Why Do Shipments Get Held at Customs?

Why Do Shipments Get Held at Customs?Normally when you order something, you want your shipment to arrive as soon as possible. However, you need to understand that international shipping takes time, and there are situations when delays are inevitable. For example, sometimes shipments get stuck in customs upon arrival to the destination country. Why does it happen? Are there any ways to free your shipment from customs?

Most international shipments, with a few exceptions such as packages delivered within the European Union, have to go through customs to ensure that their contents correspond to the customs declaration, there are no prohibited items, etc. It usually takes up to three business days to clear a shipment, but sometimes packages get stuck in customs for longer, and their tracking status won’t change from “Customs Clearance” or “Arrived at Customs” to “Released by Customs” for days.

The simplest explanation for the delay is that customs is simply too busy. This usually happens near the end of the year due to Black Friday deals and holiday shopping. In such a case there is hardly anything you can do about it except wait until your shipment gets cleared. Another reason for the delay is some sort of issue with your shipment. But how to you distinguish between the two situations?

The tracking status of your shipment is the clue. If the status remains unchanged while the package is stuck in customs, it usually means that customs is too busy. However, if its status has changed from “Arrived at Customs” to “Held by Customs” or something of the sort, there’s a problem with your package, and you need to contact the customs office to sort things out.

A package might get held in customs if customs officers suspect it contains restricted or prohibited items, such as perishables, medicines and prescription drugs, combustible or flammable items, aerosols, etc. Some of these items are universally restricted or prohibited, while others may be shipped freely from the country you’ve ordered them from but are restricted or prohibited in your country. If your package contains such items, they will be seized by customs; if your shipment is cleared, you will eventually get it.

Customs officers may also want to get a closer look at your package due to incomplete or inaccurate paperwork. For example, they may suspect discrepancies in the customs declaration. A customs declaration is a special document filled out by the sender that includes the names of the items in the shipment, their quantity and value. Some online retailers declare orders as gifts rather than purchases or declare a lower value in order to help customers avoid customs fees. This practice is illegal, and customers who’ve resorted to it usually end up paying all customs fees plus a hefty fine.

Another reason for customs officers to delay a shipment is a suspicion that the items it contains are not intended for personal use. For example, if you ordered ten different books, there is little doubt that you intend to read them yourself or give them as a gift. However, if you ordered ten copies of the same book, especially if it’s a limited or signed edition, customs officers may suspect that you want to resell them to make a profit. In such a case, the shipment may be subject to fees (and a fine if its contents are declared as items intended for personal use).

So, what should you do if your shipment is held by customs? You need to contact the customs office and provide all information and relevant documents concerning your shipment. They may include, but are not limited to, its tracking number, proof of purchase (invoices, receipts, email printouts, bank or PayPal account statement), etc. You might also need to contact your seller and carrier for additional information. If it turns out that you owe unpaid taxes or fees on the shipment, it will be released once you pay them.

Having your shipment held by customs is no fun, but if your taxes and fees are paid and the shipper hasn’t messed with the declaration, it probably won’t take much time to resolve the issue and have your package delivered to you.