What should I do when my shipment is stuck at customs?

Every Friday, we answer a common question about fulfillment, shipping, or business. This week’s question comes from one of the fans who entered our giveaway contest for a copy of the board game Teotihuacan. Today we will answer the following question: “what should I do when my shipment is stuck at customs?”

Why did my shipment get stuck at customs?

Imagine this. You’re waiting on a Kickstarter reward to arrive from a campaign you backed six months ago. It’s a brand new board game and you’ve been looking forward to playing it. Then you receive a package tracking notification by email.

“Held at customs.”

Having a shipment of yours held at customs is obnoxious. Order enough international items online, though, and you’re bound to run into this at some point. This is especially true if you live in a place with a low customs fee threshold like certain European countries.

There are three basic reasons your shipment could get stuck in customs:

  1. If the items being shipped are prohibited or restricted, customs may delay or even destroy the package.
  2. Sometimes, customs clearance documentation is incomplete, causing delays while customs coordinates with the shipper to gather needed information.
  3. You may owe taxes on the shipment, which will be released when you pay them.

For recipients, only the third scenario is within your control. For businesses, all three are – to some extent – within their control. (Here’s a primer on customs-friendly shipping.)

What do I do if my shipment is stuck in customs?

If your shipment in stuck in customs, first check with your carrier and make sure there are no unpaid taxes. Should you come across unpaid taxes, pay them.

If that doesn’t work, your next point of contact is the shipper. The shipper then has two people they can contact: the carrier and, if they have one, their fulfillment company. The shipper may need to provide additional information in order to complete paperwork. In either case, it’s the shipper’s responsibility to resolve customs issues as long as you’ve paid your taxes.

That said, oftentimes, the only thing you can really do is be patient. International shipping is not always fast. Sometimes customs can hold on to packages for prolonged periods of time. You are very likely to receive your package at some point. Sometimes customs drags their feet. Sometimes the tracking information isn’t updated and your package actually is being shipped to you.

Final Thoughts

Having packages stuck at customs is no fun. Fortunately, most of the problems that shippers and recipients run into are routine. If you pay your taxes and the shipper fills out all the required paperwork, then most customs issues are very easy to resolve 🙂

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