So there you are, going about your (crazy) business, and out of nowhere, your boss asks, “Hey, what if we started to self-file our Customs entries and did it all in-house? Wouldn’t that save us a lot of money?” Your world seems to temporarily collapse and you can’t breathe properly. How do you even begin to dissect this question? Well, you’re the not the first and certainly not the last to be on the receiving end of this question. Or, you could be the one asking the question. In truth, most importers have thought about it, even if just for a second, so it is bound to happen.  Today, it’s all about proving your return-on-investment (ROI) so you need to be prepared for this conversation. It’s your lucky day because this article will help you navigate through the complicated world of Customs clearance and all of the little parts that need to come together to make it into a fully functioning shipment clearing machine.  It’s quite the delicate balance between technology, compliance, and humans. Here are the 11 questions you should ask yourself and of your business when considering whether self-filing is the right fit for you as an importer:

  1. How much will I have to pay for an employee plus benefits a year?  This is step 1.  Now, figure out how much you paid your broker last year.  Take into consideration that if you are looking to hire a licensed broker (which would be recommended), the cost will be even higher.
  2. Who will provide you with regulatory guidance?  There’s much more to Customs clearance than just filing entries.  If you are selected for a Focused Assessment, to whom will you turn?  If you need to ensure a new regulation doesn’t apply to you, will you feel 100% comfortable in relying on your new employee alone?  How will you train this person?  Who will audit your entries?  Good Customs brokers will help you navigate through all the intricacies of the regs and figure out what you do/do not need to worry about.  They have an entire team for this type of stuff.
  3. How will you transmit your information electronically to Customs?  Brokers have the technology and infrastructure in place for an Automated Broker Interface (ABI) connection and Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) programming. ABI/ACE connectivity will cost you money.  Remember that when Customs makes regulatory changes, using a broker means no cost your IT budget or resources; they will make all the necessary changes to the system and you won’t even know it.
  4. How can you ensure coverage?  If you’d have a large brokerage team, you should be okay as long as they are cross-trained.  But, if you have one person handling all of your entry filing in-house, and he or she calls in sick or goes on vacation – or, gasp, quits – what are you going to do?  A broker will have coverage, no matter what.
  5. How will you handle changes in shipment volume?  As your import program grows or experiences peaks, your broker should be able to accommodate these changes.
  6. How will you communicate with steamship lines, freight forwarders, truckers, and warehouses?  Many brokers have electronic connection with these parties where data is automatically transmitted to their systems.  Think about how much time this person or team will spend on the phone communicating with all these parties.
  7. Who will track and trace your cargo?  Brokers do more than just file entries.  They also track and trace your cargo to make sure it is moving as it should and to confirm arrival and delivery to its final destination.  This takes a lot of time and dedication.  If it’s not done properly, you could end up with delayed shipments or demurrage situations.  And here is the sweetener:  brokers typically do not charge you extra for tracking your cargo; that’s included in the Customs entry services fee.
  8. Do you have any special entries like anti-dumping duties (ADD), countervailing duties (CVD), quotas, Fish & Wildlife (FWS)?  If so, there are special entry requirements for filing; therefore, you’ll need to have a process in place to get the documentation and the right details in the hands of the right government agency.
  9. Who will coordinate the pick-up and delivery from the terminal?  Brokers coordinate the Customs release information with Customs, steamship lines, terminals, and truckers to get your cargo picked up and delivered.  Trust us when we say that just because it shows released, it does not mean that all of the other parties are on the same page (this happens daily).  Also, don’t forget that all importers deal with Customs exams from time to time, and if that happens, someone will need to coordinate getting the documentation to the right place, arranging to move the cargo to the exam site, ensuring pick-up after release.
  10. Does the employee or team have strong relationships in the industry?  Brokers that have been in the business a long time know people – the people that you need to know to get things done.  It makes a huge difference when you know who to call at the port, Customs, Participating Government Agencies (PGAs), and carriers.
  11. How will you have visibility of your cargo?  Any good broker should have a shipment tracking system that provides full cargo visibility, including Customs release and Importer Security Filing (ISF) information, with a click of a button.  The best Customs brokers will also give you awesome dashboards with nice graphs that help you analyze the data and make good decisions based on existing trends.

At the end of the day, every business is different and what might work for one company might be a disaster for another.  The bottom line is that brokers file 95% of all Customs entries in the US and there’s a reason for this.  In general, the other 5% is comprised of very large, global companies with extensive resources to support such programs. So, now, take a deep breath, and go through this list and give some careful thought to the pros and cons…if you dare (evil broker laugh ensues, in the spirit of Halloween)!

Have you been faced with this question?  Are there more things to consider when evaluating self-filing?  Please leave us your thoughts below.

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