International Shipping Essentials
Importer of Record
The Importer of Record (IR) is responsible for three main things: making sure that imported goods will comply with local regulations, filing the duty entry paperwork and other documents, and paying the duty and taxes that have been levied on the shipment. The IR will always pay the duties and taxes, unless a different responsible party is named on the invoice.
A shipper can be a consignor, exporter, or seller (who may be the same or different parties) who is named in the shipping documents as the party responsible for initiating a shipment, and who may also bear the freight cost.
A freight forwarder is an individual or a company who can help a shipper manage some parts or the entire international shipping process. This can include picking up your goods from the manufacturer, storing the cargo at warehouses, booking an ocean carrier, trucking and loading it to the ship, clearing all customs requirements in origin and destination countries, and delivering the shipment to its ultimate destination. Working with a freight forwarder allows you to have one invoice while using all these services. A FF can handle just about anything that is manufactured in other countries, and can work with an LCL (less than a container) load, or as many full containers as you need.
In the US, it is required to have a government-issued license to operate a freight forwarding business. An ocean freight forwarder is also known as an ocean transportation intermediary, or a NVOCC (non vessel operating common carrier), and their licenses are issued by FMC (US Federal Maritime Commission). To obtain the license, a company needs to have at least one employee who has at least three years of experience working in this field. This requirement may differ depend on the country.
Non Vessel Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC)
A NVOCC is a shipment consolidator or freight forwarder who does not own any vessel, but functions as a carrier by issuing its own bills of lading or air waybills and assuming responsibility for the shipments.
A freight broker is an individual or company that serves as a liaison between another individual or company that needs shipping services and an authorized carrier.
A freight broker is not a freight forwarder. A freight broker doesn't need to have a license to operate their business. A freight broker usually refers to service providers who handle domestic transportation such as truck broker.
Customs brokers are private individuals, partnerships, associations, or corporations that licensed, regulated, and empowered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to assist importers and exporters in meeting federal requirements governing imports and exports.
The ship date is the date your goods are ready to move. That might mean the date your supplier tells you to pick up the goods, or the date the goods are changing hands for the first time. If you have never ordered goods from your factory before, you shouldn't request a quote until you have the ship date. Changes in ship date can affect your quotes, and in most cases, will force your provider to reevaluate your quote when your shipment is ready.
In Gate Date (or carrier's cutoff date)
In gate date is the date that the goods need to be at the port, preparing for departure. Typically, the cutoff date is two days prior to the Estimated Time of Departure (ETD).
For example, if you want the shipment to be on a vessel due to leave Wednesday, Jan 12; then the in gate date should be Monday, Jan 10. During the two days between arrival at port and the ship's departure, the carrier will process the paperwork and the port can check on the container(s) to make sure it complies with all regulations.
Estimated Time of Departure (ETD)
ETD is the estimated date the vessel will leave the port.
Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA)
ETA is the estimated date the vessel will arrive at the destination port.
Payment terms are the conditions under which a seller will complete a sale. Typically, these terms specify the period allowed for the buyer to pay the amount due, and may demand cash in advance, cash on delivery, a deferred payment period of 30 days or more, or other similar terms.
Liability is a claim against the assets, or legal obligations of a person or organization, arising out of past or current transactions or actions. Liabilities require mandatory transfer of assets, or provision of services, at specified dates or in determinable future.
Importer Security Filing (ISF)
The Importer Security Filing, also known as ISF or 10+2, was created to provide data on incoming shipments to the US Department of Customs and Border Protection. Importer Security Filings are only required for cargo arriving in the United States via ocean vessel.
The ISF reduces the number of shipments that need to be examined by alerting authorities ahead of time to higher risk shipments. It was created to increase security, not to enforce certain trade rules. However, the data you provide on the ISF will be validated against your other shipment data.
What data is the importer required to provide
Seller Information - Name and address of the company you purchased the goods from
Buyer Information - Name and address of your company if you are the one who purchased the goods
Importer of record number - This could be your tax ID number (EIN), social security number or customs assigned importer number. This information is used to identify the party who is responsible for paying the duties for the shipment
Consignee number(s) - This could also be your tax ID number (EIN), social security number or importer number of the individual or firm that is receiving the shipment
Manufacturer (or supplier) - Name and addresses of the final manufacturer of your product
Ship to party - Name and address of the party that will first receive the goods after they enter the United States
Country of origin - The place where your product was manufactured
Commodity number (HTS code) - The HTS code is 10-digit number that identifies the duty/tariff rate of your product
Your freight forwarder can help get this information directly from your factory.
An ISF filing must be completed for each Bill of Lading (BoL, or BL). If you have multiple containers on the same BoL, you'll only need to file one ISF.
The ISF must be completed and filed 24 hours before cargo is loaded at the origin port, however it is recommended to complete this 48-72 hours before loading. It is best to file your ISF even if you don't have all the information to avoid paying the penalties. Changes to ISF can be made up to but no later than 24 hours before arrival in the United States. An ISF may also be cancelled if the goods are no longer going to be imported into the United States.
Customs and Border Protection can assess a $5,000 fee per late or inaccurate ISF. CBP also has the right to prevent you from unloading your shipment if no ISF has been filed.
Shipper's Letter of Instruction (SLI)
A Shippers Letter of Instruction, or SLI, is a letter from the exporter with instructions to the freight forwarder. These instructions cover how to handle the shipment and where it is to be sent, and authorizes the forwarder to handle the shipment with US customs. This document helps avoid mistakes that can be costly to both the exporter and the forwarder.
The SLI is not mandatory document. For example, a smaller shipment which requires no export license and is carried by a company such as FedEx does not need an SLI. Larger or more complicated shipments need the document in order to comply with US laws, as well as to make expectations clear for all parties connected with the transaction.
General Rate Increase (GRI)
A General Rate Increase (GRI) is a shipping rate increase - it can be an across-the-board increase or for a specific trade lane. GRIs are issued frequently as market factors dictate.
How to read a GRI announcement?
Below is an example for a standard, 40' container load shipped between Los Angeles and China. These are only sample figures, but will work as an "A + B = C" equation:
On July 1: The standard rate for a shipment of non-hazardous goods between the two ports costs $1000 for a 40' container load.
August 1: Carriers pass a GRI of $200 per 40' on the Los Angeles-China route, which will go into effect the next month.
September 1: When the GRI goes into effect, the price increases to $1200 for the standard 40' load: A ($1000) + B ($200) = C ($1200).
U.S Principal Party in Interest (USPPI)
The U.S. Principal Party in Interest (USPPI) is the beneficiary of an export transaction. If a shipper who is exporting a product invoices the purchaser, they are the USPPI. The USPPI has certain safety responsibilities.
What Responsibilities Fall to the USPPI?
The USPPI must figure out which US agency has control over the product. Examples of a US agency are the Drug Enforcement Administration or the Bureau of Tobacco and Firearms. The USPPI must also consider whether the goods are subject to US regulations such as the Export Administration Regulations, or regulations pertaining to arms control or control of nuclear material.
Do Due Diligence
The USPPI must question their buyer in order to determine how the product will be used. The USPPI must ensure the customer is not on any restricted list, and is allowed to complete transactions with the US.
Classify Exports For Statistics Purposes and License Determination
The USPPI must classify the export products on the Schedule B or US Harmonized Tariff Schedule. They must make a license determination according to the Commerce Control List (ECCN or EAR99) or US Munitions List. To be able to determine the necessary license, the USPPI must look at the goods' end use and the end user, the goods' destination, along with technical aspects of the item.
File the EEI
The USPPI must file the electronic export information (EEI) or authorize their freight forwarder to do so. To authorize a forwarder to file an EEI, the USPPI will need to sign a Power of Attorney or specify the authorization in the SLI.
Provide Accurate Information
The USPPI must provide the freight forwarder with correct and complete information for the shipment, including licensing information for the EEI filing. Even if the foreign party has requested a US destination, AKA a "Routed Export Transaction," the USPPI will still need to provide the following information to the forwarder:
Name and address of the USPPI
USPPI Tax ID Number (EIN or DUNS)
Point of Origin
Schedule B (or USHTS) Number (Schedule B numbers are export codes administered by U.S. Census Bureau)
Generic Commodity Description
Schedule B/USHTS Quantity and Unit of Measure
Value by Schedule B/USHTS
Domestic (D) or Foreign (F) Indicator
ECCN (or EAR99 if commodities are not on the Commerce Control List)
NLR, EAR License Exception Code, ITAR Exemption or License Number
Keep Accurate Records
The USPPI needs to maintain records of shipments for at least five years from the export date.