U.S./Mexico Shipping Series Part 5: How to Find the Right Customs Broker

A customs broker is a natural and necessary part of doing business across the U.S./Mexico border. No matter how seldom you ship across the U.S./Mexico border, every border crossing comes with a significant customs compliance risk. That’s why choosing a customs broker should never be about scoring the best deal. Like other professional services—think doctors, lawyers, and accountants—a customs broker’s primary responsibility is to protect you from risks, not save you a few dollars.

How to choose the right customs broker

Let’s look at five tactics for choosing the best customs broker for your business:

  1. Demand straight answers

What do you look for in a doctor: One who glosses over a potentially large health problem, or one who will tell it to you straight when something isn’t right? I want the one who will tell it to me straight—even if it’s not what I want to hear. And the same should hold true for customs compliance.

  1. Find someone to anticipate and advise

Now think about hiring a lawyer. You obviously want one that can defend you well if someone sues you. But it’s just as important to find a lawyer who will advise you on ways to avoid risks before you’re sued at all. This too is what you want in a customs broker.

  1. Watch out for dubious promises

If a customs broker offers a cheaper rate or faster border crossings, be wary. Every company with freight moving into or out of Mexico needs to fill out the same forms and cross the border at the same place, so promises of speedy border crossings may mean they’re cutting corners somewhere along the line. Stay away from companies that make unrealistic promises. Remember, your customs broker’s first responsibilities should be to help you manage compliance and mitigate risks.

  1. Expect lots of questions

While it may be gratifying to surround yourself with “yes men,” in a customs broker it can really hurt your business. Customs brokers should always be asking questions. It’s a good sign that they’re looking at your business just as closely as a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) audit might in the future. And just because you’ve been doing business with the same broker for years doesn’t mean the questions should stop either. Even customs brokers who know your business should still have the occasional question.

  1. Never be willing to sacrifice quality

Above all, customs compliance is never something that should be “good enough.” Instead, your customs broker should always demand perfection in your filings, and have the tools and services to back up your business. Consider customs brokers that demonstrate their commitment to continuous improvement; have strong Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) programs in place; and offer tools, software, and reporting to help you better understand your compliance.

Change your customs mindset

If you feel relief every time one of your shipments crosses the border without being stopped for a customs infraction, it’s time to change your customs mindset. Keep in mind—your transaction lives on long after your products cross into or out of Mexico, and as the U.S. importer or exporter, the risk of compliance is yours.

In fact, CPB can audit transactions for at least five years after they’re filed. And like the IRS, they won’t necessarily reject your filing right away. Instead, they’ll audit you after the fact. And if every single shipment that’s crossed the border in the last five years was filed incorrectly, they’ll ding you on each and every one. Instead of facing potentially hefty penalties and refiling fees, decide now not to settle for customs compliance that’s just “good enough.”

Final Thoughts

Ready to focus on customs compliance? Sign up for our compliance newsletter and receive customs news straight to your inbox every other week. And if it’s time to find a new customs broker, our Trusted Advisor® customs experts are ready to help.

In the coming weeks, look for the final post in my U.S./Mexico series, which will focus on how relationships and logistics technology need to work in tandem when shipping across the border.

Alex Garza
General Manager II | Consolidation
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