Container Clearance Documents Explained + Help Desk [2022 Update] (2023)

Your container is our priority and rest assured, we’ll ensure that it’s safe from delays, detention, and demurrage. In this blog, we’ll provide you with the perfect and easiest guide to get through container clearance.

In this blog, you’ll learn:

  • Container – or customs – clearance can consume time when you’re shipping cargo. Not staying on top of your documents can lead to demurrage and detention too.
  • There are several crucial documents that you need for container clearance, some of which are imposed by different governments.
  • Shipper-owned containers (SOCs) might be the best option for smooth container clearance and to save both time and money.
  • Container xChange gives you the utmost transparency and flexibility across 2,500+ locations and 1,000+ companies through its commission-free platform.

Stay with us as we give you a detailed lowdown of what you need and where to get it. But if you already have your paperwork sorted, let’s find you some containers to trade or lease next.

Want to see the container availability on your route? Use our public search option below to find containers. All you have to do is enter your pick-up and drop-off locations and press the search button. Give it a go now!

Table of Contents

What is container clearance?

Didn’t we all imagine lesser logistical nightmares after Covid-19? But then came Omicron, the Russia-Ukraine war, and now the lockdown in China! Did you see the unbelievable maritime congestion at the Shanghai port in April? No two days have been alike in the shipping industry. We know it’s overwhelming. But we’re here with good news. Your container is our priority and rest assured, we’ll ensure that it’s safe from delays, demurrage, and detention.

Container Clearance Documents Explained + Help Desk [2022 Update] (1)

But how will we do that? Well, let’s say you’re exporting (or importing) 500 luxury handbags from Shanghai, China, to La Spezia, Italy. When you load the bags onto a container, you need to clear the container through the customs authorities at both the ports. This is a part of the customs clearance process and is often known as ‘container clearance’.

Why is container clearance needed?

Waiting for customs authorities to check your paperwork and cargo consumes a lot of time. In the shipping industry, time is money. And you can save them both by preparing for a seamless container clearance. Let’s understand this through an example.

Container Clearance Documents Explained + Help Desk [2022 Update] (2)

For example, you’re using a carrier-owned container (COC) to ship your cargo and it got stuck with customs. The delays caused by the holdup will have you pay hefty demurrage and detention charges to the carrier. Over time, these charges can add up to become a huge amount of money.

So, what’s a certain, quick and safe way to get your bags to Italy then? Well, by knowing how container clearance works and staying on top of all the documents. Let’s make this even easier for you now.

(Video) How to do Custom Clearance in Import..?? | by Paresh Solanki..,!! Import custom clearance procedure

Types of container clearance documents

Having the right documents at the right time and place ensures swift international freight shipping. Here, we’ve prepared a detailed list of the essential documents for you.

Commercial invoice

A commercial invoice is an export document that you show to the customs officials. They need it to verify which taxes and import duties are applicable to your cargo. It’s advisable that you write the details of the shipment with the company letterhead.

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Mention yours as well as the receiver’s company details, addresses, contact numbers, and tax numbers. Describe the goods you’re exporting, including their quantity and value. Also, mention the shipment number. This document proves the sale of goods between two parties. So, get all the details correct here.

Watch this video to know more about commercial invoice and how to fill it.

Certificate of origin

The certificate of origin, also known as CO, establishes where the goods of the shipment were wholly obtained, produced, and manufactured. Not just customs, even banks and private stakeholders use this document. But customs authorities use it to determine the duty on the goods. Many times, it’s also used to check if the shipment is even legal to export/import.

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For instance, in December 2021, US President Joe Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA). All goods manufactured in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are allegedly products of forced labor. And so, with the UFLPA coming into action, products from XUAR are not allowed entry at U.S. ports.
Remember the example of luxury bags you’re shipping from Shanghai, which we mentioned earlier in this blog? You show authorities the CO to prove that your bags were not manufactured in XUAR, even partially.

Bill of lading

The bill of lading is another important, legal document. It serves as a receipt for freight services. It’s also a contract between a carrier, shipper, and consigneeWhat is a consignee? When transporting freight (by ocean, air, or land), there are two parties involved — one who is shipping and the other who is receiving the freight. The recipient of the goods b... More. This bill clarifies the details of a shipment: what the goods are, where they’re going and where they’re coming from. The bill of lading is only issued after the vessel has departed from the port of loading and the customer has provided all the important details about the shipment. It includes cargo description, weight, details about the parties involved, etc.

Container Clearance Documents Explained + Help Desk [2022 Update] (5)

Buyer’s purchase order

A buyer’s purchase order (PO) is an official document issued by a buyer. Let’s go back to the luxury bags you’re forwarding, for example. The buyer of the bags has promised the seller to pay for them. But as you’ve still not reached the destination port with the bags, the buyer hasn’t yet paid the seller. So, they use the PO as a commitment to pay the seller for the sale of specific products or services.

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In this case, it’s the bags, even though you’ll deliver them only in the future. While it helps the buyer to place an order and not pay immediately, for the seller, it serves as credit without risk. A PO has a unique number, which means, it’s easy to track delivery and payment.

Packing list

A packing list is another crucial document for export. You, your freight forwarding company, your packers, and other involved parties use it to keep track of the cargo. It carries an itemized list of everything in your shipment.
You can use it to check the dimensions, sizes, weights, etc of the cargo. You need to provide a detailed export packing list when you export goods. Given how detailed this document is, you wouldn’t need to unwrap your shipment after it’s put in cases. That streamlines your process.

Container Clearance Documents Explained + Help Desk [2022 Update] (7)

(Video) Understanding the Federal Security Clearance Process

Shipping bill

If you’re exporting cargo, this is one of your first steps to take. You’ll need to fill out a shipping bill and you’re allowed to load cargo in your containers. And if you’re a shipping agent yourself, it will be your responsibility to issue this document as well. You do so for the buyer, seller, freight forwarder, and so on. Essentially, this bill allows customs authorities to clear the shipments.

Container Clearance Documents Explained + Help Desk [2022 Update] (8)

The shipping bill must be filled out as an application. How the bill is formed depends on what you’re shipping. You distinguish between, for instance, dutiable goods, duty-free goods, and goods with drawback claims.

Export license

What are you exporting? To whom and where? And how will the product be used? Depending on the answers, you might need an export license. For example, cargo exported from the US doesn’t require an export license. Essentially, an export license is a government document. It proves the approval to export a specific number of goods to specified countries. But do note that there are some goods that are subject to special surveillance by the authorities. In such cases, you can export those goods only if you hold the export license for them.

Container Clearance Documents Explained + Help Desk [2022 Update] (9)

Bill of entry

The importer is often the one who prepares the bill of entry. This bill documents in detail the cargo that enters the customs house. These details include the amount, type, place of origin, or destination. Customs officials issue it. It also explains what duties you’re paying, accordingly.

Container Clearance Documents Explained + Help Desk [2022 Update] (10)

We’ve discussed container clearance documents in detail by now. But what’s next? Well, let’s save you your valuable time and hard-earned money next!

Digitize your documents with Container xChange

Go digital. Maintaining paperwork, especially hard copies of shipping documentsWhat are shipping documents? In shipping, shipping documents are documents that provide information about the goods being shipped. They may include information such as the origin and destination of th... More, is overwhelming. Worse, if you lose them, it can result in major tax penalties. Above all, you cannot clear your container without them. One extremely effective way to solve this problem is to use only digital documents.

At Container xChange, we’re happy to offer you flexible, cost-saving options to do so. Digitizing your documents saves you time and makes you efficient. It also helps you with more environmentally friendly, sustainable methods of doing business.

xChange gives you a range of simplified digital solutions, reduced costs, and enhanced customer experience. We can also offer you payment infrastructure and efficient operating systems.

Still not sure? No worries. We would suggest that you book a quick demo and then decide your course. To do so, please click on the banner below.

Avoid demurrage and detention

We don’t want to discourage you. Yet you must know that demurrage and detention charges can be higher than even the price of the container! For those who aren’t sure what they are, every container needs to be delivered back within a set number of days called free days. Demurrage and detention charges apply when you don’t return a container to the carrier or shipping line within the free days. If that happens, you’ll need to pay daily charges and over time, they become huge amounts.

Digitizing your documents helps you avoid these dreadful demurrage and detention charges to a great extent. But there’s another way as well.

(Video) Detailed information about Custom Clearance in UAE | Fully explained how to do Clearance in Dubai

How SOCs help in container clearance

Another way of avoiding the risk of demurrage and detention charges is by using shipper-owned containers (SOCs). When you’re using SOC containers, you’re under no obligation to pay these charges to the carrier. Plus, you have more control over your shipping process.

On our commission-free platform, xChange, we involve a competent network of partners to ensure that you can ship containers with ease. You can buy, sell, and lease SOC containers from 1,000+ companies worldwide.

In fact, we also help you with detailed track and trace reports. We notify you if there’s a container event, from a changed ETAWhat is estimated time of arrival? Estimated time of arrival, commonly known as ETA, is a frequently used term globally to denote the time of coming. In the shipping & logistics industry, it is ... More to a container traveling in the wrong direction. The flexibility we offer is also why we have 10,000 transactions per month. If you want to find out more about our tracking API, check out this blog post all about the topic.
No need for lengthy email correspondence or stressful negotiations. We’re only one click away.

Embassies and help desks for container clearance

But while we’re always ready to help you, please bear in mind that different countries have different rules and regulations. And sometimes there are differences within one country from harbor to harbor. These differences can, for example, be that a country’s import regulations require specific documentation for its financial institutions. When looking for such information, a good place to start from can also be embassy websites. They often have information available on national and regional regulations.

The EU also has a trade helpdesk page dedicated to helping traders have their customer clearance documents in order. Apart from that, we’re in a port city and work close to the container terminal at Hamburg, Germany. This gives us the advantage of working closely with the ships and port handling companies. As you already know, our online container marketplace is a commission-free platform. So, every company on our platform is equally relevant for us. When you look for containers on our platform, you’ll find them across 2,500+ locations and in very good prices. Not only that, we also manage and protect your payments. Why? Because we hear you and strive to make business simpler for you every day. If you click on the banner below, it will lead you to our experts who are waiting to help you 😊

What’s container clearance?

Container clearance is the customs clearance process while shipping goods. These goods are loaded as one full container or as part of a full container. They need to be cleared through customs at the port.

How long does it take a container to clear customs?

A container takes less than 24 hours to clear through customs. However, at certain it can also take several days or weeks for goods to be inspected.

What are clearance documents?

Clearance documents are ccommercial documents that are needed for customs clearance. They include bill of lading, country of origin certificate, shipping bill, export license, and so on.

Who pays customs duty?

The receiver generally pays customs fees and import taxes, instead of the shipper.


(Video) How to do Custom Clearance in Export..?? | by Paresh Solanki

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Want container clearance? Easy guide to documents [+help desk 2022]


Does endless paperwork for container clearance overwhelm you? We hear you. And in this blog, we have some very easy solutions for your problems.


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(Video) Simple steps to become a dispatcher - In Punjabi . #2023 #2022#remotework #trucking #introduction


How long does it take for customs clearance to deliver? ›

In general, you can expect most cargo to pass through customs in between 12 – 24 hours. When planning on the lead times presented to your customers, the maximum delay should be taken into account.

Why is my container on customs hold? ›

Customs issues this type of hold when they need to verify that the cargo meets product safety standards and do not infringe on any copyrights or trademarks. If your cargo contains products that may result in this type of hold, make sure to have all proof of compliance and paperwork ready to clear your cargo.

What is technical write up for customs clearance format? ›

A Technical Write up is a document only required for some specific goods. It describes the features/usage of the product, mostly done for better handling of goods. This helps the authorities to better define the product and understand the value-added cost under it.

What are the three 3 main documents required for import customs clearance? ›

• Customs for the clearance of imports consists of:
  • Import Declaration.
  • Bill of Lading (B/L) or Air Waybill.
  • Invoice.
  • Packing List.
  • Import License (if applicable)
  • Certificates of Origin (if applicable)
  • Other relevant documents such as catalogue, product ingredients, etc.

What are clearance documents? ›

Customs clearance is a necessary procedure before goods can be imported or exported internationally. If a shipment is cleared, then the shipper will provide documentation confirming customs duties that are paid and the shipment can be processed.

How can I speed up customs clearance? ›

Trusted Traveler Program Enrollment

Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports.

How long can customs hold a container? ›

Shipments stuck in customs rarely get held more than 45 days, but unfortunately, there is technically no legal limit for how long customs can hold onto your shipment.

What happens after customs clearance processing complete? ›

Your shipment clears customs once all duties are paid. Once customs clearance is complete, your chosen courier service transports the shipment from customs to the end-destination. Shipments rarely get stuck at customs. When they do, it's usually because of faulty paperwork.

Do customs check every container? ›

Only 2% to 10% of containers worldwide undergo inspection

Despite this outrageously low statistic, you should still take extra precaution to fill out your packing list accurately. US Customs and Border Protection has the right to examine any imported shipment.

What happens if cargo not cleared by customs? ›

If the importer does not clear a cargo, it will be considered abandoned goods and will accrue demurrage. Cargos that are not moving can lead to a loss of money for all the stakeholders involved.

Does customs inspect every container? ›

All cargo is screened before it enters the U.S., but you may be surprised to learn that not all cargo is physically inspected. The screening processing could begin at the U.S. port of entry or as early as the foreign port of exit (port of lading).

What is customs clearance update? ›

Customs clearance status updated: The parcel went through customs or is going through and being processed. In this case, please see the note: if it shows 'The Customs clearance process may start while the shipment is in transit to the destination.

What are the 4 types of importation? ›

There are four types:
  • Free importations (goods that are not regulated, restricted or prohibited);
  • Regulated importations (goods regulated by government regulating agencies);
  • Restricted importations (goods that are allowed only under very specific conditions provided in the CMTA); and.
Apr 10, 2017

What are documents required to clear a shipment under duty free process? ›

The major documents required are Bill of Lading or Airway bill, commercial invoice, packing list, Cargo Arrival Notice, Freight certificate, purchase order or LC and other specific documents for your goods. You need to track the shipment of arrival properly to avoid.

What is clearance declaration? ›

What is Clearance Declaration? Importers and exporters and their clearing or registered agents must be registered or licensed as prescribed in SC-CF-19 – Registration Licensing and Designation – External Policy, before submitting a Customs Clearance Declaration (CCD).

What document is required for every shipment? ›

Bill of Lading

The most important document in the shipping process for exporters. A bill of lading (lading is the act of putting cargo on a ship) is a legal document that must be signed by the exporter, the shipping line and the importer.

What is clearance requirement? ›

Security clearance is a requirement for many US federal jobs. Here's a guide to the different types and how to get clearance. A security clearance is like a background check. It is required for individuals who are hired for US government jobs or any organization that handles information pertaining to national security.

What is a clearance process? ›

The security clearance process typically includes a FBI reference check of former employers, coworkers, friends, neighbors, landlords, and schools along with a review of credit, tax, and police records.

What is clearance process complete? ›

When the customs clearance process is complete, it means that the item has cleared the customs of the receiving nation and is available for onward transition to its destination.

Is 2 hours enough to clear customs? ›

Based on historic clearance times, 1 hour should be enough time to get through Immigration and Customs. Most airports in the U.S. will get passengers through in less than 30 minutes, while others (such as Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport) will take longer.

What are the most common problems with customs clearance? ›

What are the most common problems with customs clearance?
  • Inaccurate Duties: Taxes on imported and exported goods shipped by sea is among the most misleading issues. ...
  • Incorrect Cargo Classification: Pay attention to the classification of the cargo.
Jan 3, 2020

What app makes customs easier? ›

CBP's MPC app is a free application that can be downloaded from the Apple App store and Google Play and is currently available for eligible travelers to use upon arrival at MPC approved sites.

Do customs open containers? ›

A customs officer breaks the seal of the container and inspects its contents. If everything is correct, they will release the container or the container is escalated to the final level of exams. The Intensive Exam: The entire container is taken to a Customs Exam Site (CES).

What does 1C mean in customs? ›

1C Entered and released: General examination Generated as a result of selectivity processing or CBP manual posting: Writes ENT/REL quantity to the bill. Entry has been filed and the cargo has been release; however, the cargo must be held intact if there are any HOLDS in place against the bill.

What Cannot be shipped in containers? ›

The flammable and toxic items you are to avoid putting in a shipping container are batteries of all types, aerosols, household cleaners and solvents, nail polish and nail polish remover, fireworks, various chemicals, oils, fertilizers, and similar.

What is the last step of custom clearance? ›

Let Export Order (LEO) is the green signal given by the customs to the exporter once they are satisfied with the verification and examination of the shipment.

Why is customs clearance taking so long? ›

Shipments are held to ensure they satisfy export or import customs regulations. This may be due to missing or incomplete paperwork, waiting for clearance instructions or because the authorities may need more information to clear the goods.

Who is responsible for customs clearance? ›

Who is Responsible for Customs Clearance? In the majority of international shipping situations, the seller is responsible for export customs clearance and the buyer for the import clearance. However, the exact prearrangement will depend on the agreed Incoterm for the sales transaction.

What is declaring everything at customs? ›

Travellers have to declare everything they acquired abroad and possibly pay customs duty tax on goods. Some countries offer a duty-free allowance of certain products which may not need to be declared explicitly.

What does CBP check at port of entry? ›

CBP officers must determine the nationality of each applicant for admission and, if determined to be an alien, whether or not the applicant meets the requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act for admission to the United States.

Does customs XRAY every package? ›

Do customs open every package to verify information? No, customs officers will not open up your package or packages without good reason. Every package is put through a scanner machine, or an x-ray machine, to verify that the items you are shipping match your customs forms.

Can I do customs clearance myself? ›

You can make a declaration yourself, or appoint someone to deal with it on your behalf. You may be able to make a simplified declaration – find out whether that applies to you here, or check if Authorised Economic Operator status could benefit you.

Are customs checks random? ›

US CBP can inspect a container or cargo entering/leaving a country at their own discretion at random, often without reasoning.

Who checks shipping containers? ›

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is charged with the critical task of securing the country from terrorists and their weapons while facilitating legitimate trade and travel, including the monitoring of what's in thousands of sea cargo containers as they pass through ...

How long does it take to inspect a container? ›

How long it takes depends on the amount of traffic in the port and the length of the queue, but you're generally looking at 2-3 days. If the VACIS/NII exam doesn't yield anything surprising, your container will be released and sent on its way.

What does customs clearance document mean? ›

Custom clearance procedure is the process of declaration of goods and value to the Customs Authority. The purpose of these declarations are; registration, levy or duty payment and even for security. Clearance process usually involves preparation and submission of required documents to the Customs Authority.

How do I check my customs status? ›

Travelers may check their admission status at and clicking on the 'View Compliance' tab. E-mail notifications will come from

What are the two types of import permits? ›

Under the EIPA , there are two types of import permits: General Import Permits ( GIP s) and Specific Import Permits.

Which document is the main custom clearance document? ›

One of the key import documents for import customs clearance is the bill of entry. As previously stated, a properly signed Bill of Entry must be filed by CHA or the importer. One of the measures of the “total outward remittance of the country” governed by the Reserve Bank and Customs department is the Bill of Entry.

Who prepares bill of entry? ›

A Bill of Entry is usually issued either by importer or exporter. Who files BOE? A BOE is filed and submitted by the importer declaring important details like quantity and value of goods imported.

Is it bad if my package is held in customs? ›

Be prepared to simply wait to receive your shipment. Often, shipments are held up in customs to check that the contents of the package and the value of the goods were declared accurately. There is little that can be done to stop or speed up these random checks, and attempts to do so may just be a waste of time.

What does it mean if package is held in customs? ›

Shipments are held in customs to ensure they satisfy export or import customs regulations. A held shipment may have missing or incomplete paperwork, be waiting for clearance instructions or the authorities may need more information to clear the goods.

Do customs open every package? ›

Do customs open every package to verify information? No, customs officers will not open up your package or packages without good reason. Every package is put through a scanner machine, or an x-ray machine, to verify that the items you are shipping match your customs forms.

Does U.S. Customs work on weekends? ›

Except as specified in paragraphs (a) through (g) of this section, each CBP office shall be open for the transactions of general CBP business between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. on all days of the year: (a) Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays.

Do customs destroy packages? ›

If the items being shipped are prohibited or restricted, customs may delay or even destroy the package. Sometimes, customs clearance documentation is incomplete, causing delays while customs coordinates with the shipper to gather needed information.

Can your address be flagged by customs? ›

If you receive numerous packages from Northwestern South America, Central America, Mexico or certain Caribbean islands ( Haiti) being one, it's likely that your address will be flagged and you might receive additional scrutiny in your mailings going forward for at least a short period of time. Was this worth your time?

What will tracking say if a package has been seized? ›

The package might get scanned with the message “Seized by Law Enforcement” but it is also possible that there will be no message.

How do I know if my package cleared customs? ›

Track the package via the courier service through which you are receiving it or sent it, as U.S. Customs has no way to track packages. Most couriers provide a tracking option on their websites to track your package. Use the tracking code you received when you shipped your package.


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