Steps to Becoming a Licensed Customs Broker

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Much like a freight forwarder or logistics expert on exports, licensed customs brokers are individuals, associations, corporations, or partnerships that are licensed and regulated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Here are six things you'll need to know to become a customs broker:

You Must Be Eligible

To become a customs broker you must be a U.S. citizen, be at least 18 years of age, and not be a federal government employee at the time of the customs broker exam. If all of those apply to you, move on. If even one of those items doesn't apply to you, stop here. You cannot become a customs broker at this time.

You Must Have Knowledge of Importing

Knowledge of importing means you must have an understanding of entry procedures; entry requirements; valuation; fines and penalties; classification; and the rates, duty, taxes, and fees for imported goods. As a licensed broker, you submit necessary information and appropriate payments to CBP on behalf of its clients and charge the clients a fee for this service. It is important that you demonstrate responsible supervision and control during the import process. You will demonstrate this by passing an exam.

You Must Pass an Exam

The exam is given at most CBP service ports on the fourth Wednesday in April and the fourth Wednesday in October. Make sure you apply at a port where you want to practice or transact customs business as a broker. You are responsible for bringing proof that you meet all the eligibility requirements (e.g., photo I.D., proof of registration). CBP must receive the examination registration application and $390 fee at least 30 days in advance of the examination.

The examination lasts four and one-half hours and consists of 80 questions. Each question has a single best answer (in some cases, as noted below, there can be two different acceptable answers); however, there is no penalty for guessing so you should answer every question. To pass the exam, you must achieve 75% correct answers or better. Should you fail to pass the exam, you can retake it until you pass.

Sample exam question:

A recent college graduate received her individually licensed U.S. Customs broker's license on December 5, 2009. On January 31, 2012, the individual was convicted of smuggling narcotics into the United States through the District of El Paso, Texas. On April 2, 2012, the broker applied for a District permit in Laredo, Texas. Which of the following statements is NOT true?

a. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may suspend the individual's license for a period not to exceed one year.

b. CBP can revoke the individual's license.

c. The Port Director may deny the issuance a District permit for Laredo, Texas.

d. CBP may revoke the permit issued through El Paso.

e. CBP may immediately revoke the broker's license.

The answer is noted below.

You Must Submit a License Application and Pay Appropriate Fees

Assuming you've passed the exam, the fee for the broker license application is $200. There is also a fingerprint check and processing fee. As an applicant, you must undergo a background investigation that includes a fingerprint analysis and a review of character references, credit reports, and any arrest record. (Note: Arrests or convictions do not necessarily preclude the issuance of a license.)

Your Application Must Be Reviewed and Approved by CBP

There are three levels of review: multiagency background investigation, a CBP port director secondary background investigation, and lastly, the same CBP port director forwards a recommendation to CBP headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Assistant Commissioner, Office of International Trade, will advise you on whether your application is approved.

You Should Plan Six Months for Your Application to Process

The length of time it takes to complete the license application process can vary depending on multiple factors, but generally, the CBP works to issue licenses within six months of application.

Where to go for more information?

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Trade Facilitation and Administration

Broker Compliance Branch

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Attn: 1400 L Street

Washington D.C. 20229

Answer to sample test question: A or E; Citation(s) 19 CFR 111.53(a) and (b)