Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Customs Form or No Customs Form?

tags:  customs, customs forms, United States Postal Service (USPS), Univeral Postal Union (UPU)

The U.S. Postal Service recently announced an expansion in the use of electronic customs forms.  Customs forms need to be completed for any items that are defined as merchandise.  For international mail, whether an item is merchandise is not related to whether something is purchased but is determined by the type item.  All international mail content is classified as either documents or merchandise under postal agreements. 

The postal definitions of documents and merchandise do not always correspond to the way these terms are used in everyday conversation but the distinction is important to mailers because any international shipment of merchandise requires a customs declaration while documents, as defined by postal regulations, do not.

Artwork, photographs, film, x-rays, and negatives are not documents no matter what the medium of the artwork or the contents of the other items.  Electronic storage media, such such as CDs, DVDs. flash drives, video and cassette tapes, are not document, even if they contain electronic documents.  They are considered merchandise and require a customs declaration. 

The following table was developed from information available from the USPS and follows the definitions in UPU agreements regarding what is considered a document and what types of items are not.  These are the definitions in international agreements and do not always agree with everyday use of the term "document".
Documents not requiring a customs declaration:
Items that are not defined as documents:
·   business records
·   printed music
·   personal correspondence
·   books and periodicals
·   circulars, pamphlets, advertisements
·   antique or collector documents
·   written instruments not intended for resale
·   blueprints and engineering drawings
·   printed educational and test materials

Direct mail marketing campaigns and catalogs are documents unless they include samples or are electronic media like CDs or flash drives.  A sample or electronic medium item is merchandise and requires a customs form.
Invoices, bills, statements, contracts and routine business correspondence make up a significant segment of the business documents sent internationally.  These so-called transactional materials are documents in both common usage and for international mailing purposes unless they are sent on electronic storage media.