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The 5 Biggest Cross-Border Shipping Mistakes (Avoid These)

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Shipping freight internationally is no easy task.

Even between the United States and some of its largest trading partners, Canada and Mexico, things can wrong quickly. 

You're dealing with multiple governments. There is a lot of paperwork. You have to clear customs. You might be using multiple providers.

Any errors in cross-border shipping can be costly in terms of time, money and your customer relationships.  

And trying to cut corners while avoiding these mistakes is the best way to get your shipment stuck at the border.

Whether you're shipping across the Canada-U.S. border, or the Mexico-U.S. border, you'll want to avoid these 5 things.


5 Biggest Cross-Border Shipping Mistakes

1. Waiting too long to establish a customs broker.

Setting up a customs broker is not a process you can complete in an afternoon.

Though you may be able to complete it in as little as five business days, you should allow two weeks to set up your customs broker — this is not something you want to rush. 

Customs brokers represent your business at the border. You will give them power of attorney. They need to know all about your shipping process. They need to get acquainted with your business and all carriers you're working with. 

If you rush this complex process, you risk having costly delays at the border.


2. The information in the bill of lading and commercial invoice does not match exactly.

It’s essential that these two documents have all the same information.

If shipment dimensions, product count, etc. do not match exactly, it’s likely your shipment cannot clear customs until these discrepancies are sorted out.

If your freight is crossing the Mexico border, you'll also need a complemento carta porte document, which also must contain information identical to the BOL and commercial invoice.

Related: Learn what paperwork you'll need for cross-border Canada or Mexico shipments.

3. Shipping before you're in 100% alignment with the customs broker.

If you're not yet fully aligned with your customs broker and you decide to ship your freight anyway, you might have issues with missing or incorrect paperwork.

If this is a first-time shipment, you need to make sure the broker knows everything before the load picks up, or it will result in costly delays at the border.

Pro Tip: for a first-time shipment, get the customs broker, the transportation provider and the shipper together on a call to ensure everything is properly set up.

4. Not confirming after-hours contact information.

No matter how much you prepare for your cross-border shipment, sometimes the unexpected happens.

When errors do occur, you need quick access to people who can fix them, and that includes nights and weekends.

Border delays can be expensive — if your shipment has a delay on Friday evening, you don't want to wait until Monday morning to address it.

Having non-standard business hour contact information with your transportation provider, importer of record, shipper and customs broker is a cross-border best practice.

5. Underestimating transit time.

Border crossing can be a time-consuming procedure — this is especially true when shipping from Mexico to the U.S.

Work with an experienced cross-border provider to accurately plan a realistic transit time for your shipment.

When Shipping Over the Mexico-U.S. Border

  • Wait times for trucks crossing into the U.S. average 2-5 hours, but can be longer if inspections or other delays occur at the border. 
  • Even if you do everything exactly right, ,you're moving through-trailer and your shipment clears customs easily, there are will still be multiple drivers, meaning your trailer will be dropped in a yard.
  • Your shipment will not likely cross the border the same day it picks up, so make sure to build in extra transit for delivery.

When Shipping over the Canada-U.S. Border

  • As long as the freight is pre-cleared with PARS or PAPS, the border crossing can happen in well under an hour. 
  • Though it's usually smoother than Mexico, you still need to work with customs and border patrol, and unexpected delays and issues can occur.

Related: Learn more about the differences between Canada and Mexico cross-border.


The best way to avoid mistakes?
Work with an experienced cross-border team.

If you need expertise to help make your cross-border shipping easier, we can help

Whether you need truckload, intermodal or LTL capacity for Canada or Mexico, our team of cross-border specialists will get you the coverage you need.

Learn how Coyote helped a manufacturer get started with cross-border Mexico truckload shipping.

Read a Cross-Border Case Study