What is a Customs Broker?

Customs brokers are persons who clear shipments of imported or exported goods. They are responsible for ensuring that the items meet all the regulations, laws, packing, and other requirements that are mandated by law. In addition, they must be certain that all taxes, fees, documentation, and other needs have been fulfilled. They are the gatekeepers of local, national, and international commerce. This is a massive responsibility that has severe repercussions if not done correctly.

The ability to import and export goods is how countries around the globe maintain their economies and provide their citizens with the things they need. Without these global markets, people would be isolated, and their lives would be less comfortable. Regulating what comes in and out is the responsibility of a country's legislative structure. Assuring that only what is allowed comes in and out of a country is the job of the customs department. A broker works with these departments to ensure their client is not breaking any rules.

Clients and governments hire brokers to keep abreast of all the latest rules and regulations, taxes, and documentation needed to bring items into or out of a country. This information varies wildly from place to place, making it exceedingly difficult for a business to keep up with everything, so the business hires a broker to do it for them.

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What does a Customs Broker do?

Brokers are responsible for obtaining and filling out all the paperwork needed to present to government agencies for a shipment of goods. They are expected to know what papers are needed and to prepare them correctly to prevent any delays. They are the middleman between the importer or exporter and the government. They calculate and ensure duties and tariffs are paid. They obtain and make insurance claims, track cargo, and interact with customs officials.

Customs brokers also strategize with clients on what markets are lucrative and which ones are not. With their understanding of tariffs and regulations, they are able to help companies explore new markets and determine how to set up trade and what to trade. Companies expect brokers to have positive relationships with government officials and keep updated on all the latest laws and regulations. The company is then able to trade without worrying about being penalized for breaking laws.

What does it take to be a Customs Broker?

A broker has to be comfortable with people. Interacting with client and government agents is a large part of what they do. An outgoing personality is essential. They must also be exceptionally organized and have the ability to multitask. Detailed recordkeeping is key to clearing cargoes and assuring that all the proper documents are available to government officials.

Brokers are necessary to the success of any business that imports or exports goods. To be successful, they must develop a reputation for integrity, knowledge, and positive work ethic. The field is stressful and fast-paced. The broker has to stay updated on the latest changes and integrate those changes rapidly to prevent clients from suffering cargo holds, penalties, and other negative impacts.

Most training is done on the job. However, having a bachelor’s degree in a related field is usually the key to getting an entry-level position with a customs house. A degree in a field such as business, supply chain management, or transportation helps the trainee understand the concepts involved. Once the trainee understands the process, he or she will take a licensing exam. Not every country requires brokers to be licensed, but the license does serve as proof that the broker is prepared to navigate the customs system effectively.

To prepare to enter into the customs world, obtaining a bachelor degree will give a potential broker a serious boost over competition. The top five business degree colleges in the world according to rankings by U.S. News are: Cambridge University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, University of Oxford, and Imperial College of London England.

What is the workplace of a Customs Broker like?

The workplace is going to vary significantly from place to place, country to country. Brokers can expect to spend a lot of time going from their office to customs houses, to shipyards and other places where cargo enters the country. They will need to be able to work using a variety of mobile electronics such as tablets, smartphones, and other devices. They will spend a lot of time in their cars going between appointments with clients, meeting with customs officials, and greeting shipments via rail, air, and ship. This job requires long hours and lots of energy to keep on top of things.

How much does a Customs Broker earn?

As with any career, salary is dependent upon success. A broker that is capable of getting goods in and out with minimal problems is going to be in demand and earn more than a novice. A beginning salary for a broker in North America who works for a large firm is between $50,000 and $75,000 per year.

Brokers with experience often work for themselves and contract directly with import companies. Depending on their value to the client and how many clients they have it is not unusual to earn over $100,000 per year. Many independent brokers realize earnings considerably over that figure. The factors that directly affect income are knowledge base, success in getting items in and out of a country with minimal effort by the client, and how many clients the broker can handle.

Brokers express satisfaction with their careers. The ability to meet and interact with people from around the globe, the mobile work environment, and earnings potential create a field that brings lifelong satisfaction and has an impact on people around the globe.

Learn more about being a Customs Broker