Businesses send millions of packages internationally each year, all of which must pass through various postal and custom checkpoints. When leaving and entering a country, some packages or shipments, such as crucial inventory, business to business (B2B) proposals or customer orders are flagged and can be withheld by that country's government for further inspection. In the United States, outgoing and incoming packages that raise suspicion or lack proper documentation are detained by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection department to ensure the packages and its contents comply with the country's laws and regulations. As an entrepreneur, you probably rely heavily on postal service for B2B and business to consumer (B2C) transactions. It's important to keep everything moving as smoothly as possible, know what to do when you hit this common mailing bump and learn how to avoid it in the future.

1. Check Your Mail for a Customs Detainment Letter

Check your company mail for a letter from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection department stating that your package has been detained. If the department is holding your item, officials will notify you usually within a few days but it can take as long as 30 to 45 days. The department will provide a reason for detainment, as well as what you can do to get your package released.

2. Follow the Directions on Your Customs Detainment Letter

Fulfill any requirements stated in your detainment letter from Customs as soon as possible. The quicker you respond and comply with its requirements, the sooner your package will be released and sent on its way. Speedy delivery keeps your customers and associates happy, while postponed shipments can lead to dissatisfaction or even lost revenue.

3. Track Your Package Via Your Courier Service

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. Type your tracking code into the designated search field and hit return to view the results.

4. Contact Your Courier Service

Contact the courier service to ask about the status of your package if your tracking code didn’t work. The courier should have a record of your package's status and its current location. Also, to keep your future shipments and orders organized, consider using order-tracking management software with a customs template for international packages.


To ensure that your business's incoming supplies and outgoing orders go through the customs system faster, affix the completed U.S. Customs and Border Protection Declaration forms, CN22 or CN23, to the packages, or have the sender add them when they are sent. Packages without the proper forms will get held up in customs. The forms are available from most post offices around the world.


Review the restrictions the U.S. Customs and Border Protection department places on imports and exports to ensure your items pass through successfully. For example, alcohol, animals, fish and other wildlife are not allowed through Customs.