International shipping is a tricky business. Between the logistics and a virtual ocean of rules, even the best international shippers do not get it right all the time. And when they don’t, shipping delays are often the result. It pays to put a little extra time and effort into staying on top of things.
So what are the main causes of international shipping delays? Here are the top five, according to Texas-based Preferred Shipping, an authorized DHL international shipping reseller:
- Invoice errors/missing information – 32%
- Incorrect HTS codes – 22%
- Discrepancies between value and description –21%
- Inaccurate product description – 16%
- Problems with country of origin – 9%.
Needless to say, a lot can go wrong with international shipping. The good news is that the top two causes of shipping delays are the easiest to avoid.
Invoice Errors & Missing Information
All international shipments must be accompanied by a range of documents, including an invoice. Customs officials check invoices against actual deliveries to make sure they match. If the items in a crate do not match what is listed on the invoice, customs will require some sort of remediation before the shipment is released.
In many cases, the problem is related to missing information. For example, the invoice might be missing the recipient’s tax number as required by the local jurisdiction. Or the problem could be that the terms of the sale are not included on the invoice. Sales terms are required by many countries.
Typical errors include:
- not printing invoices on company letterhead
- incorrect phone numbers
- incorrect import or export type
- incorrect currency code.
What must be understood is that customs officials rely on accurate information to do what they do. The required information is not chosen based on its potential to make a shipper’s life miserable. It is actually chosen based on making customs clearance as easy and efficient as possible. Customs officials should be able to clear shipments at a glance. They can if paperwork is complete and accurate.
Incorrect HTS Codes
Customs agencies around the world rely on Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) codes to determine tariffs, excise taxes, etc. when shipments arrive from overseas. If there is any reason to believe that the code on a given shipment is incorrect, customs will usually divert that shipment for further inspection.
The unfortunate thing about HTS codes is that there are literally tens of thousands of them. Not only that, but the U.S. also uses its own system. The Harmonized Tariff Schedule U.S. (HTSUS) starts with the same HTS codes accepted internationally and adds extra digits for Census Bureau tracking purposes. So now U.S. exporters have even more numbers to deal with.
Equally unfortunate is the fact that some codes are ambiguous. Likewise, some products can be classified with several different codes. You have to determine the right code by figuring out the end use of the product in question.
Although overcoming this particular problem can be difficult, it is not as hard as it seems. The way to overcome it is to work with an international shipping partner who makes a point to fully know and understand HTS codes. Not all international shippers do. Find one that does, and you will likely find a shipping partner who combines technology and automation to ensure that HTS codes are assigned properly.
A single wrong code or a bit of missing information is enough to hold up a shipment at the border. The thing is that shipping delays result in unhappy customers. So it is in a shipper’s best interests to make sure that delays are avoided at all costs.