Customs clearance

Brief guide for beginners

What is customs clearance?

When goods are exported from or imported into a country, this must be accompanied by customs clearance. The compulsory procedure involves, among other things, presenting and checking import and export documents to customs officials, determining and paying duties such as customs duties and taxes (e.g. VAT) and examining other factors such as storage and transport. The aim of customs clearance is to monitor the flow of goods between individual countries, taking into account the relevant laws and trade agreements.

How long does customs clearance take?

The duration of customs clearance can vary depending on several factors. In general, the process can be completed within a few minutes or hours. However, if there are missing documents, goods need to be checked, or questions need to be clarified, the process may take significantly longer, sometimes several days or even weeks. During this time, the goods cannot be transported across the border. It's only after customs officials have completed all necessary checks and customs clearance has been granted that the goods can continue their journey to cross the border.

Why should I rely on a customs agency for customs clearance?

An experienced international customs agency like ALS knows all the details that are relevant for smooth customs clearance and will successfully carry out the relevant procedures for you. In this way, you benefit from the comprehensive expertise of the customs agency, gain time and peace of mind, and can concentrate on your actual core business more effectively.

What obstacles do companies face when it comes to customs clearance?

The complex processes involved in customs clearance require continuous examination of the relevant laws, regulations and tariff regulations of the exporting and importing countries. Incomplete, inaccurate, erroneous or missing transport documents can slow down the supply chains and lead to significant additional costs. After all, any delay in exporting and importing your goods costs you time and money. The biggest hurdle for companies is to build up the necessary up-to-date expertise in customs clearance and keep it up to date. This is another reason why many companies use the services of a customs agency.

What are the costs of customs clearance?

Various charges are incurred for customs clearance. These vary from case to case and are essentially determined by the following factors:


Customs refers to the taxes a country levies on all imported goods. This is usually calculated as a percentage of the value of the goods.

This is usually due for the price of the goods, the shipping costs and the customs costs. VAT rates vary from country to country. In Germany, the VAT rate is currently 19%.

Customs clearance may incur a number of additional costs. For example, by detaining goods due to delays in customs checks. This also includes additional necessary testing procedures such as X-rays of the goods being transported or storage costs.

Anti-dumping duty is a tariff or tax imposed by a government on imported goods that are sold at a lower price than the domestic market price.

The purpose of anti-dumping duty is to protect domestic producers from unfair competition, and therefore imported goods are made more expensive to level the playing field for domestic producers.

The total duty imposed is usually the difference between the domestic and import price and is imposed for a limited period of time. However, if 'dumping' continues to take place, this duty imposed can be extended.

How is customs clearance paid?

In some cases, export and import companies hire specialised service providers, such as customs agencies like ALS, to pay customs duties on their behalf. If the company handles customs clearance itself, it usually receives a fee invoice after the goods arrive at customs clearance. 

Reimbursement of import duties is generally not possible. If the company is subject to VAT, it can reclaim the VAT incurred during customs clearance and thus reduce the overall costs. For further clarity, our consultants are on hand to support you!


Can Customs Duties Be Avoided or Circumvented?


Deliberately circumventing legally required customs duties on imports and exports of goods is illegal and, therefore, punishable. However, there are various duty-free arrangements that can potentially result in lower or even no customs duties. These arrangements require a careful check for eligibility based on your specific goods. Numerous rules and regulations govern such customs exemptions, taking into account factors such as

  • the type of goods,
  • their intended use, origin, and destination.

Additionally, specific duty-free arrangements may apply in certain cases, considering factors like the purpose and duration of the goods' stay in the destination country. These provisions include the following:


Temporary admission

Applicable to goods imported for a specific temporary use, such as an exhibition.

Inward processing

Applicable to goods imported from outside to be processed and then re-exported.

Outward processing

System allows goods to be exported for processing/repair in another country with full/partial exemption.

Bonded warehousing

Certain goods may be stored in customs warehouses free of customs duties and VAT until further transport.

Duty suspensions and tariff quotas

Customs relief is available for certain products imported into a country for further processing.

What documents do I need for customs clearance?


Before shipping goods, check carefully what documentation is required for this purpose. ALS can assist you with legally compliant customs clearance and the provision of the necessary documents and certificates relevant to your case.



As a rule, the following documents must be presented:

  • Shipping documentation (original or copy of the consignment note)
  • Commercial invoice of the supplier
  • Packing list
  • Certificate of origin
  • Preferential certificates
  • Health certificates (for food, etc.)
  • COA
  • Organic certificate


Special licences and documentation are required for certain goods:

  • Steel and iron (from certain countries)
  • Poultry, meat, milk and other foodstuffs
  • Livestock
  • Furs
  • Endangered animal species
  • Firearms and ammunition
  • Blood
  • Drugs
  • Nuclear material

A distinction is also made between import and export documentation:


  • Packing list
  • Purchase order
  • Certificate of origin
  • Supplier’s sales invoice
  • Bill of lading or air waybill
  • All other documents required by the purchaser or the terms of a letter of credit



  • Packing list
  • Purchaser’s order
  • Certificate of origin
  • Bill of lading or air waybill
  • Sales invoice
  • All other documents required by the buyer or those listed in a letter of credit issued by a financial institution

    What happens after customs clearance?

    Once all customs clearance formalities have been completed, ALS will provide you with complete documentation of the procedure. You will receive copies of all documents completed on your behalf that have been submitted to the customs authorities so that you can follow the process transparently and in detail.

    What services and advantages does ALS offer for customs clearance?

    As a neutral and multinational full-service customs agency, we offer our many years of experience and extensive expertise in customs clearance to meet your individual needs. ALS is an AEO and ISO-certified company, providing comprehensive solutions for your customs clearance requirements. We offer several advantages to our customers:


    • Greater security: With fast and expert handling of your customs business and extensive expertise even in difficult cases.
    • More service: With several locations in Europe, we can offer you multinational solutions from a single source.
    • Greater efficiency: With technical systems and solutions such as automated customs clearance, we help your processes run smoothly.


    Tailor-made solutions for you!

    the expert by your side

    We have extensive knowledge of laws and regulations in different countries, which we use to develop tailor-made solutions for you. We ensure the highest quality and efficiency and comply with all statutory regulations.

    From clearance and advice to automation and compliance management, we take care of all the details of your customs clearance. We offer full-service solutions including:


    • Personal liaisons
    • Fast processing
    • International network
    • Local specialists
    • Duty deferment
    • End-to-end customs solutions
    • Knowledge and experience to support complex cases and;
    • Increased efficiency through technology (automation).


    Do you need further information about customs clearance or the support of an experienced customs agency for a specific delivery of goods? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with ALS – we look forward to helping you.

    By choosing ALS, you gain a competitive edge in international trade, benefiting from our expertise, network, technology, and unwavering commitment to your success.

    Contact us

    At ALS, your customs path starts hereAt ALS, your customs path starts here
    At ALS, your customs path starts hereAt ALS, your customs path starts here