10 Things You Should Know About U.S. Customs Detentions

There is nothing more aggravating to importers than when Customs detains a shipment. Delivery deadlines can be missed, orders lost, profits lost, customer relations bruised. Sometimes the goods are released, but too late to salvage the order. Sometimes the goods are seized, and you never get them.

Here are 10 tips for handling a detention to avoid potential disaster:

1. If the goods bear a trademark, make sure it’s not counterfeit, and is either registered to you or you have an authorization letter from the trademark holder to import the goods bearing that mark. If the goods are counterfeit, Customs will seize them and you’ll never see them again unless the trademark holder grants permission for you to import them — highly unlikely.

2. Make sure to get a copy of the detention notice. Customs must issue one within 10 days of arrival. Read it carefully; it provides the specific reason for the detention, the nature of any tests or inquiries to be conducted and the nature of any information that, if supplied to Customs, may accelerate the disposition of the detention. Sometimes only part of the shipment is under detention and the balance can be released.

3. If the basis for detention is an admissibility issue, e.g., the country of origin of textile products that are subject to quota from China and your goods are declared as originating from another country, then you will have to provide production records proving the goods were actually manufactured in the declared country of origin. Start collecting those documents immediately, because you only have 15 days to provide them to Customs. Make sure someone experienced in reviewing production records (other than you) reviews them before submitting them to Customs.

4. If Customs doesn’t issue a detention notice, the goods are deemed excluded by the 30th day after presentation of the entry. You can file a protest of the exclusion. Customs has 30 days to decide the protest before you have the right to challenge the exclusion in the U.S. Court of International Trade. While this is not a practical solution to actually getting your goods in a timely fashion, it forces the government to justify its actions in the event you have ongoing shipments that are likely to have the same issue.

5. Better than attempting to challenge a detention judicially is to have the goods exported back to the vendor. If they have not been seized and are deemed excluded, this is the better solution. If it’s an admissibility issue, you can obtain the right visa and ship them again, assuming they are still saleable.

6. If the goods are seized, you will get a notice of seizure. It will provide the reasons for the seizure and several options available to the importer.

7. If your goods are seized, don’t try to have your customs broker get them released. Unless you are willing to abandon the goods, call a lawyer.

8. You have the right to petition for remission of the seizure and early release of the goods. Early release usually requires the deposit of 50 percent of the value of the goods.

9. Seizures valued over $100,000 are sent to Customs headquarters in Washington for decision. Don’t expect a decision any time soon.

10. The seizure notice will give you the option of requesting that the matter be immediately referred to the U.S. attorney for institution of judicial forfeiture proceedings. If you want fast action, make them go to court and justify the seizure. You can often get a settlement that allows you to export the goods — assuming they are not counterfeit.

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