Essential Things Small Businesses Should Know About Pre-Arrival Customs Processing


As a small business owner, it can be overwhelming to start exporting or importing. This is only made worse when you start attempting to understand which freight documents are required and what are the best processes for moving your goods from country to country in a timely manner.

One of the best recent developments in international shipping procedures is pre-arrival customs processing, which enables importers to initiate the process of moving their packages through customs before the freight arrives at the intended destination.

This significantly reduces processing time, as the paperwork has already been filled out, and the shipment has been pre-approved. In fact, when Japan introduced this kind of system into their importing processes, they reduced customs clearance time by nearly two-thirds.

Read on for the essential things small businesses should know about pre-arrival customs processing.

1. Pre-arrival customs processing offers a lot of benefits.

If you are looking for a way to make your import process quicker and more efficient for both the importer and the customs authorities, then you certainly want to look into pre-arrival customs processing. This system has been created specifically to aid trade and expedite the flow of goods around the world.

If you don’t utilize pre-arrival customs processing, then your goods will only be able to start procedures and paperwork once the freight has arrived at its destination. Unfortunately, more often than not, this results in significant delays at the border.

On the other hand, if you opt to use pre-arrival customs processing, then no additional document or physical checks are needed. In fact, customs will be able to dispense an import permit promptly when the shipment arrives, and the import declaration has been received.

2. Many countries offer pre-arrival customs processing.

More and more countries are starting to offer the option of pre-arrival customs processing as they recognize how convenient and effective it is. If you are looking to export to the US, you can take advantage of the Pre-Arrival Processing System (PAPS) or the UK’s Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) pre-arrival system.

For small businesses that are looking to export to Asia, Japan has a Pre-Arrival Examination System, and Sri Lanka is working towards implementing a large-scale pre-arrival processing system. When it comes to emerging markets, Uruguay, the Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone all have started offering pre-arrival processing systems in the past couple of years.

Furthermore, all World Trade Organization (WTO) member countries are obliged to adopt or maintain pre-arrival processing systems for imports. Moreover, they are required to accept electronic submission when appropriate. As there are 164 member countries in the WTO, you can expect many countries to be implementing pre-arrival processing  already. For countries that don’t have the capacity to apply it on their own, the WTO offers support.

However, if you are unsure whether pre-arrival customs processing is already being implemented in your destination country, look at the trade section of the government’s website.

3. Most goods are eligible for pre-arrival customs processing.

Generally, most goods that are eligible for import are also qualified for pre-arrival customs processing. In fact, in many cases, pre-arrival customs processing may be preferred – especially in the case of time-sensitive goods such as fresh food or seasonal items.

On the other hand, there are a few goods that are not accepted for pre-arrival customs processing. These may include items such as fuel. However, to make sure you are shipping products using the right processes, check with the appropriate administrative office of your destination country.

Keep in mind that when sending or receiving goods that are fit for pre-arrival customs processing, you will have to provide pre-arrival import documents for customs officials to review the records before the freight arrives. If additional documents or physical inspections are necessary, you will be notified.

However, it is up to you to ensure that you are aware of the country’s processes and requirements. This is essential if you are to complete paperwork thoroughly and correctly to bypass setbacks.

4. Pre-arrival customs processing systems are easy to use.

As most countries have different import/export systems, it is expected that their pre-arrival customs processing systems may be different, as well. Therefore it is highly recommended that you seek help from an expert to ensure that you are approaching it properly and completing the documentation correctly.

Usually, to utilize a pre-arrival customs processing system, you will need to present several documents in advance (including pre-arrival declaration forms and invoices).

Other materials that may be required include a label attached to your bill of lading or commercial invoice complete with a barcode. Customs authorities will scan this once your freight has arrived at its destination. If your goods have been pre-approved through the pre-arrival customs processing system, they will be able to be released almost instantaneously.

To ensure your goods don’t get stuck at the border, it is recommended that you work with a logistics provider or online freight booking service that can aid you in navigating the procedure.

Final Thoughts

The best way to ensure that your goods quickly get through customs is to work with a reliable freight forwarder who can help you navigate compliance rules and make sure that all documentation is completed appropriately. Look for a freight forwarder that offers online freight booking to make the shipping process as simple as possible.

With this type of tool, you can simply fill in a few details online and then almost immediately receive a quote. You can then quickly complete your payment online by credit/debit card or wire transfer. Once you have found a shipping method that works for you, your goods and your budget, you will be able to book and track your shipment with just a few clicks. This is a surefire way to streamline your shipping processes.

Are you a small business owner who is interested in starting importing or exporting? Why or why not? What obstacles do you think are in your way?

Let us know your thoughts and any relevant experiences in the comments below! 


As Chief Product Officer for Shipa Freight, Paul Rehmet is responsible for translating the vision of Shipa Freight into an easy-to-use online freight platform for our customers. Formerly Vice President of Digital Marketing for Agility, Paul managed Agility’s website, mobile apps, content marketing and online advertising campaigns. In his 25-year career, Paul has held various technology leadership positions with early-stage startups and Fortune 500 companies including Unisys, Destiny Web Solutions, and US Airways. Paul has a Masters in Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelor of Computer Science from Brown University. Paul is based in Philadelphia.