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An Ultimate Guide to Import Fees

Fees are a part of life and they are certainly a part of freight, but you still don't want to be surprised by unexpected import fees.

Importing into the United States can be a complicated process. Shippers need to navigate international trade policies, carriers, customs, ports, and lots of fees. To make it a little easier, we’ve outlined all the common import fees, including when they are due, who to pay, and how to avoid overpaying.

Before your freight takes off.

Cargo Insurance.

Who are you paying: Insurer.

Modes: All

Description: Cargo insurance is purchased through insurance specialists and it protects importers against theft or damages during transit. Shippers usually arrange cargo insurance through their freight forwarder.

Freight Right’s tips: While this is not technically a required fee, we highly recommend the purchase of cargo insurance. Most carriers and forwarders are protected from liability in the event that something goes wrong, so we would advise against risking a shipment with no insurance.

How much is it: Cargo insurance varies by shipment and mode of transport. Let us know you’re interested in cargo insurance in your quote request for a rate.

Customs Bonds

Who are you paying: Customs and Border Patrol (CBP)

Modes: All

Description: A customs bond is required by the US government as it protects them in the event that an importer does not pay any duties, taxes, penalties, etc. in the customs process at the destination. Customs bonds are helpful to the shipper as they can help speed up the customs process, saving money and time. There are two main options for bonds, continuous and single entry.

Freight Right’s tips: If you are a frequent shipper it is a good idea to develop a relationship with CBP and one way to do that is to have a continuous bond account with them, even if your forwarder is responsible for arranging customs clearance. Working well with CBP can help you avoid unnecessary delays due to exams or holds.

How much is it:

Continuous bonds, which are paid for annually, is $500 per year. Single entry bonds, for single shipments, are about 0.5% of your shipment’s value (minimum of $50).

Booking Fee

Who are you paying: Freight Forwarder

Modes: All

Description: The booking fee is your forwarder’s administration fee and is usually required at origin. It is also known as Documentation Fee at Origin or House Documentation Fee. If applied at your freight’s destination it is known as a Documentation Fee at Destination or Arrival Agent Fee.

How much is it: Your booking fee is dependent on several factors, including mode of transportation, cargo volume, and any special instructions. Request a quote for the exact amount.

Importer Security Filing (ISF) Fee

Who are you paying: Forwarder or Customs Broker

Modes: Ocean only

Description: The ISF filing fee covers compliance with CBP’s requirement for advance cargo reporting. Filing ISF is a requirement of CBP and failing to do so can result in heavy fines. CBP uses the information to identify low-risk shipments for potential early release.

ISF filing is one part of the collection of documents and tasks needed for Customs clearance, thus this fee is usually included within Customs clearance charges from your forwarder.

Freight Right’s tips: Since an incorrect or missing ISF filing can result in hefty fines, we recommend being very proactive as a shipper by ensuring that the documents used in ISF, the Commercial Invoice and Ocean Manifest, are accurate and delivered to your forwarder or customs broker in a timely manner. Make sure you have all documents in order in time for your forwarder to file ISF, at least 24 hours before the cargo is loaded.

If upon inspection, CBP finds that there are discrepancies between what is described in the ISF and your actual goods, you will be subject to fines and inspection costs. We recommend including a clause in your supply contract that requires your supplier to take responsibility for this cost if they are at fault.

How much is it: The actual ISF fee is between approximately

$30 and $50 and is usually included in the Customs Clearance section on your freight quote or invoice. However, ISF filing fees can amount to up to $5,000.

Container Fumigation Fee

Who are you paying: Fumigator

Mode: All

Description: In order to be in compliance with International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code and US law, wood products, including cargo goods, packaging, and wood pallets require fumigation. Fumigation can happen before pickup or on board the ship during the ocean journey.

This fee covers haulage from the facility to the port or warehouse and can include a fuel surcharge as well.

Freight Right’s tips: Make sure you receive a fumigation certificate, as this will be required for your goods to enter the US.

Pickup Fee

Who are you paying: Freight Forwarder

Mode: All

Description: The pickup fee covers haulage from the exporter’s facility to the pot or warehouse, if applicable. It can be a flat rate or include a fuel surcharge and will be represented on your freight invoice.

How much is it: While the rate changes due to cargo and locations, however, two important factors that will be considered is the distance and chargeable weight.

Terminal Handling Charges (THC)

Who are you paying: Terminal Provider

Mode: Ocean Freight

Description: THC in shipping is the aggregated cost of using a terminal provider’s property, including access, equipment management, equipment use, labor, maintenance and use of the wharf, carrier’s terminal facility, and a container freight station (CFS).

Freight Right’s tips: Occasionally, some components of this aggregated charge are billed as a seperate fee. For example this is common with wharfage, where all goods are loaded, unloaded, or transhipped within the Terminal Provider’s property are charged.

How much is it:

THC is a pass-through charge and is non-negotiable, however it does vary per terminal and many terminals display this price on their web pages. It will also be on your freight invoice or quote.

Security Surcharge

Who are you paying: Terminal Provider

Mode: Air Freight

Description: The security surcharge covers the additional security measures mandated by airport authorities. It will be reflected in your air freight quote or invoice.

Congestion Surcharge

Who are you paying: Carrier

Mode: Ocean

Description: The congestion surcharge is a need-based free fee that carriers will put into place if unusual circumstances, i.e. strikes, winter weather, port fire, heavy volume of ships, cause high levels of port congestion.

Freight Right’s tips: Communicate with your forwarder to understand circumstances that could result in you being responsible for this surcharge.

How much is it: Varies.

Freight Consolidation Fee

Who are you paying: Freight Forwarder

Mode: Ocean LCL and Air Freight

Description: Freight Consolidation fee is a service charge for the packing of several smaller shipments into the same container.

Freight Right’s tips: This fee is worth it if you are shipping less than a full container, however, once you ship enough cargo, a full container load makes more sense because it is a flat rate rather than volume based.

Main transit costs.

Ocean or Air Freight Charges

Who are you paying: Carrier

Mode: Air or Ocean Freight

Description: The freight charge is the base carrier charge for the main leg of the shipment, from sea or airport at the country of origin to the port at the destination country.

How much is it: Varies based on the amount, type, and mode of freight. Request a quote for a price.

War Risk Surcharge

Who are you paying: Carrier

Mode: Ocean Freight

Description: A war risk surcharge is need-based, supplementary charge that is applied when insurance underwriters determine specific zones as at-risk for war. It also includes escalatory international events and areas where hijacking or piracy is prevalent. The charge is applied to offset potential costs due to rerouting or additional security.

Freight Right’s tips: This charge is legally non-negotiable, but is unlikely to be charged on Asia-North America lanes.

Bunker Adjustment Factor Surcharge (BAF)

Who are you paying: Carrier

Mode: Ocean Freight

Description: BAF is a non-negotiable, pass-through charge that is based on TEU and it is in place to balance out the financial effects of oil price fluctuations for carriers. It can change monthly or quarterly.

Freight Right’s tips: Ask for an all-inclusive port to port charge to avoid the confusion of these small charges.

How much is it: This rate is based on oil prices and thus changes monthly or quarterly, but it is fairly similar between carriers. This fee is often combined with other carrier charges in an all-inclusive port to port charge, but this individual fee can be found on most carriers’ home page.

Currency Adjustment Factor (CAF) Surcharge

Who are you paying: Carrier

Mode: All

Description: Similar to the BAF, this surcharge is based on TEU and it accounts for currency fluctuations. Like the BAF, its purpose is to stabilize rates across the short term.

Freight Right’s tips: Like with the BAF, ask for an all-inclusive port to port charge to avoid the confusion of these small charges.

Panama Transit Fee

Who are you paying: Carrier

Mode: Ocean freight going through the Panama Canal

Description: This is a specific fee for container ships traveling through the Panama Canal that goes to the Canal for passage.

Freight Right’s tips: This should only be charged on FCL shipments.

How much is it: Standard, non-negotiable, pass-through charge. It varies from carrier to carrier.

Peak Season Surcharge

Who are you paying: Carrier

Mode: All

Description: Between June 1 and October 31 is considered peak season for imports from Asia, thus this surcharge is applied to all shipments from Asia during that time to cover increased operational costs.

Freight Right’s tips: Peak season is an expensive time to ship, as in addition to this fee, carriers are already charging higher waits, so though this supplemental charge may seem unreasonable, there isn’t much a shipper can do. However, taking advantage of warehousing services offered by Freight Right could allow you to ship for peak season early and save money as a result.

When your freight arrives.

Customs Clearance Fees and Charges

Also known as Customs Brokerage

Who are you paying: Forwarder or Customs Broker

Mode: All

Description: Customs Clearance charge covers the entire process of preparing and submitting Customs Entry documentation to the CBP.

Freight Right’s tips: One very large, unexpected fee that shippers can incur is fees associated with Customs hold and exams. If you are a first time shipper it is good to budget some margin for this potential expense. Check out our holds and exams guideline for more information.

How much is it: On average, the standard rate for Customs Clearance in the US is about $100-$120, your freight quote is likely to reflect this.

Customs Duties

Who are you paying: Customs

Mode: All

Description: Depending on the commodity you are importing and from where, CBP may charge duties for goods entering the US. The amount is determined by the information on your Commercial Invoice which Customs will run through an HS Lookup and a Duty Calendar.

How much is it: The amount will vary based on Country of Origin and the commodity you are importing.

Merchandise Processing Fee (MPF)

Who are you paying: Customs

Mode: All

Description: A standard Customs administrative fee.

How much is it: This is a fixed rate fee that CBP has struck at 0.3464% of your shipment’s total value, excluding duty, freight, and insurance charges. It cannot be below $25 or above $485.

Harbor Maintenance Fees (HMF)

Who are you paying: Customs

Mode: Ocean only

Description: The HMF is a universal fee for all those who benefit from the US ports and harbors to offset the cost of maintenance and upkeep.

How much is it: This fee is fixed at a rate 0.125% of the value of the commercial cargo shipped through seaports.

PierPass Fee

Who are you paying: Terminal Provider

Mode: Ocean freight moving through the pots of Long Beach and Los Angeles

Description: This charge is supplementary for these Southern California ports and it is applied for pickups during peak hours. The reason for this charge is to encourage off-peak pickups as it eases congestion during peak time. The also helps cover the cost of nighttime operations

How much is it: This is a standard, pass-through charge that is legally non-negotiable.

Demurrage and Detention/Warehouse Fee

Who are you paying: Carrier

Mode: All

Description: Once goods arrive at the air or seaport, they have a certain amount of free days after offload, however, once those free days are over Demurrage (FCL) or Warehouse fees (LCL, Air) start to incur.

Similarly, once a container is picked up it has a certain amount of time before it needs to be returned to the port, empty. If the container is gone longer than that, you will start incurring detention fees.

Freight Right’s tips: Stay on top of both your amount of free days as well as warehouse and trucking appointments to avoid these fees.

How much is it: Varies.

Telex Electronic Cargo Release/EDI Fee

Who are you paying: Forwarder

Mode: All

Description: This is a fee charged by your forwarder to offset the costs of sending forms and messages to ports, CBP, and other government agencies by telex or electronic data interchange (EDI) mode.

Delivery Fee

Who are you paying: Forwarder

Mode: All

Description: Depending on the mode, this fee will have a different title: drayage for containers, trucking fee for ocean freighted pallets, and air freight cartage for air-freighted pallets.Ultimately, this charge covers moving your goods from the warehouse at your destination terminal to the final delivery point.

How much is it: This fee is dependent on distance and either freight class or chargeable weight.

Chassis Usage Fee

Who are you paying: Carrier

Mode: Land via trucking

Description: In order to move containers, trucks have to acquire chassis (a kind of trailer) and to do so they usually need to rent them from carriers.

Container Cleaning Fee

Who are you paying: Forwarder

Mode: Ocean

Description: Usually only necessary with reefer containers, this fee covers cleaning services for your borrowed container, if applicable.