What Does Clearance Delay Mean in International Shipments?

by Trudy Brunot; Updated September 26, 2017
Container Cargo freight ship with working crane bridge in shipyard

Goods cannot legally enter the U.S. without U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, or USCBP, approval and payment of applicable duties or tariffs. Just as foreign travelers must present passport identification when they arrive in the U.S., international shipments need documents describing ownership, value and other identifying characteristics that USCBP agents can verify. Paperwork discrepancies and regulation non-compliance can increase the amount of time cargo sits at the port of entry waiting to be released. Clearance delays may cause a company lost business, production setbacks and demurrage -- fees charged when a ship can't be loaded or unloaded on time.

Documentation and Packing

Every international shipment and parcel delivery needs an invoice and a packing list for customs clearance. Invoices that incorrectly note the quantity contained in each package delay customs clearance. Packing practices also affect clearance speed: Putting like items in each box makes the verification process easier for USCBP agents. Goods moved by plane or boat also require an airway bill or bill of lading.


Importers and exporters may face clearance delays when they fail to understand federal regulations. Some agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, require a certificate of origin or a license to import or export products under their oversight.

About the Author

Trudy Brunot began writing in 1992. Her work has appeared in "Quarterly," "Pennsylvania Health & You," "Constructor" and the "Tribune-Review" newspaper. Her domestic and international experience includes human resources, advertising, marketing, product and retail management positions. She holds a master's degree in international business administration from the University of South Carolina.

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