements (FTAs)
  • Tradex and related industry schemes establishment
  • The classification of goods in accordance with customs regulations
  • The paying of duties and taxes on behalf of the importer

And various others.

Globalisation has contributed to the movement of larger volumes of goods than ever before from one part of the world to another. Unfortunately, many transportation and importation schemes are carried out without a full understanding of the Australian regulatory framework. Such mistakes and omissions can contribute to costly delays, fines and even re-exports. 

In some instances, customs officials will even order the destruction of goods at the owner’s expense.

The job of the customs broker is to prevent all of these problems from occurring by ensuring correct documentation and the representation of their client in front of the respective Australian authority.

How Are Customs Brokers Licensed?

A customs broker license can be issued under one of three categories:

  • Corporate: this is a company licensed to act on behalf of clients who are attempting to import goods to Australia
  • Sole trader: this is a sole proprietor license that enables a professional to offer services on their own rather than through a company or a partnership trust
  • Nominee: a natural person that is licensed to act as a customs broker but solely as an employee of a corporation

The Department of Home Affairs issues professional customs broker licenses for a period of up to three years. Once issued, a licence can be renewed effortlessly through the payment of a fee.

All potential licensees have to meet an array of mandatory conditions as stipulated by the Department of Home Affairs. These requirements are highlighted in the Customs Act and they aim to protect clients and ensure adherence to the best professional standards. 

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Customs Broker?

Customs brokerage services are quite diversified, as you’ve already seen. Some agencies offer standard and priority services. A priority service will result in the faster clearance of imported goods but it’s obviously more expensive. In both cases, the client will have to cover the broker’s fees and the customs charges/taxes.

As far as fees and charges go, there is a five per cent customs duty + 10 per cent GST.  Importers also have to pay a 50-dollar processing/government entry fee. Depending on the specifics of the goods, some duty and GST exemptions may apply. It’s the broker’s duty to inform clients of such financial facilitations.

To determine how much the services of a customs broker are going to cost you, it’s best to conduct some research early in the process. Get quotes from several companies or professionals. By receiving multiple offers, you’ll get a much better idea about the averages in the industry.

When choosing a professional to represent you in front of Australian customs, make sure you’re provided with sufficient details about all aspects of the interaction and the total cost for import clearance.

Final Verdict

Partnering up with a customs broker can save you both time and money.

Customs brokers know the latest regulations, amendments and potential regulatory changes. As such, they can advise clients about the best course of action in any given situation. In addition, customs brokers can fulfil all needed documents quickly and without errors. Management of the importation process is offered from the first to the last step, allowing the client to focus on other strategic aspects of running their business.

If you’re not that experienced with the importing of goods or you worry about restrictions, you should definitely consult an experienced customs broker. Professionally-guided customs clearances are usually easier, faster and much more cost-efficient than attempting to handle everything on your own and committing a major mistake that could cost you the entire shipment.


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