A guide to help importers and exporters navigate the supply chain
Navigating the logistics maze can be overwhelming and confusing for first-time shippers. We’re here to help.
In this guide, you’ll find the basics of importing and exporting through The Northwest Seaport Alliance and links to resources that can help you move your cargo.
Importing to the U.S.
All goods that enter the United States must clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Import cargo is subject to Customs duty, taxes and fees.
The clearance process involves: entry, inspection, appraisement, classification and liquidation. You will need to declare a value for the merchandise and determine the merchandise classification number.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection recommends using a Customs House Broker. Licensed by Customs, Customs House Brokers are hired by the client to transact Customs business on their behalf in the import or export of merchandise.
A Customs House Broker will:
- Help you determine the correct way to classify your shipment
- Calculate estimated Customs duties and taxes
- Complete/submit Customs paperwork
- Act as your agent with transportation providers and Customs
- Require a Power of Attorney to transact Customs business on your behalf
- Arrange delivery (upon arrival)
Find local Customs House Brokers in our Facilities Finder directory. Search for “Customs House Brokers.”
To clear your goods with Customs, you will need to provide:
- Arrival notice from shipping company who issued your bill of lading
- Bill of lading (can be “original,” “seaway” or “express”), airway bill or carrier’s certificate (naming you as consignee)
- Commercial invoice (should show value and description of goods)
- Entry manifest, Entry/Immediate Delivery, or other required Customs forms
- Packing list and other supporting documents, which will be used by Customs to determine whether merchandise should be admitted into the U.S.
For assistance determining your classification number, call U.S. Customs and Border Protection at 206-553-0203 and ask to speak to an Entry Specialist.
Exporting from the U.S.
If you are exporting cargo from the U.S. to a foreign country, it is recommended that you use a Freight Forwarder.
A Freight Forwarder will:
- Arrange booking with ocean carrier (you may choose to do this yourself)
- Arrange drayage of shipment to terminal (you may choose to do this yourself)
- Complete Customs Paperwork (export declarations, export licenses, etc.)
- Act as your agent with transportation providers
- Require Power of Attorney to transact Customs business on your behalf
Find local Freight Forwarders in our Facilities Finder directory. Search for “Freight Forwarder.”
You can also search for Customs House Brokers or Freight Forwarders at:
- Customs Brokers & International Freight Forwarders of Washington State
- National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America, Inc.
- International Federation of Customs Brokers Associations
- International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations
A freight forwarder can help book your space with the ocean carrier, or you book space directly with the shipping line. Find the list of Ocean Carriers calling The Northwest Seaport Alliance terminals.
- Export Washington: Trade consultants from the Washington State Department of Commerce help exporters find loans and grants, and build export plans.
- US Export Assistance Center of WA: Part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, connects exporters with foreign buyers, advises on documentation challenges and helps create market entry strategies.
- Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle: Promotes trade for the Greater Seattle Area by connecting companies and institutions with international opportunities.
- World Trade Center Tacoma: Offers a variety of programs and resources to help local companies succeed in the global market.
- Greater Spokane Incorporated: Enhances the regional economy by assisting local businesses with international trade opportunities and expansion into foreign markets.
- Washington State Department of Agriculture’s International Marketing Program: Provides promotional support, market information and access to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s market assistance program.
- Western United States Agricultural Trade Association (WUSATA): Exporting resource for agribusinesses based in the Western U.S.
Financing Assistance (export)
- Export-Import Bank of the United States: Provides financing and risk protection to exporters and their buyers.
- Export Finance Assistance Center (under WADOC): Provides export financial advice and counseling; partner of Export-Import Bank.
- Washington State China Relations Council: Promotes doing business with China. Connects Washington businesses with Chinese businesses.
- U.S.- Japan Business Council: Promotes U.S. business interests in Japan.
- U.S.-Korea Business Council: Provides high-level channels for companies to advance their relationship with Korea.
- Consulate General of Canada in Seattle: Provides information on rules and regulations on doing business in Canada.
- United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce: Promotes business between the United States and Mexico.
- Taipei Economic & Cultural Representative Office in Seattle: Promotes and strengthens economic, cultural, educational and other related ties between the U.S. and the Republic of China on Taiwan.
- World Trade Club: Organizes several export seminars per year.
- WA State Small Business Development Center (SBDC): Organizes 3 to 5 export event per year.
- Washington Council on International Trade: Advocates for public policies that increase Washington State’s global competitiveness.
- Alaska State Ferry operated by Alaska Marine Highway, 800-642-0066
- Canadian Coast Guard, 604-631-3800
- Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (Ballard Locks), 206-783-7059
- Naval Station Everett, 425-304-3366
- Pacific Northwest Ports Handbook published by Cargo Business News, sponsored by Marine Exchange of Puget Sound: Request directory
- Puget Sound Vessel Traffic, 206-217-6052
- Washington State Ferries, 888-808-7977