First-time Shipper

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

    Check out our directory with dozens of professional brokers. 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.

    Exporting from the United States

    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 & Services directory. Search for “Freight Forwarding.”

      Ocean Carriers

        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 Resources

        General Assistance

        Financing Assistance (export)

        Country-specific Information

        Other Resources