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Not all countries need a full set of customs forms

Updated: Jan 10, 2019

By: Harry Whitehouse, CIO, International Bridge


Most shipping services typically print the integrated international shipment forms with 3 copies.  This harkens back to the days when everything was manual and there was little or no electronic data transfer between countries  But today, when you create a label with IB, all of the information you input is transmitted to the Carrier you have chosen within minutes.  Often the carrier (e.g. USPS) will in turn transmit this data to the destination country as a “pre-advice” on the same day. 


The top copy is often printed on a thermal label so that can be immediately fixed to the package with the label adhesive.  But the remaining two copies in theory must be removable, so international shipping often put this in a clear plastic packing envelope like this one.  USPS provides a so-called “Customs Form Envelope” which looks like this:


 USPS Customs Form Envelope (Free)

The challenge is that this takes up room on the package surface and importantly adds to the preparation time for a shipment.


It turns out that most modern-day countries don’t need or use those extra copies. Canada does not require the added copies for any shipment from the US.  While not officially announced yet, neither does the UK, Australia or France.  


I found all of this out a few years ago when I was visiting the Canada Post receiving facilities in Toronto.  There were hundreds of incoming packages from my former firm Endicia being processed. So I asked the Canada Post executives with me how they use the extra customs form copies.  Without hesitation they said “We don’t use them — they are only needed for the USPS operations”.   I was stunned because I knew that no one in the USPS needed these hardcopies as all the relevant data were transmitted to USPS at the instant the label was created.  I asked the same question of postal officials in the UK and Australia.  They too had no use for the copies and were under the impression they were simply a USPS requirement.


USPS has been amazingly slow in releasing this information.  I think in general they like to keep the rules as simple as possible and have them uniform over all countries.  But our biggest partners in e-commerce are countries like Canada and Australia so knowing that the copies aren’t required will save  you a lot of time and paper.

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