There was once a much harder time: A time when one would have to travel for weeks in wooden ships to reach foreign lands to take part in the great international trade. imagine how I would feel if I found out that in this age, this digital age [hyperlink to other blog], just about any regular, ordinary, everyday nobody from say, France, can purchase something from China without the fear of a Mongol ambush like traders feared way back when.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the fee, believed to have originated in the Spanish town, Tarifa, that is to be paid for imports and exports. You know these as customs duties, and for international shippers, they’re a pain. Not only is it nearly impossible to stay on top of the different policies on different categories of goods, the worst part, there’s no way around them.

Pro Tip #1: Deal With It

It sounds harsh, I know, but there’s nothing you can do about. Well, actually, there are things you can do about. There are ways to help you plan for customs duties so you can get a good idea of how much the customs duties are going to be. The catch: these ways come with a cost. 

There’s one method: read through customs policies of every country on the planet and memorize. We don’t recommend this. You have more important things to do. But, actually, if you have a recurring customer in another country, or several customers in one country, then get in touch with the customs agency in that country and get information right from the source.

There are also tools that business owners can use to determine the customs duties on their next international shipment. One tool, Duty Calculator, where you can determine what your duty costs will be so you can save your customer, or yourself from any surprises once the shipment arrives. Duty Calculator also allows users to instantly look up HS (Harmonized Item Description and Coding System) tariff codes for 141 countries so you’re not limited to who you’re shipping to.

Pro Tip #2: Don’t Be a Cheater

If we weren’t honest, one of our tips would be this: cheat the system, lie about value, avoid custom duties at all costs—no pun intended.

We don’t advise it for one reason: it’s illegal. 

One of the oldest tricks in the book is lying about the value of the shipment on the declaration form. You could also include a receipt stating that the product being shipped is on sale. Besides the fact that this is rather fraudulent behaviour, here’s another reason why you shouldn’t do that. 

Say you want your customer to buy insurance for their shipment. Well, the way insurance works, it only covered the declared amount, therefore when the worst happens, the insurance is covering the fake price, and therefore benefiting nobody.  

For the international shipper, custom duties must become a part of life, and until there’s a way of making them less of an annoyance, the aches are here to stay. But don’t worry, we’re working on it!

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Ian Roantree

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