Customs Law

What is Customs Law?

Customs Laws control the import of goods into the United States and the duties (or import taxes) paid on such goods. The United States Customs and Border Protection Agency is the regulatory agency primarily tasked with overseeing American customs laws.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is a federal law enforcement agency, and a subdivision of the United States Department of Homeland Security. The CBP is tasked with regulating and facilitating international trade, collecting import duties, and enforcing U.S. trade, customs, and immigration regulations. Given its broad scope of duties, it is perhaps not surprising that CBP is actually the largest law enforcement agency in the United States with a workforce of more than 45,600 sworn federal agents and officers. CBP is primarily responsible for preventing terrorists from entering the country, but also handles illegal immigrants of all kinds, preventing the importation of illegal drugs and other contraband, and protecting U.S. agricultural and environmental interests by preventing the introduction of foreign pests, plants, or diseases. CBP also plays a role in protecting American intellectual property interests.

Customs Duties

As noted, the United States imposes tariffs or "customs duties" on the importation of goods. Usually, these duties average to about 3% of the value of the product. The duty is levied at the time of import and paid by the importer of record. In the case of individuals arriving in the United States, certain purchases may be exempt from the payment of a duty for a limited amount of purchases. These are often called “duty free” items.

In some cases, customs duties can greatly exceed the 3% tariff described above, particularly when the products are from certain nations of origin. These customs duties can reach as high as 81%. In other cases, products from certain preferred trading partners may be as low as zero. Similarly, certain types of goods are exempt from duty regardless of the source nation.


Failure to properly comply with customs rules can result in severe penalties including seizure of the imported goods, as well as civil and criminal penalties against those involved. All goods entering the U.S. are subject to search by the CBP. Anyone who intentionally attempts to conceal materials entering into the country could face civil or criminal penalties.

If you want more information about customs laws, please visit the resources listed below. Additionally, you can contact an attorney in your area if you visit our Law Firms page.



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Articles for Custom Law

  • How to Determine if International Products Are Subject to International Dumping Rules
    When determining if a product is subject to dumping rules, the international laws must be taken into account. This means that there may be actions against dumping such as unfairly low prices, certain stipulations that may offset subsidies and possible emergency measures to protect domestic entities.
  • Developing an Export Control Plan
    When businesses have products that need to be exported to other countries, it is imperative that a proper control plan is developed for exports.
  • Exceptions to United States Anti-Boycott Provisions of the Export Administration Act
    There are some exceptions available with anti-boycott provisions in place for exported materials. Many of these depend on the country, the product and other factors of the shipping such as the container, the vehicle and the manner of care given to the items.
  • United Nations Convention and its Impact on Contracts for the Sale of Goods
    The United Nations conventions and other meetings are in place to ensure uniform and reasonable regulations are in place across several countries with certain international concerns. Among these is the sale and export of goods between borders and across the United Nations.
  • Effect of Equitable Price Adjustments in International Contracts
    International contracts may be full of various stipulations based on the countries included in the arrangements. This means that those involved must fully understand all the processes that affect the outcome of the dealings. Adjustments must be effective and efficient.
  • Can Customs Seize My Money When I Enter the Country and Is There a Limit?
    When visiting other countries, it is important to know what customs and laws may affect the guests. This is vital in a number of ways, but necessary if any of these concerns will affect the individual negatively. If certain items are not permitted to leave the country, enter the country or be in excess of a certain weight, the visitor should know this before attempting to do so.
  • Are My Products Subject to Anti-Dumping/Countervailing Duties?
    Many importers will discover at some point that products they import may be subject to anti-dumping duties (“ADD”) or countervailing duties (“CVD”). With the new Trump administration appearing to take a very aggressive tone toward unfair trade practices by foreign competitors, particularly China, there may soon be an increase in ADD/CVD orders and enforcement by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“Customs” or “CBP”).
  • Import Violations: What You Need to Know about 19 USC § 1592
    In 2016, Customs and Border Protection (“CBP” or “Customs”) processed $2.28 trillion in imports, levying 13 monetary penalties totaling over $30.6 million on importers for fraud, gross negligence, and negligence for anti-dumping/countervailing duty (“AD/CVD”) violations.
  • Freight Forwarding as Brokering Activity
    In August 2013, the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (“DDTC”) published an interim final rule that clarified some aspects of the requirement for broker registration under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”).
  • Minimize Product Liability Risk with a Well-Written Contract
    If your company is importing products made overseas, what is your liability for a safety or quality issue that causes harm? A well-written contract with the manufacturer can define and quantify risk.
  • All International Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to International Law including: customs law, european community law, import and export, international investments, international trade, islamic law, offshore services.

Customs Law - US

  • Agriculture - Customs (Title 7)

    The Department of Agriculture works to improve and maintain farm income and to develop and expand markets abroad for agricultural products. The Department helps to curb and cure poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. It works to enhance the environment and to maintain production capacity by helping landowners protect the soil, water, forests, and other natural resources. The Department, through inspection and grading services, safeguards and ensures standards of quality in the daily food supply.

  • Bring It on Home - Traveler's Guide to US Customs

    What and how much you can bring into the United States is controlled by the U.S. Customs office, which basically views you as a small-time importer/exporter. Importers have to pay a governmental duty (tax) on any foreign-made item they bring into the country.

  • Canada - US Customs Rules

    When entering either Canada or the USA: You must have proof of citizenship, in the form of a birth certificate (with photo ID like drivers licence), passport, visa, or alien registration card. Citizens and residents of some countries (other than Canadians or Americans) may require a visa before entering.

  • CBP - Prohibited and Resticted Items

    The products CBP prevent from entering the United States are those that would injure community health, public safety, American workers, children, or domestic plant and animal life, or those that would defeat our national interests. Sometimes the products that cause injury, or have the potential to do so, may seem fairly innocent. But, as you will see from the material that follows, appearances can be deceiving.

  • Customs - Definition

    Customs is an authority or agency in a country responsible for collecting and safeguarding customs duties and for controlling the flow of goods including animals, personal effects and hazardous items in and out of a country. Depending on local legislation and regulations, the import or export of some goods may be restricted or forbidden, and the customs agency enforces these rules.

  • Customs Duties (Title 19)

    Title 19 of the United States Code outlines the role of customs and duties in the United States Code.

  • Customs Rulings Online Search System (CROSS)

    CROSS is a searchable database of CBP rulings that can be retrieved based on simple or complex search characteristics using keywords and Boolean operators. CROSS has the added functionality of CROSS referencing rulings from the initial search result set with their modified, revoked or referenced counterparts.

  • NAFTA Customs Rulings

    North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) established a free-trade zone in North America; it was signed in 1992 by Canada, Mexico, and the United States and took effect on Jan. 1, 1994. NAFTA immediately lifted tariffs on the majority of goods produced by the signatory nations. It also calls for the gradual elimination, over a period of 15 years, of most remaining barriers to cross-border investment and to the movement of goods and services among the three countries.

  • United States Official Harmonized Tariff Schedule

    The HTSA provides the applicable tariff rates and statistical categories for all merchandise imported into the United States; it is based on the international Harmonized System, the global system of nomenclature that is used to describe most world trade in goods.

Customs Law - International

  • Canada Border Services Agency

    The Directory of CBSA Offices is a comprehensive listing of designated CBSA offices and service locations across Canada, organized by province and then by district. The directory includes locations where travellers and commercial importers and exporters may fulfill their reporting obligations when entering and/or leaving the country.

  • Community Customs Code - European Union

    The Community Customs Code compiles the rules, arrangements and procedures applicable to goods traded between the European Community (EC) and non-member countries. The Code is a single act covering the scope, definitions, basic provisions and content of Community customs law

  • Informed Trade - Customs

    Information about the manner in which to regulate and apply duty to incoming shipments which will enter the commerce of the United States.

  • International Chamber of Commerce - Committee on Customs and Trade Regulations

    The liberalization of world trade and investment has drawn attention to practical obstacles to the free flow of goods, services and investment across borders - in particular those related to customs policies and procedures.The central objective of the Committee on Customs and Trade Regulations is to overcome these barriers, to ensure that the liberalization of global trade and investment has a positive impact at the level of the individual international trade transaction.The Committee's work focuses on customs reform and modernization and the implementation of transparent, simplified and harmonized customs policies and procedures.

  • World Customs Organization (WCO)

    The World Customs Organization (WCO) is the only intergovernmental organisation exclusively focused on Customs matters. With its worldwide membership, the WCO is now recognised as the voice of the global Customs community. It is particularly noted for its work in areas covering the development of global standards, the simplification and harmonisation of Customs procedures, trade supply chain security, the facilitation of international trade, the enhancement of Customs enforcement and compliance activities, anti-counterfeiting and piracy initiatives, public-private partnerships, integrity promotion, and sustainable global Customs capacity building programmes.

  • World Trade Organization (WTO)

    The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business.

Organizations Related to Customs Law

  • American Agricultural Law Association (AALA)

    The American Agricultural Law Association (AALA) is the only national professional organization focusing on the legal needs of the agricultural community. Crossing traditional barriers, AALA offers an independent forum for investigation of innovative and workable solutions to complex agricultural law problems.

  • Customs and International Trade Bar Association (CITBA)

    The Customs and International Trade Bar Association (CITBA) was founded in 1917 and incorporated in 1926. Its members are attorneys who are interested in the field of customs law, international trade law and related matters.

  • US Customs and Border Protection

    CBPis one of the Department of Homeland Security’s largest and most complex components, with a priority mission of keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. It also has a responsibility for securing and facilitating trade and travel while enforcing hundreds of U.S. regulations, including immigration and drug laws.

  • US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

    U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the largest investigative agency in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Formed in 2003 as part of the federal government's response to the 9/11 attacks, ICE's primary mission is to protect national security, public safety and the integrity of the U.S. borders through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration.

Publications Related to Customs Law

  • Crossing U.S. Borders

    All U.S. citizens, including children, must present a valid passport when entering the United States by air. U.S. citizens can present a passport, NEXUS card at airports with NEXUS kiosks, U.S. military ID with travel orders, or a U.S. Merchant Mariner Document when on official business.

  • Determining Duty Rates

    The Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) provides duty rates for virtually every item that exists. The HTS is a reference manual that is the size of an unabridged dictionary.

  • Travelers Bringing Food into the U.S. for Personal Use

    (The information contained in this answer does not apply to food being sent to the U.S. through the mail, courier services or other means.) Many fruits and vegetables are either prohibited from entering the United States or require an import permit (for commercial importers) or a phytosanitary certificate from the country of origin. Every fruit or vegetable must be declared to a CBP Officer and must be presented for inspection - no matter how free of pests it appears to be. Please view the USDA/AHPIS Fruits and Vegetables Import Requirements Approved Commodities List to see specific fruits and vegetables which are approved for import for all countries.

  • US Customs Information for Nonresidents

    You should familiarize yourself with the inspection process for U.S. entry and the forms involved. Despite any visa you may have received from a U.S. Consulate or Embassy, a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. A separate U.S. agency, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has authority to deny admission at the port of entry. Also, the period for which you are authorized to remain in the U.S. is determined by the CBP upon arrival, and it may not be the same period as your visa.

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