In the world of shipping, meetings and conventions pose unique challenges, so choosing a customs broker that knows this business is critical. Customs delays of days, or even hours, can mean the difference between having your material at your event — or having nothing. Moreover, often events move in or out after hours and on weekends, requiring your broker to work those same nonstandard hours.

Each country in Latin America is unique in the treatment of importing goods for trade shows and exhibitions. A good customs broker, knowledgeable in the country you are exporting to, can not only ensure your goods clear customs but also minimize duties and taxes.

Make sure you have in writing what the “door-to-door” costs will be, as there are always four to five fees that will build up an invoice, and these fees generally don't include the duties and taxes that may be applicable. The broker's rates are most often based on the value of the goods you are sending combined with the services that the broker is providing. There will generally be fees for importing your goods as well as fees for exporting the goods back into the U.S. Make sure you are getting both of these services from your broker.

Rates are related to the manufacturing (or wholesale) value of goods. Remember, you dictate the value of the goods on your commercial invoice, thereby dictating the fees you will be charged. So don't overestimate the manufacturing value as it will trigger the rate your broker will charge as well as the amount of duties and taxes you will pay. In all cases, it will be less expensive to ship one entry into the country than to ship the same amount over three or four entries.

Quite possibly the most frustrating aspect of shipping internationally is to receive notification that your freight is “stuck at customs.” In fact, there is no physical place where your freight goes when it is held up. Your shipment is usually still with the carrier — either in a truck or at the carrier's warehouse awaiting some sort of clarification, paperwork, or payment. Generally, most issues can be dealt with via e-mail or a phone call and should not take more that a few hours to fix.

The most common problems with shipments getting “stuck in customs” are paperwork errors and the broker not having enough information. Delays are rarely due to problems with the actual commodity being imported. Logically then, the easiest way to get the freight out of customs is to get the paperwork sorted out. This usually involves talking directly with your freight carrier and your broker. Having your paperwork with you will help if you need to refax forms to the right people.

The commercial invoice is a legal document that is the most important document for customs. Essentially, the commercial invoice is a declaration by you telling the broker what you are sending. It involves a complete list of each item you are sending, the country of manufacture, and the value.

Remember you're exporting goods to another country and will be dealing with governments and their agents. These things take time, so plan for it.