Customs Penalties and Fines & 5 Ways to Avoid Them

Every importer needs to be aware of the consequences of failing to be compliant with U.S. Customs’ regulations.

What are Customs Penalties and Fines For?

Importing is a privilege that Customs can revoke. It can be revoked for repeated violations, penalties, or fines for any of the three levels of offenses (and sometimes for just a single violation of a major offense). Those three levels are:

  • negligence (the failure to use reasonable care)
  • gross negligence (with actual knowledge or wanton disregard)
  • fraud (voluntary and intentional actions)

Customs penalties and fines can be substantial and some cases of fraud can even result in the offender going to jail.

5 Actionable Steps to Avoid Customs Penalties

Here are five steps you can take to help you avoid Customs penalties and fines:

  1. First of all, be honest and up front throughout the complete cycle of your transaction. Cheating is a losing game. Customs has representatives all over the world, people who specifically look at goods imported into the United States. These people are always receiving tips from unhappy employees, competitors, or suppliers.
  2. Exercise reasonable care in all of your import operations.
  3. Be accurate. Details are important to Customs. As noted above, failure to exercise reasonable care is part of the definition of negligence.
  4. Study Informed Compliance Publications (ICPs) that relate to your product or business. As part of the Customs Modernization Act in 1993, Customs started the Informed Compliance program. Customs issues Informed Compliance Publications explaining what they expect the importing community to know about Customs procedures, regulations and requirements regarding an importer’s goods.
  5. If you discover a mistake, tell your Customs broker or Customs immediately. It is important that you make a proper and complete prior disclosure before Customs finds the mistake on its own. Your Customs broker can help you make a prior disclosure and discuss possible mitigating circumstances. There are a number of ways to deal with penalties and fines, from petitioning for relief to offers in compromise, so communication with your Customs broker is critical.

Additional Resources on Customs Penalties

Informed Compliance Publication on the “Customs Administrative Enforcement Process: Fines, Penalties, Forfeitures and Liquidated Damages.”

C J’s Compliance Officer | Samya Murray, LCB, CCS |

Please make use of our team’s expertise in these areas. There is no cost to any questions to Sam, unless the answer requires significant research and time. If you prefer, you can ask your usual C J representative or send us a detailed message through our contact page.

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Our blog posts are for informational purposes only. While we use reasonable efforts to furnish accurate information, C J is not liable or responsible for the accuracy or reliability of any information contained herein.


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