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5 tips to avoid customs catastrophes

Brian Boucher

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CustomsWe’ve all been there, the client blinded by the breath-taking beauty of Santorini, or the turquoise waters of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic that hastily selects their event site without researching or considering some of the arduous location logistics such as Customs.

If you find yourself needing to provide and/or ship supplies, promotional products, event gifts, etc. here are a few helpful tips to prepare yourself and (hopefully) avoid any customs holds or clearance issues:

1. Familiarize yourself with the country, their regulations and best practices.

Every country is different, from importation rules/regulations/restrictions, to applicable Duties & VATs  (Variable Added Taxes), convention waiver programs, and program registration requirements.  Sources such as the Board of Tourism, Office of Customs or even the Meetings & Conventions department at the host Hotel can often be a great resource for best practices, required lead time or preferred couriers/brokers.

2. Plan Ahead.

Time is always of the essence.  Remember that no two countries (or even items) are the same.  While it may have only taken you 2 days to ship those logoed flip-flops to Mexico without delay, there may be different rules or restrictions regarding the suntan lotion that could delay the shipment for days, weeks or indefinitely.  The earlier you can ship, the more time you allow yourself to deal with and trouble-shoot any issues that may arise.  Many hotels will store your shipment in advance of the program for free or a nominal fee that is far worthwhile compared with the alternative of cutting it too close and not delivering.

3. Set your client’s expectations early.

Your client often has one vision of what they would like to offer their guests as far as promotional products or event gifts, but often times that ‘vision’ overlooks hidden costs of doing business in a particular country such as international duties or VATs (Variable Added Taxes) which can often cost as much as 50% of the shipment’s original value. These fees can suddenly bust their otherwise robust budget only allowing them to provide their guests Hershey’s for the price of Godiva. Researching and warning them of possible duties/VATs/lead-time as soon as the site is selected or before beginning the gift research process can help set their expectations rather than having to re-adjust afterwards feeling cheated and disappointed.

4. Have emergency contacts in place beforehand.

There is no worse feeling than arriving at a location to find that your shipment hasn’t arrived and has been flagged in customs.  When a situation does arise, many times a lot of precious trouble-shooting time is wasted trying to find the appropriate contact to resolve the issue (do I call FedEx, the hotel, customs?).  Having the proper emergency contact before shipment can often help you speed the clearance process.  Also note, if your program is taking place in a location where you do not speak the native language, it is a good idea to have somebody handy to help you overcome any language barriers.

5. Avoid the headache from the start.

If you are like most other planners you have a million and one responsibilities to ensure the event goes off without a hitch and supplies and gifting are a small blip on your radar and low on the totem pole.  Many promotional products companies have int’l shipping capabilities and expertise and in addition a few corporate gifting companies such as The Corporate Marketplace have turnkey programs that they offer and facilitate worldwide.  With services such as Choice Gifts you are able to provide guests gifts from an assortment of fine retails brands including Ray-Ban, Tommy Bahama, Alex and Ani, and ToyWatch to name a few, while passing the burden of international logistics.  If gifts are not part of your program but you still have other items or supplies to ship, there are a plethora of freight forwarding companies that specialize in import/export that can help facilitate or simplify the process as well.