Formal Customs Entry
How do I file a formal entry (for goods valued at more than $2500)?
First you should identify which port your goods will be entering the country through. Call that port and ask to speak to the Commodity Specialist Team (CST) that handles the type of merchandise you are importing.
You should have your commercial invoice available when you call. Commercial invoices are not required if the importation is not intended for sale or for certain other situations (please see IIUS, Appendix 1).
Ask for the following information:
The tariff classification number(s) for all the merchandise you are importing, the duty rate(s) for each tariff number, the unit(s) of measurement for each tariff number. You should also ask if there are any special requirements or forms that apply, for example: quota, visa, FDA, EPA, DOT, and if the merchandise being imported qualifies for any special tariff programs such as GSP or NAFTA. Finally, ask about the limit of liability you will require for a Customs bond, and what type of bond you should get.
No more than a week before the expected arrival of your goods in port, or no later than 10 days after arrival, fill out CBP forms 5106 (Request for Importer Number, or Notification of Importer Number), 7501 (Entry Summary) and Release Document. Purchase a Customs bond (or be prepared to post cash in lieu of bond). Bring the paperwork and bond to the CBP port, entry branch, and ask an entry specialist to review your completed forms.
Submit these documents along with an invoice, packing list if available, shipping documents, and special documents which may be required, and a check drawn on a U.S. bank or cash for payment of duty and fees. The invoice must show tariff classifications(s) and duty rate(s) which must match blocks 30A and 34A on the CBP Form 7501.
The invoice must be in English - handwritten translations are allowed. After filing the entry with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), you will be told how much time will be required for review and processing of your paper work - usually 8 working hours.
When the entry documents have been approved, pick them up and take them to the CBP Officers office (closest to where your merchandise is being held). Here again, allow at least 8 working hours for processing. After processing, your release document will either have an Officer's signature authorizing release of the goods, or a stamp designating the shipment for examination. Shipments that require examination may have to be carted - under bond - to an exam site for inspection before release (you will incur a charge for this).
Your entry may not be formally liquidated for up to one year after your goods are released. Until CBP formally liquidates your entry, your bond, or cash, will be held as surety that your importation was not in violation of any U.S. laws or regulations.
*CBP will not notify you when your goods have arrived; this is the carrier's responsibility. If your goods are not picked up within 15 days of arrival, they will be sent to a General Order Warehouse (G.O. Warehouse), where storage charges will add up quickly. The intended recipient of the goods is responsible for paying those charges.
After 6 months in the G.O. Warehouse, goods may be sold at auction. Because filing a formal entry is so complicated, CBP suggests you consider hiring a Customs Broker to clear your goods for you
Informal Customs Entry
In general, an informal entry involves the importation of merchandise that does not exceed $2,500 in value (As of January 7, 2013, the amount increased to $2,500).
Informal entries do not require a posting of a Customs bond and are liquidated at the time of release. Informal entries are used for both personal and commercial importations.
Informal entries may not be used for commercial importations of goods subject to quota, Anti-dumping or Countervailing duties.
An informal entry may be done on the spot. Once the carrier bringing your goods to the U.S. has notified you of your goods arrival*, you should go to the entry branch of that port's Customs house and inform the staff that you have an informal entry to process and pick-up.
If the goods arrive at a port that is a long distance from you and you have not made arrangements with the shipper to have them freight forwarded to a port near you, or for the carrier (or courier service) to act as consignee in your behalf to clear the goods, you may authorize someone else to clear your goods on a one time basis. This can be done by writing a letter to the CBP Port Director where your goods were delivered, naming the person who you are authorizing to act as your agent, and giving details about the shipment that will verify that you are the rightful owner.
Enclose any bills of sale or invoices that apply. When your agent presents him/herself to the port to clear your goods, he/she will be required to present valid identification.
*Customs and Border Protection will not notify you when your goods have arrived; this is the carrier's responsibility. If your goods are not picked up within 15 days of arrival, they will be sent to a General Order Warehouse (G.O. Warehouse), where storage charges will add up quickly. The intended recipient of the goods is responsible for paying those charges. After 6 months in the G.O. Warehouse, goods may be sold at auction.