How Long Does Customs Clearance Take & What Does The Process Entail

Whenever a shipment is sent intercountry, it must go through customs. It is an unavoidable part of shipping, and the process varies for different countries.

If you are expecting an international shipment, you must wonder how long customs clearance takes. On average, customs clearance may take under 24 hours to complete.

However, it is also possible for customs clearance to take longer than usual. Certain issues may arise during the process, causing your shipment to be held in customs for an extended time.

In this article, I will discuss customs clearance, the process involved, and what might cause the clearance process to take longer than usual.

What is custom clearance?

Custom clearance is the process involved in clearing a shipment for entry into a country. It is very important as it helps the country generate income and protect the economy, environment, and citizens.

What is the custom clearance process?

1. Inspection of documents

Once a shipment arrives at customs, the first stage it passes through is document inspection. A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will have to ensure that all documentation associated with the shipment is complete and accurate.

There are 3 major categories of documents checked, they are;

  • Common documents
  • Transportation documents
  • Export compliance documents

The common document is first inspected. This document consists of the commercial invoice, the seller, buyer, and shipper details, the invoice number, the date of shipment, etc.

After the common documents have been inspected, the transportation document is inspected. This consists of the airway bill, bill of lading, and the shipper’s export declaration.

Finally, the export compliance document is inspected. This includes the dangerous goods and radiation certificate, the halal certificate, the insurance certificate, and the dock receipts.

After all the inspection is complete, the shipment moves to the second phase in the clearance process.

2. Tax and duty inspection

Every shipment being delivered internationally must incur taxes and duties. The amount depends on certain factors, such as the type of goods the shipment contains, its value, and the customs law or policy for that country.

A customs officer will need to verify that all taxes and duties for that shipment have been paid in full. And if by any chance it has not been paid in full, the process will have to be kept on hold until it is.

3. Shipment is given release

The final step in the process is when the shipment is given release. This paperwork is only handed to the importer after ensuring that all paperwork has been inspected properly.

In cases when the shipment contains toxic chemicals, the paperwork given first is usually a conditional one. This means that the shipment will need to be taken to an off-site location first.

There, the chemical compounds will need to be properly inspected to ensure they are safe. Afterward, they are properly labeled and packaged before they are finally released from customs.

How long does the customs clearance take?

Custom clearance will take between 12 and 24 hours if all goes as smoothly as it should. However, it may take longer to complete the clearance in certain scenarios. This usually happens when some of the following issues are encountered:

  • The document for the shipment is incomplete
  • The taxes and duties for the package were not paid for
  • The shipment contains items that are harmful or that are against the policy of the country

Depending on the nature of the issue, it may take more than a day to resolve. In severe cases, it may even take up to a month before the shipment is given release by customs.


Who handles customs clearance?

Usually, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will be assigned to a shipment. He or she will be in charge of the clearance of that shipment.

What happens if the shipment fails to pass through customs clearance?

The shipment is first moved to a warehouse. If it is a case of paperwork, the goods are destroyed 6 months after if the documents are not provided. In cases of fraud or negligence, customs officials will levy heavy fines.

What is a customs clearance agent?

A customs clearance agent is a licensed specialist in charge of clearing duties and paperwork on behalf of clients.

What causes customs delays?

Incorrectly filled documents, incomplete payment of dues and taxes, incorrect product license, etc.


All goods that are shipped internationally must go through customs. It is a step to confirm that all documentation for that shipment is correct, all duties and taxes are paid, and the shipment does not violate any of the country’s policies.

This process may take anywhere from 12 – 24 hours, but it might also take longer. Usually, this happens when there are minor or major issues during the clearance event.

When issues are encountered, the shipment may then be held in customs. You should see this article on what to do when your shipment is held in customs.

Thanks for reading.