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Customs Broker


Customs brokers are employed by importing and exporting organizations to clear goods through customs and ensure their timely delivery. They use their updated knowledge of trade laws and regulations to move shipments through customs as quickly and efficiently as possible. They may also act as freight forwarders, consultants or legal agents for organizations such as importers, wholesalers and manufacturers.

There is a great deal of paperwork involved in the import/export business so the brokers take care of the technical documents and forms in compliance with laws and procedures. They are extremely knowledgeable in all laws, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) clauses, taxes and duties. They know what items are illegal and what items require duty payments, such as alcohol and perfume, and also the limits on the amount one can import and export in each transaction.

Customs brokers act as intermediaries between importers and exporters and the government customs department. Their role is very important because most people do not know about the specific laws involved in importing and exporting and it saves these companies loads of time researching tariff laws and taxes. Customs brokers make sure trade is conducted accurately and correctly and this allows the companies to begin selling their products as soon as possible.

Brokers also look after all insurance paperwork and make sure their clients' goods are protected during the shipping.
When and if problems arise at the border due to technicalities in the law, customs brokers first try to solve the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible. Are there certain documents to be filled out? How can the goods move quickly across the border? If all else fails, a broker may represent their clients at trials and tribunals and deal directly with government officials. The job can be stressful at times, especially when things are not running smoothly, however the customs broker is used to the intense pressure related to their profession. Also, with new security measures at our borders, customs brokers are learning about the new laws and regulations being implemented each day.
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  Interests and Skills  
Customs brokers must have excellent communication skills, a good memory, maintain a high standard of personal integrity, and enjoy working with computers. They must be able to keep up with ever-changing computer systems, trade and customs procedures, laws and regulations, have the ability to evaluate shipments quickly and handle many details in a short time, and work well under pressure when problems arise.

They should enjoy having clear rules and organized methods for their work, talking to people, and making decisions. Brokers must be honest, ethical and fair. Since they are dealing with the law, customs brokers risk losing their licenses if they provide inaccurate or incorrect information to customers.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Provide information to importers on customs tariffs including rates of duty and the methods of goods clearance
  • Prepare and process documents and other forms on behalf of clients according to customs regulations, laws and procedures
  • Sign import/export documents on behalf of client, using power of attorney
  • Arrange for payment of duties, taxes, storage and transportation of imported goods and bonds to cover duty goods
  • Make reservations with shipping or airline companies for freight to be exported and arrange for the clearance of cargo
  • Quote duty and tax rates on commodities for clients
  • Provide advice to clients on export and import restrictions, tariff systems, letters of credit, insurance requirements and other custom related matters
  • Liaise with customs and other government authorities in the correct clearance of goods through customs
  • May represent client before administrative tribunals or in other dealings with government officials.
  • Customs brokers generally work in offices located at border crossing towns or in urban centers. The hours can sometimes get a bit hectic because customs is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If there is a problem with a client's shipment, customs brokers are on call, no matter what time or day it is. They sometimes travel to meet clients at their office locations or to represent them in a tribunal hearing related to the importing and exporting of a good.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Customs brokers can be self-employed but most work in custom brokerage houses, freight forwarders or related importing firms. They are hired by importing and exporting businesses that need their services to move goods quickly and smoothly across the border. The companies that hire customs brokers are sometimes located in border-crossing towns, in airports or at ports. Therefore, they often must travel to these places to meet their clients and conduct business. Some customs brokers are also employed by the government to work on the other side of the plane.

  Long Term Career Potential  
The long term career advancement for customs brokers usually takes the form of increased job responsibility or clientele and a pay increase. Customs brokers with experience may also act as consultants or agents of the industry, guiding clients on various aspects of duty and import/export laws. They may be hired on directly for a large company as a permanent employee, instead of taking on different contracts. Customs brokers may move on to various sales positions or into accounting or banking.

  Educational Paths  
A high school diploma is the minimum education requirement for customs brokers, but most employers hire applicants that have some postsecondary education in the field of business, economics or international trade. Entry level employees often start out as data entry clerks or customs runners, learning the basics of the job, on the job.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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