Customs Brokers

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Learn more about the customs broker profession and licensing requirements by visiting the Customs Brokers section of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Web site, https://www.cbp.gov/trade/programs-administration/customs-brokers. Prepare for the customs broker exam by taking a prep class. Some schools and professional associations offer customs broker classes to help students prepare for the licensing exam. For example, exam prep courses are offered by the International Import-Export Institute at the Business School of Dunlap-Stone University (http://www.dunlap-stone.edu/degrees-and-programs/licensed-customs-broker-training) and the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America Inc. (http://www.ncbfaa.org).

If you are still in school, see if your school's career services office can help you locate a customs broker for an information interview. Prepare a list of questions to learn more about the day-to-day tasks, the pros and cons of the work, and how the customs broker got started in the field.

The Job

Customs brokers are licensed professionals who act as liaisons between businesses and the federal government. They assist companies with the logistics of moving products across borders. Companies that are importing or exporting goods hire customs brokers to track and document shipments, complete and file appropriate documentation with customs, and pay the required fees. Customs brokers may specialize in certain areas, such as in apparel, perishables, or helping large cargo vessels to clear their crew and manifest.

In addition to tracking international shipments, customs brokers store shipment-related documents, such as special forms for goods that federal agencies regulate. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires certificates of inspection for produce. Other documents that brokers prepare, submit, and store include invoices that have details about the merchandise, such as how much it weighs and the country it's from. Customs brokers also have power of attorney forms, which verify that they can act on the behalf of their clients. They can submit any of these types of forms electronically, which enables them to work anywhere in the United States. They are required to keep hard copies of these documents for a specific time frame, and then they must be stored electronically for five years, during which time Customs and Border Protection officials may inspect them.

Customs brokers review their clients' merchandise and determine if it qualifies for special or reduced tariffs based on its classification. For instance, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, tariffs are reduced for merchandise that is shipped to the United States from Canada or Mexico. Customs brokers make the duty payments to the government for their clients. These payments are made within 10 days of the release of the merchandise. They either pay the government directly and then bill the client for reimbursement, or they have the government withdraw the payment from the client's account. Brokers then bill clients a brokerage fee for fixed rates of service or for the shipment value.

Customs brokers who work in large companies may oversee and manage customs staff and the office procedures. Strong knowledge of international trade laws is required for this job. Customs brokers know the methods and means by which products can be transported by road, rail, sea, and air. Import and export laws change frequently, and customs brokers must keep up with these changes and be flexible to learn and adapt to these changes in the work. Customs brokers are also detail oriented, which is important for classifying goods correctly so that clients pay the correct tax and fees.