10 Steps to Import Compliance

Ever-changing import rules enforced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) require companies to remain current on regulations and process methodologies—or risk delays and noncompliance fines. Organizations that fail to comply with current customs rules—even in ignorance—can be designated as high risk, and subject to more frequent inspections and longer processing times in the future.

Businesses should establish rigorous internal controls, audits, and system checks to accurately manage the import process. The following 10 best practices will help ensure compliance:

  1. Create a dedicated customs group. An internal group will define a corporate compliance program, oversee operations related to compliance, and interface with different departments—including warehousing, purchasing, and logistics—involved in compliance.
  2. Enlist executive help. Executive involvement in the customs group raises its importance, and provides exposure and authority for group interaction with other departments. Assign an executive responsibility for ensuring ongoing compliance within the organization.
  3. Develop formal policies. Establish policies and procedures to support management’s CBP compliance goals and objectives.
  4. Conduct internal control reviews. Periodic process reviews help assess the performance of internal controls. Use external or internal audits to review each business unit and confirm it has implemented corporate policies. Mandate corrective action when necessary, and adjust testing in response to changing risk.
  5. Establish training programs. Training relevant employees to understand the rules and regulations associated with product imports is imperative to support compliance throughout the entire supply chain process. Warehouse personnel must be trained and certified to the functions associated with their compliance responsibilities. Periodically convey relevant CBP policy updates to workers.
  6. Develop compliance requirements for suppliers. To ensure suppliers meet all compliance requirements, importers must develop standardized contract language on purchase agreements, then implement controls to ensure CBP transactions are valid, properly authorized, and accurately processed. Suppliers must provide regulatory reporting information when applicable.
  7. Create a record-keeping program. It is crucial to verify that shipment data matches the goods received, and any inaccuracies are corrected with CBP. For example, if 50 units are entered using invoice information, but only 40 are received, report the variance to CBP. Solid record-keeping allows companies to maintain an audit trail from production control through payment to CBP entry.
  8. Partner with CBP. Participate in voluntary programs such as the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, Free and Secure Trade, and other initiatives.
  9. Monitor risk. Conducting post-entry reviews and comparing results against established goals allows importers to quickly resolve control weaknesses. Continually assess risk to identify vulnerabilities and develop internal risk management goals.
  10. Compile a compliance manual. In addition to outlining the daily responsibilities and activities that different departments and outside consultants perform, the compliance manual should detail the company’s overall compliance strategies regarding import procedures, controls, and record-keeping requirements.


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