(For all imports)

When submitting an “eDecs” (see discussion in SECTION 4) electronic request for pre-shipment import clearance from FWS, the mandatory Form 3461 (see instructions here) is also supposed to be included. Although the FWS Form 3-177 and the U.S. Customs Form 3461 supposedly need to be submitted (pre-filed) before a shipment enters the U.S., the reality is that U.S. Customs at some ports of entry (such as in New York) actually require the submission to be made only after the shipment has arrived on U.S. soil; thus you really need to call the specific entry port’s FWS/Customs office to determine their filing preferences, or just trust the broker you’re using.

Using FedEx or U.P.S. as the carrier allows their in-house brokerage services to take care of much of the paperwork protocol so that shipments should be cleared fairly quickly and easily; but shipments made through the postal system can become a bit more complicated. Then why use the P.O.? Well, at least in Mexico and some Asian countries such as Vietnam, South Korea, and Indonesia using any carrier other than the P.O. can expose your shipment to all sorts of bureaucratic hanky-panky and extortion demands by port officials, which can possibly hold a shipment up for weeks or months while negotiating a reasonable bribe; and once you’ve caved in to this corruption your name will go on the wall and it’ll happen every time!

In order for a shipment containing any wildlife products to legally enter the U.S. it must be cleared by FWS when it arrives at an approved U.S. port or airport Customs facility. But when using the Postal Service™, it becomes almost impossible to specify an exact date of entry – a date which is required to be stated in Box 1 of both FWS Form 3-177 and U.S. Customs Form 3461. Because of this, the paperwork needs to be filed as soon as possible after the package arrives at the U.S. port of entry. This means that you or your broker needs to be immediately contacted by someone at the Postal Customs facility so that you can immediately complete and correctly date the eDecs submission of Forms 3-177 and 3461. The only way this will happen is if you’ve had your shipper mark boldly on the box something such as:

(your FWS Import/Export Permit/License number)
PHONE/FAX: (your numbers)
EMAIL: (your email address)

If this isn’t done the postal Customs inspectors will very often just go ahead and pass the shipment on for delivery to you without bothering to notify FWS, creating even more official hassles. In the (most probable) event that the shipment shows up on your doorstep anyway without having had proper FWS clearance, a bureaucratic “honor system” goes into effect which involves: 1) not opening or tampering with the shipment; 2) filing the correctly dated Forms 3-177 and 3461; 3) directly contacting FWS to let them know the parcel is available for inspection at your address (which should be entered as the “Bonded Location of Inspection” in Box 10 of Form 3-177 and “Location of Goods” in Box 14 of Form 3461). FWS will then either send someone to your place to open and inspect the package, or (most likely) have you send it to the nearest approved POE where it will be processed and shipped back to you (all at your cost).

It takes 12 pages of instructions to navigate Form 3461’s 27 boxes, some of which use codes that need to be either looked up in other lists or appendices (which are sometimes not located where they should be in the “Instructions” sheets and can be difficult to find) or constructed according to rigid formulas.

Box 3 requires a code (from the “Appendix A” list) specifying the type of entry. For most people in the stringed instrument industry, this depends on whether the shipment will be subject to “FORMAL” or “INFORMAL” entry clearance procedures. If the import shipment has a value in excess of $2,000.00 or requires any type of license or species-specific permit it will be a formal entry and the code will be “01” (“Consumption Entries, Free and Dutiable”); if under $2,000.00 it will be informal and use the code “11” (“Informal Entries, Free and Dutiable”), but only if the shipment does not require a license or species-specific permit.

When declaring the Port of Entry in box 5, instead of the port name a 4-digit numerical code must be entered from a list.

Box 26 requires you to devise a unique code for the foreign manufacturer who made the products in the shipment. This code can be up to 15 characters long and is composed of 5 sections based on words and numbers derived from the manufacturer’s address in compliance with the 5 pages of instructions available as a Microsoft Word document.

The most troublesome section is box 4, where an 11-digit “Entry Number” needs to be generated for each shipment according to a complex formula, with the first 3 digits being a proprietary “Entry Filer Code” which must have been previously issued to you by U.S. Customs (see the following discussion).

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