Friday, October 24, 2008

Looking at International Packages Damaged in Customs

Recently we had a shipper neatly roll up and send photographs from the US to Canada using a large Mail Tube. When the photographs arrived at their destination it was discovered that the tube had been opened and the photographs had been folded into thirds and placed back in the tube. Naturally this destroyed the photographs. With some investigation we discovered that the tube had been opened in Customs and that was where the pictures had been folded and placed back in the tube. But that was not the end of the problems for the shipper and recipient.

Unfortunately the recipient did not save the tube. When they made the claim for the damaged contents, they were unable to collect for damages in Canada. This left the shipper to deal with our carrier of choice, and they eventually received an amount that covered only some of their costs.

Hearing all this made us think, “Is there a difference between shipping internationally with all the different carriers when it comes to dealing with customs damages?” The following is what one of the commercial carriers told us during our investigation:

“Any Customs officer can open any package they choose regardless if it is an export or import. The only exceptions are diplomatic bags/pouches. The difference between shipping with us is the fact that one of our employees opens the package and reseals it, where with other carriers, the Customs officers works alone. In the case of our package, should the contents be damaged by a Customs officer, our employee will notate it and the customer (be that consignee or shipper) will have recourse with the government to file a claim.”

The good news is we were also told by this carrier that this does not happen very often. At least for them, in all cases where it did happen they noted that the Customs officer included a claim procedure inside the package. (Something our shipper in the above example did not have happen.) The alternate carrier did say that the Customs officers generally are very respectful of the contents and do take care not to damage goods.

After our investigation we have found that there is a difference. We must package our international shipments so they can be easily inspected by Customs regardless of carrier. We must be aware that there is a difference in how your products could be handled and you should check with your carrier representative to know for sure. We have been told by several industry people that the inspection rate is about 6 percent for Canadian shipments although the government has mandated 10 percent. More on this subject can be found at the links below or at your carrier’s web site:

United States Customs:
Canada Border Services Agency:

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