Importing Terms
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Importing Terms

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What's What With Customs Terms?

List of important shipping and importing terms

These are some of the standard shipping and importing terms used by customs, brokers, and freight forwarders. They will help you understand everything about your shipment.

Gisele International

Our Importing Service

Our importing service is the top of the line when it comes to clearing your freight through customs. We clear your freight within 48 hours of contacting us, and it is usually done the same day.

We understand that time is money, and having your freight waiting at customs is not only annoying, but it causes you to lose money.

Ad Valorem Duty

A duty placed on imported merchandise that is based on a percentage of the shipment value.

Air Waybill

A non-negotiable document or contract for international flights between shippers and carriers. It serves as both a receipt for the shipper and a transport agreement for the carrier of the freight.

Automated Broker Interface (ABI)

A software interface to the Customs Automated Commercial System allowing transmission on entries into and through customs. Only qualified parties may use this system, and included in them are customs brokers, importers, carriers, port authorities, and independent data processing companies.

Antidumping Duties

Duties placed on imported merchandise that would otherwise be sold for less than fair market value causing harm to the domestic industry.


An estimation of the value of imported merchandise by a proper Customs official.

Arrival Notice

Also known as a freight bill, this notice advises the client that cargo has arrived.



The value or item that an importer provides to its foreign supplier or manufacturer at a reduced rate or free of charge for the express purpose of producing imported merchandise. Examples of this may include tools, dies, or molds used to produce products.  The value of the imported merchandise must reflect this added value.

ATA Carnet

A Carnet is a form issued by the United States Council for International Business specifically designed for freight or cargo that will only be in a country for a temporary period of time. It is similar to a passport in that it simplifies the importing process. One example use of an ATA Carnet would be for International Show Horses that travel from country to country on a regular basis.  This method prevents the client from paying duties or posting bonds.

Bill of Lading

A document or contract between a shipper and a transportation company that serves to declare the transportation method of the merchandise, the price point for services rendered, and the acknowledgement by both parties that goods were shipped to the proper destination.

Bureau of Export Administration

A government office responsible for the control of exports for reasons of national security, foreign policy and short supply items.


Goods that are stored under the supervision of customs until they are cleared and all import duties are paid.

Bonded warehouse

A warehouse authorized by Customs for storing merchandise on which payment of duties is deferred until the importer pays the duties or until Customs releases the merchandise.


Movement of freight by use of trucking, draying or carting.

Certificate of Origin

A signed statement as to the origin of an export item.



The assignment of a category for the imported goods according to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the US. Duty is determined based on the classification and the valuation of the goods. 

Compound Duty

Tax imposed on imported merchandise based on a percentage of value and also on the net weight or number of pieces, etc.


Delivery of merchandise from an exporter (the consignor) to an agent (the consignee) under agreement that the agent sell the merchandise for the account of the exporter. The consignor retains title to the goods until sold. The consignee sells the goods for commission and remits the net proceeds to the consignor.


Single rigid, sealed, reusable metal box in which merchandise is shipped by vessel, truck or rail.

Countervailing Duties

Additional duties charged to imported goods that could harm a domestic industry.

Country of Origin

The country that produced the imported goods.


The United States Customs Service which is the regulatory division of government in charge of regulating and enforcing import laws.

Customs Broker

A US Customs Broker is a highly-trained individual, licenced and entrusted by the US Department of Treasury. Customs brokers not only have to be constantly attentive to US Customs regulations and laws, but are also responsible for accurate classification of imported items within thousands of categories. They are also required to collect and pay the appropirate tariff or duty on shipped items.

Customs Modernization Act

Federal legislation that imposes extensive compliance and record-keeping requirements on importers.


A foreign company or person who sells directly for a supplier and keeps an inventory of the supplier’s products on hand.


A formal document made by the importer or his/her agent to Customs attesting to the correctness of descriptions, valuation, and classification of imported goods.


Unloading of cargo from a container.

Dock Receipt

A document used to transfer accountability of cargo from the domestic carrier to the international carrier.


A program that helps domestic manufacturers compete in foreign markets allowing importers to get a refund of all or part of the duties they paid on imported merchandise.

Domestic Status

A material that is grown, produced, or manufactured in the US on which all IRS taxes have been paid or has been imported and duty and tax has been paid.


The import and sale of merchandise by a foreign country or supplier at less than fair value. Dumping is generally recognized as an unfair practices because the practice can disrupt markets and injure producers of competitive products in an importing country.


A tax levied on imported merchandise usually based on the value of the goods or some other factors such as weight or quantity and classification.


The process of getting imported merchandise released from the Customs Service.

Export License

A document prepared by a government authority, granting the right to export a specified quantity of a commodity to a specific country. This document may be required in some countries for most or all exports and in other countries only under special circumstances. A document issued by the U.S. government authorizing the export of commodities for which written export authorization is required by law.

Foreign Trade Zone

Importers may temporarily house imported merchandise in a free trade zone before it is processed through the Customs Service. The importer does not pay duties while the merchandise is in the foreign trade zone.

Freight Forwarder

A person who arranges the shipping and export clearance of imported merchandise.

He/she generally assembles collects and consolidates less-than-truckload freight and also acts as an agent in the transshipping of freight to or from foreign countries and the clearing of freight through Customs for compensation.

Gross Weight

The full weight of a shipment, including goods and packaging.

Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States

the legal list issued by the U.S. Government used to determine the classification of imported merchandise.

House Air Waybill

Contains all the information of an air waybill but is not a financial document. This is a contract between the shipper and freight forwarder. All the shipments covered by the individual house air waybills are consolidated, and a single air waybill is issued to cover the consolidated shipment.

Immediate Delivery

Customs entry procedure that provides for immediate release of a shipment prior to the arrival of merchandise although the merchandise must arrive within the port limits for the release to take effect. The entry summary with duties  must be filed within 10 working days after release.

Import License

A document required and issued by some national governments authorizing the importation of goods into their individual countries.

Importer of Record

The party in whose name the entry is made

In bond

Procedure under which goods are transported or warehoused under Customs supervision until they are either formally entered into Customs territory and duties paid or until they are exported.

Letter of Credit

A financial document issued by a bank at the request of the consignee guaranteeing payment to the shipper for cargo if certain terms and conditions are fulfilled.  Normally, the letter of credit contains a brief description of the goods, documents required, a shipping date, and an expiration date after which payment will not longer be made


The final review and assessment of duty on imported merchandise by the Customs Service.


A program designed and promoted by the Mexican government that allows foreign manufacturers to ship components into Mexico duty-free for assembly and subsequent re-export.

Marking (country of origin), Marks of Origin

The physical stamp, wording, or marking on an article or merchandise that shows in what country the article or merchandise was produced. Customs laws require marks of origin of most countries.


The North American Free Trade Agreement agreed to by the U.S.A., Canada, and Mexico. NAFTA eliminates certain tariffs, promotes market access, and facilitates customs administration. It exceeds 360 million consumers and a combined output of $6  trillion--20 % larger than the European Community.

Ocean Bill of Lading

A receipt for the cargo and a contract for transportation between a shipper and the ocean carrier. It may also be used as an instrument of ownership which can be bought, sold, or traded while the goods are in transit.

Packing List

A list of the contents of each package you are shipping. This is generally a free-format list, however it must contain detailed and specific information of each item being shipped. You must also include weight, dimensions, and the value of each item.


A paperless result indicates that the merchandise is low risk from a compliant importer.  The broker places a stamp on the CF3461 and signs the document; thus, the merchandise is released without a Customs official ever looking at the documents.


The transportation of truck trailers and containers on specially equipped railroad flat-cars

Port of Entry

Where goods are entered and where the Customs Service accepts entries of merchandise and collects duties.

Power of Attorney

A legal document that importers give to their customs broker that allows the customs broker to conduct business with the Customs Service on the importer's behalf.

Prior Disclosure

Sometimes an importer will find it has violated a customs law before the Customs Service has discovered the violation. A prior disclosure is a voluntary report by an importer of the violation to the Customs Service. The law provides some benefits (but does not speak of the risks) to an importer who does a prior disclosure.

Pro Forma Invoice

An invoice provided by a supplier prior to the shipment of merchandise informing the buyer of the kinds and quantities of goods to be sent, their value, and important specifications (weight, size, etc.).


The means to challenge through administrative or agency channels decisions by the Customs Service . The method primarily used by importers to take issue with Customs decisions with which they disagree. A protest is normally utilized as an opportunity to provide evidence that will result in the refund of duties and other charges that were erroneously paid.


A decision rendered by the Customs Service on an issue or issues surrounding a particular importation of merchandise. Rulings are published and can usually be appealed to a higher administrative body or to a court of law.

Reasonable Care

That degree of care which a person of ordinary prudence would exercise in the same or similar circumstances.  Due care under all circumstances. Failure to exercise such care is ordinary negligence

Related Parties

Members of the same family, spouse, and lineal descendants, officers or directors if each individual is also an officer or director of the other organization, partners, person owning, controlling or holding with power to vote 5% or more of outstanding stock, or a person who is an officer or director in both organizations

Shipping Weight

Shipping weight represents the gross weight in kilograms of shipments, including the weight of moisture content, wrappings, crates, boxes and containers (other than cargo vans and similar substantial outer containers).

Ships Manifest

A list, signed by the captain of a ship, of the individual shipments constituting the ship's cargo.

SIC Standard Industrial Classification

A standard numerical code system used by the U.S. Government to classify products and services.

Surety Bond

A surety bond is a promise or guarantee of payment to U.S. Customs in the event of a default in any terms of the importation laws.  If the importer does not comply, Customs will look to the surety for payment and compliance. It must be posted with the Customs Service to cover potential penalties, duties, or taxes before imported merchandise can be entered into the United States.

Tare Weight

The weight of a container and/or packing materials without the weight of the goods it contains.


List or schedule of merchandise with applicable rates to be paid or charged for each listed article.  A schedule of duties or taxes assessed by a government on goods as they enter or leave a country.

Tariff Rate Quota

Permits a specified quantity of merchandise to be entered at a reduced rate during a specified period.

Transaction Value

The price actually paid or payable by the buyer to the seller for the merchandise when sold for exportation to the United States. Transaction value is the most common method for valuing imported merchandise.

Transfer Pricing

Overpricing of imports and/or under-pricing of exports between affiliated companies in different countries for the purpose of transferring profits, revenues or monies out of a country in order to evade taxes.


Cargo which is transferred from one vessel to another.


The value of imported merchandise as declared by the importer and as finally determined by the Customs Service.

Value Added Fee

This method of pricing offers a base entry fee with extra charges for additional classifications, additional invoices, issuance of delivery orders, freight tracking, phone and fax charges and other miscellaneous services.


A license issued to an importer by a foreign government pursuant to a quota. When asking for advice from the Customs Service, are you providing the most accurate, up-to-date, information you have on the merchandise


A document prepared by a transportation line at the point of a shipment, showing the point of origin, destination, route, consignor, consignee, description of shipment and amount charged for the transportation service, and forwarded with the shipment, or direct by mail, to the agent at the transfer point or waybill destination.



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