Should your business use a customs broker? Read on to learn more about what a customs broker can do for you, what they’ll charge, and the pros and cons of using one for your shipment.

If you’ve been researching your business options for importing to the UK, you’ve probably come across customs brokers offering to help make HMRC customs clearance hassle-free. Reducing the stress of importing is certainly tempting – but is it really necessary to use a customs broker, or can you deal with the authorities yourself?

This handy guide can help you decide whether using a customs broker is the best choice for your business. Read on to learn more about what a customs broker can do for you, what they’ll charge, and the pros and cons of using one for your shipment.

What is a customs broker?

A customs broker – sometimes referred to as an import broker – works to make the import and export of goods run smoothly, by facilitating the clearance of goods through customs processes.

Customs brokers are experts in international trade – it’s their job to keep abreast of the changing rules and regulations, and make sure that their clients have all the paperwork and licenses they need to import goods to the UK.

You’ll see that there are both freight forwarders and customs brokers advertising their services to UK entrepreneurs. Customs brokers typically deal with the import/export procedures, while freight forwarders are experts in logistics. However, many freight forwarding agents can also act as customs brokers, dealing with both logistics and customs requirements. If you’re thinking of using a freight forwarder to support the haulage and transport of your goods, it’s worth understanding if they offer import brokerage too.

What does a customs broker do?

A customs broker will work with importers to check that the documentation, and where necessary, licenses, are in place for the goods they are bringing into the UK. They’ll also make sure that the correct duty and taxes are paid, to reduce any delays.

Their services can include any of all of the following:

  • Checking the classification and valuation of your goods, and making sure you use the right commodity codes
  • Liaising with government agencies and customs authorities on your behalf
  • Advising on any necessary licenses for import of restricted or hazardous goods
  • Preparation and submission of documents which have to be filed to clear customs processes
  • Helping arrange correct payment of import duties and VAT as necessary

How can they help?

One of the big advantages of using a customs broker is that they can help you navigate a complex and changing set of import and customs regulations. The UK customs code has seen a number of changes over the past few years – and more can be expected as Brexit approaches. This changing landscape is one reason that customs brokers are useful – if not essential – to importers.

For example, a customs broker will ensure you have all the correct paperwork in place for importing into the UK – such as your EORI number. They’ll make sure the shipment is labelled with the right commodity codes, and all the necessary documents and licenses are in place. And this will mean that your shipment clears customs into the UK without delays, and with no worries about paying over the odds in import duty, or being hit by a fine because of missing paperwork.

Tip: As a new importer, it’s important to know you may face fees or fines levied by customs authorities. But that’s not the only place you may see extra charges – and it’s good to know where you can save.

High street banks often charge high fees for international transfers, and markup the exchange rate. That means you could pay an extra margin right to the banks – without even knowing it.

What are the advantages of using a customs broker?

Using a specialist customs brokerage – or choosing a freight forwarder which can also act as customs broker on your behalf – can offer a number of advantages:

  • Peace of mind – your customs broker will ensure your shipment is completed according to the current law. By hiring in this expertise you don’t need to learn it yourself, or employ someone in house to specialise in the area
  • You can deal solely with your customs broker, rather than having to speak to several different government agencies individually
  • Avoid overpaying duty or VAT – and remove the risk of underpaying and then facing fines and additional charges later
  • Your goods won’t be released by UK customs until all the duty and VAT is paid, and documentation is in order. Using a customs broker can reduce delays and keep your business moving
  • Many customs brokers also offer additional services, such as tracking your delivery as it moves from the point of origin