U.S. CUSTOMS PENALTIES

Customs penalties are officially subject to uniform regulation, obviously, and one would hope they would be handled the same way nationwide.  However the fact is that different ports continue to interpret and implement Procedure, Inspection, Detention, Seizure, and other enforcement rules differently. Here, briefly, are the best five things you can do to minimize any hypothetical fines or liquidated damages:

  1. React immediately if you suspect that a potential problem is forthcoming. Often an officers interpretation of your complex situation may be erroneous. They may be applying general training to sophisticated situations. They are intelligent people, and may be made to understand the merits of your particular case (depending on the situation) possibly without taking any further action involving seizure or penalty or your merchandise. Do not delay on your response.

  2. Carefully study the allegation. Often the language of a Customs Penalty says one thing, while the code or regulation cited as having been violated relates to something different. Somtimes Customs personnel can get too used to using general statutes. Therefore there is the chance of an irrelevant section being cited when issuing a penalty.

  3. Heed deadlines in letters and formal notices. Even responding one day late may preclude relief in a case where a timely filing might have resulted in cancellation of the notice.  At the same time, you may be able to request expedited handling if your response is within particular timelines.

  4. Be thorough and honest in your response.  Only in rare cases do you get more than two chances to petition, and since the second one will probably not be replied to sooner than eight or nine months after the initial seizure or issuance of penalties, it is important that the first petition, which you may expect a reply to in 90 -120 days, be sufficient to allow the remedy you seek.


Handling Customs penalties is part of our business. We advise you contact us if this unfortunate situation arises. Some importers feel they may be able to prepare and submit the first petition on thier own in accordance with thier own knowledge and experience. However we strongly advise against this. Under no circumstances is it advisable to submit the second (supplementary) petition by yourself.  That is your final chance at avoiding litigation, payment, and/or forfeiture. This is far too important to be undertaken independently.