Any experienced importer will tell you that the customs clearance time wait can be the most frustrating part of the process. You could be vigilantly vetting your suppliers, keeping completely compliant, and making smart decisions about shipping and packaging… and then your goods reach customs and the wait begins.

Predicting those customs release wait times is difficult and frustrating. A blind spot on your business is never good, but there’s no getting around this one. The good news is that you might not have to wait much at all — and the best way to predict how long it’ll take is to get to know how it works.

How Long Does it Take A Package to Clear Customs?

From the outside, the customs clearance process is simple:

  • Incoming international goods are sent to CBSA (the Canada Border Services Agency)
  • CBSA performs a visual inspection and checks your paperwork
  • Duty-free, legal packages are released and sent on their way; goods that require further inspection or duty charges are held for further inspection
  • Duty is applied or the shipment is rejected

Four quick steps, right? When things aren’t too busy, your Canada customs clearance could take only about 20 minutes. When your goods reach the border, your customs broker partner — that’s us! — will complete your B3 form for customs and transmit the data electronically. It only takes about 20 minutes for CBSA to receive it, hence the quick customs clearance times.

Sometimes, though, you ship at a peak volume period, or an officer pulls packages in front of you aside for inspection, or you get caught behind some other importers being audited. In these cases, customs clearance can take longer than the 20 minutes needed to transmit your goods.

You might find your shipment held in customs for inspection. If this is the case, it will be placed in a bonded warehouse and inspected by customs officials to review when they have time. Generally, customs officers will visit multiple sites during the day and process their releases in the afternoon. The process can take anywhere from 12-48 hours and even longer during high traffic periods.

If you’re importing commercial goods with duties during the holiday period, you’re going to see the longest wait time (outside of your business being audited, that is). In general, it’s smart to count on a delay of a few days and plan accordingly when managing stock. If you’re right, you’re not in any trouble with clients — and if you’re wrong, you get to look good as you restock early.

Customs Clearance Delay

If you’re smart about what you’re shipping and working with a customs broker, you should be able to count on your goods being released most, if not all, of the time. However, customs releases are not guaranteed. There are a number of reasons a shipment can be rejected, either temporarily or permanently.

Temporary Rejections

Human error can cause delays and rejections, which is why it’s important to always work with a customs broker. If your paperwork doesn’t match up with what the CBSA is expecting, they’ll flag your goods.

A reject error code W80, for example, is a sign there’s a problem with your carrier’s Cargo Control Number — this is an error that you’ll be contacted to fix, but it adds a delay to your release.

Temporary rejections can be corrected — that’s why they’re only temporary — but they’re stressful delays that could possibly flag you for an audit. Thorough preparation is the best prevention.

Permanent Rejections

A permanent rejection is, obviously, much worse than a temporary rejection. Human error, again, causes delays and rejections — as can deliberately mis-declaring your goods.

Your goods can be permanently rejected if you grossly misclassify the wrong tariff code, undervalue your goods, or try to ship prohibited goods. The good end for this kind of rejection is simply having your goods shipped back to the supplier; if you’ve maintained a good relationship with them, it shouldn’t be too hard to correct the errors and try again.

The bad end is having your goods destroyed. You will receive no compensation for this! The possibility of your goods being rejected and destroyed is why you should work with a customs broker. We can help you make sure your goods clear properly, every time — and at Clearit, we’re always a click away. Get in touch!