Aerial view of a cargo ship at sea

Are you shipping to the U.S. this holiday season? Follow these holiday shipping tips from the customs experts at FedEx Trade Networks Express Clearance Operations team and ship stress-free.

Tip 1: Completely fill out your air waybill, invoice and supporting documentation.

The customs clearance process begins with the descriptions on the air waybill.

  • Unacceptably vague, ambiguous, inaccurate or incomplete descriptions may result in shipments being held or rejected by US Customs and Border Protection or a Partner Government Agency, leading to delays and possible penalties.
  • By completing your air waybills carefully - and by taking special care to provide clear, accurate and detailed commodity descriptions - you will help us to reduce clearance and delivery times.

Tip 2: Be sure to include clear, accurate and detailed commodity descriptions on your air waybill.

  • The most common reasons for customs delays involve missing, inaccurate or insufficient information on the shipment documentation, such as:
    • Insufficient or missing description
    • Missing invoice
    • No value breakout included for shipments with multiple types of items
    • The country of manufacture is different on the air waybill than what is described on the invoice
    • Ultimate Consignee ID Number (EIN) is not provided on the invoice
    • Additional participating government agency requirements (i.e. FDA, TSCA, HS7) 
    • Insufficient information for personal medication shipments.

Tip 3: Do not use ambiguous descriptions like “gift,” “present,” “sample” or “parts”— US Customs and Border Protection does not accept these and using them will cause delays

  • An acceptable description provides precise information to allow US Customer and Border Protection to identify and verify the physical characteristics and packing of each shipment, including:
    • An accurate description of the goods – what is it?
    • The volume of goods contained in the shipment – how many items?
    • The composition of the goods – what’s it made of?
    • The intended use of the goods – what’s it part of or used for
  • Customs and Border Protection does not accept single word descriptions and using them will cause delays. It is important to be as specific as possible in your package content descriptions. Common one-word descriptions to avoid include:
    • Parts
    • Gifts
    • Personal
    • Present
    • Sample
  • The use of “gift” is acceptable so long as proper additional information is included in the description.
    • Please ensure that shipments labeled “gift” also include the basic important requirements such as the commercial invoice, a detailed description of the goods to determine proper classification, and an indication of whether or not the goods are subject to regulation by any Partner Government Agencies. For example, note on the air waybill that the good is an unsolicited gift, not for resale, and include a detailed description of the good, including whether it is homemade or store-bought (for example, “homemade sugar cookies for personal consumption; not for resale”).
  • More detailed information about what constitutes a good description can be found in the FedEx Shipping Guide Commodity Description.

Tip 4: Double-check to make sure the information on your air waybill and invoice match.

Tip 5: Remember that your air waybill, commercial invoice, and other supporting documentation need to be in English, per US Customs and Border Protection requirements.

Related campaign:

PD Ports Northern Powerhouse Export Awards, in association with HSBC, seeks to recognise the most entrepreneurial exporters from across the Northern Powerhouse.

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Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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