Customs and Border Procedures

What are customs?

Customs refers to the government agency or authority tasked with regulating trade in goods and collecting any duties levied on imports and exports. Offices and staff working for customs are located at places where goods transit across borders, such as ports, airports or other frontiers. Customs manage a set of procedures and operations to control goods and people (travellers) that enter or exit the country. When you export or import, you will have to comply with a series of customs and border procedures that will verify if your products meet market access requirements (see guide on trade documents for exports). Visit the World Customs Organization (WCO) for more details. 

What role do customs play in cross-border trade? 

Before selling goods abroad or purchasing foreign inputs or products, it is important to map out the relevant procedures your business will have to manage with customs and other competent authorities (such as national plant protection organizations to obtain SPS certificates). Customs play an important role in trade because they protect domestic borders against potential security threats and counterfeit goods. They also examine if your products will be subject to duties and other local regulations and standards (see guides on trade document for exports and non-tariff measures). Visit the Fedex website for more details. 

How can my business navigate customs procedures? 

In some economies, it is compulsory when an import value is above a certain threshold to  use a licensed customs agent to clear goods through customs. In others, businesses simply choose to hire a customs broker to help avoid potentially costly errors. In all cases, the importer is responsible for knowing the requirements and for ensuring compliance.

The Global Trade Helpdesk (GTH) is a free-of-charge website from the United Nations, the International Trade Centre (ITC), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) that provides information on customs authorities and enquiry points for relevant government authorities (see guide on enquiry points) for border procedures involved in exports, imports, and transit of goods. It also describes single window platforms (see guide on single windows) that you can use to submit all documents required by customs and other agencies to comply with local requirements and border procedures.

When using the GTH website, you can check the section on navigating trade procedures that appears when you type the product you seek to export from your domestic market and import into your targeted market. These two webpages will provide you or your customs broker with a starting map of resources to navigate through customs. Visit the GTH website for more details. 

Where can I learn more?

Various institutions have online resources and training materials that can help you learn more about technical terms and border procedures managed by customs. Some examples are:

  • Glossary of international customs terms: The World Customs Organization has a glossary with descriptions on key terms used by customs authorities. Visit the WCO website.
  • E-learning courses on customs: The European Commission offers about 600 e-learning courses in 21 languages about customs and border procedures. Most of the materials are free to access. Visit the European Commission website.
  • Factsheet on customs procedures and declarations: The European Union Customs Code (UCC) provides a general guide with steps that you can consider for complying with procedures required by customs authorities. Visit the UCC website.