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Shipping: International Shipping Basics

Though Mexico and Canada each maintain some specific shipping rules, many of the basic procedures remain the same.

Here is a quick rundown of the fundamentals. There are two critical documents you must have to enter Mexico or Canada:

1. Commercial invoice. The commercial invoice is a very detailed packing list. Each individual item in the shipment must be inventoried and described on the invoice. Also, the box in which the item is packed must be clearly identified.

Providing exact descriptions of your freight contents is essential. You can’t just say 'one crate of exhibit materials', you must be specific.

Your goods will be classified as either temporary or permanent imports on the commercial invoice:

·          Temporary imports are items that will be re-exported within a certain amount of time. These include display products and exhibit components.

·          Permanent imports are items that will stay in the country for good, either being sold, consumed or destroyed on site. These include literature, samples and giveaways.

Another tip: To expedite the documentation process, provide customs officials with each item’s harmonized tariff number (a commodities number). Watch your language on the commercial invoice. One person’s euphemism is another person’s dysphemism. That is, what you might describe as a "glue gun" on your commercial invoice could be interpreted by a customs official as a "firearm," which would not be allowed entry. Avoid using model numbers to describe your product. Customs officials have no idea what a Model RX27 is.

2. Certificate of origin. To qualify for reduced-duty or duty-free status under NAFTA, exhibitors need a NAFTA Certificate of Origin. This form is available from your transportation company.

To complete these forms and bring goods into either Canada or Mexico, you need to work with a customs broker. The customs broker is responsible for submitting the required paperwork to make sure your shipment complies with all the rules and regulations of customs. For the broker to clear your freight through customs, you must sign over power of attorney. This means the broker has your legal consent to act on your behalf in dealing with customs. The necessary form should be provided by your transportation company. Some transportation companies also offer brokerage services. If yours does not, check with show management. They should be able to provide you with some referrals.

Two last tips:

·         To smooth the clearance process, pack permanent-import and temporary-import items separately (although both types of imports must be listed on the commercial invoice).

·          If you have to  sneaking your portable exhibit on the plane with you to avoid shipping fees. If your portable display exceeds the declared value limit (which is usually US$1,000), you’re smuggling. Customs officials might let you get away with it nine times out of 10, even though it’s illegal. But what happens the 10th time? So, just keep the value on paper below US$1000. You are safe!

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