Four Common Reasons for Customs Delays : How to Avoid Them

BRAD CONNORS Aug 31, 2023 • 4 Min read
Reasons for Customs Delays
Reasons for Customs Delays

Everyone knows the frustration of late deliveries. Who hasn’t nervously refreshed a tracking page, waiting for their partner’s birthday present to belatedly turn up? 

For companies, late deliveries can be even more catastrophic. Many businesses operate just-in-time supply chains, which means customs delays can result in production downtime and disastrous financial losses.

Amazon has spoiled it for everyone. Long gone are the halcyon days when customers patiently awaited their deliveries. Now, people want next-day arrival, by-the-minute updates, and tracking to the nearest meter

In fact, 14% of customers reported abandoning a company after just one late delivery, and 69% said they’d be less likely to shop with a retailer in the future after this experience. 

The average customer acquisition cost (CAC) runs into hundreds of dollars in many industries, so companies need to be proactive in avoiding customs delays to prevent such losses.

Let's break down the typical steps involved:

  • Initially, a customs officer will review your shipment documents to verify their accuracy and completeness. During this stage, any absent, inadequate, or inaccurate paperwork is identified and brought to attention. Additionally, the package contents might be inspected to ensure their alignment with the declared information.
  • Subsequently, the appropriate import duties and taxes applicable to the shipment will be determined by the customs officer. These charges are calculated based on factors such as the nature of the goods and the value of the shipment."
  • After settling all the required duties and taxes, your parcel will receive customs clearance. The designated courier service will take responsibility for shipping the package to its ultimate delivery location."

Common reasons for customs delays

We’d all like to blame customs officers for costly delays. However, the truth is that most are the result of mistakes made long before a package makes it to the border. That’s the bad news. 

The good news is that the power to stop these delays is in your hands. Typically, the culprit is one of the three Ps listed below:

In this article, we’ll look at how these errors occur and how you can be proactive in stopping them. Because with suitable measures and the right help, you can prevent most delays before they happen. 

That’s not to say every delay will be your fault. Sometimes, even the most prudently prepared consignment is in the hands of the gods (or at least, the hands of customs officers, which is more or less the same thing). 

That’s right. It’s inevitable that sometimes you’ll face the dreaded:

Still, just because a delay is beyond your control, doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. So, we’ll also look at some of the best options for keeping customers in the loop when things do go wrong.

1. Paperwork

This is the big one. Most customs delays are the result of incomplete or inaccurate documentation. It’s easy to see why. There are 195 countries, each with its own rules and regulations and requiring a hundred different documents and declarations. A simple error in the tariff classification code, for example, can cause days of delays. 

Documentation to avoid for Customs Delays

We know what you’re thinking: “I’m already an expert in one field. Isn’t that enough? Now I’m supposed to be an expert in customs and excise law too?” Well, not quite. There are actually things that can help you out. 

Documentation issues can include:

  • Insufficient or inaccurate description of goods
  • Missing valuation information
  • Country of origin not specified
  • Quantity or weight not indicated
  • Incorrect documents presented (e.g. bill of lading, Currency in which vendor was paid, commercial invoice, cargo control number)
  • Failure to name the Customs broker on the paperwork (Vendor name and address , Consignee name and address)

What can you do?

  • Use software solutions. Do this to reduce human error as much as possible. Computer automation can help you fill out forms, for example, ensuring they’re sent without missing information. Software integration can also reduce transcribing errors. 
  • Consult professionals. You needn’t be a logistics expert, so long as you get help from someone who is.

2. Packaging

Incorrectly packaged and labeled products can also be a nightmare to sort. And, once the consignment is out, you must rely entirely on someone else to resolve any problems. The good news is that this is one of the easiest problems to fix.

  • Customs might detain your package due to packaging labels or inaccurate paperwork.
  • To confirm whether your shipment is genuinely held in customs, get in touch with your shipping courier.
  • eShipper guarantees for completion of customs paperwork and punctual order delivery through our proficient shipping professionals."
Incorrect package is the top reason for Customs Delays


Probably the most frustrating experience for a customer to endure always starts with the question: “Where is my package?

What can you do?

  • Use automation. Something as simple as an incorrect country of origin on a label can cause lengthy delays. Luckily, you can use automated software solutions to print out labels with precisely the right information.
  • Communicate clearly. Research has shown that 70% of corporate errors result from poor communication, so make it easy for customers to provide the correct information. 

This is especially true for international shoppers. For example, if you trade in China, provide your customers with a website in Cantonese (ideally using a .hk domain registration). Don’t rely on Google Translate to interpret your website as this rarely ends well.

3. Port and Airport Congestion 

  • Congestion occurs when a port and Airport receives more shipments than its capacity can accommodate. In China, this scenario often unfolds around the Chinese New Year, typically falling between late January and early February. To navigate this, it's wise to anticipate these dates and strategically align your shipping requirements.
  • The international shipping process can be intricate, especially for goods entering the United States. It demands considerable documentation, and even a minor error – like an unclear product description or a missing serial number – can lead to significant delays. Thoughtful planning ensures you possess all the necessary elements for a secure and punctual shipment."

4. Customs inspections and random checks

Sometimes, you can’t prevent delays, even when you’ve done everything right. That said, you can be proactive about the situation. If you cannot avoid these delays, keep your customers happy by doing the following. 

What can you do?

  • Provide accurate tracking information. Sometimes, knowing when their package is due to arrive is enough to keep a customer happy. Most people understand if it's not your fault, so having fully integrated, up-to-date tracking information for them is vital. You can also use software to send automated updates.
  • Always be available. In times of need, customers may want to speak to someone directly. This can be tricky with international buyers who live in different time zones. If it’s impossible for you to provide 24-hour customer service, consider using a hosted call center service to assist you. 

The bottom line

There are many reasons why your consignment could be delayed by customs, but being proactive can mitigate most of them. 

Providing accurate, easy-to-understand information will also save you and your customers a lot of hassle. After all, we live in a world of technological wonders, so you should be using modern software solutions to avoid human error. 

Finally, remember you don’t have to go it alone—ask for help when you need it. Your life will be easier, and your customers will thank you for it. 

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