What is a customs broker?

When goods are imported into the customs territory of the United States (the fifty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), they are subject to certain formalities involving U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) (formerly known as U.S. Customs Service). In almost all cases, the goods are required to be "entered," that is, declared to CBP, and are subject to detention and examination by CBP officers to ensure compliance with all laws and regulations enforced or administered by CBP.

When a formal "entry of merchandise" is made under the provisions of 19 U.S.C. §1484, the required documentation or information is required to be filed or electronically transmitted by the "importer of record." Under the statute, the "importer of record" is either the owner or purchaser of the merchandise or, when appropriately designated by the owner, purchaser, or consignee of the merchandise, a person holding a valid license as a customs broker. As part of the entry process, goods must be "classified" (determined where in the U.S. tariff system they fall) and their value must be determined. Pursuant to the Customs Modernization Act, it is now the responsibility of the importer of record to use "reasonable care" to "enter," "classify", and "value" the goods, and provide any other information necessary to enable CBP to properly assess duties, collect accurate statistics, and determine whether all other applicable legal requirements are met. These requirements can be complex. In order to assist importers in meeting their responsibilities, importers may employ experts within their organizations or seek advice or services from outside experts such as customs brokers, attorneys who specialize in customs matters or consultants. Of these outside experts, only customs brokers may actually prepare and file entry documentation, because the preparation and filing of entry documentation constitutes "customs business" which, by statute, may be performed on behalf of others only by a licensed customs broker.