Clearing Your Own UPS Package

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve been stuck with an unbelievable bill for customs brokerage from a shipper like UPS. For a while I figured it was par for the course and that shipping goods from the US would be costly. NOT ALWAYS TRUE! If you want to learn how to avoid the hefty fee, read on.

Just a caveat: this is based on my experience with UPS and ONLY for items being shipped from the US and into Canada (where I reside). This is also as of April 2010 so things may have changed since I posted this article.

Since I started designing and making stationery items, I’ve had to buy materials, such as envelopes from the US. I buy these items for my business and therefore am a COMMERCIAL importer. If you’re just buying goods for personal use (such as something on Ebay) I’m pretty sure you can do the following as well, but I would suggest calling a local Canada Border Services Agency office to double check.

How much you’ll be paying depends on 2 things:
1. How much the package is worth
2. Which UPS service level is being used (Expedited, Ground, etc.)

HOW MUCH THE PACKAGE IS WORTH
The worth of your package determines how Duty, Taxes and Handling Fees on items mailed to you are applied. Chances are what you’re bringing in is worth more than $20 CAD so you’ll have to pay Canadian tax (GST, PST, HST). To figure out what you owe in tax, paperwork needs to be filed and subsequently, payment collected. This is referred to as “clearing customs“. EVERYONE must do this and it’s unavoidable. What is avoidable is the fee that UPS will charge to do the “clearing” for you, which is also known as acting as your broker. This brings us to the next part.

WHICH UPS SERVICE LEVEL IS BEING USED (EXPEDITED, GROUND, ETC)
Well, if it’s being sent expedited, the service of “clearing” for you is included. The brokerage fee (a.k.a. the charge to do the “clearing” for you) is built into the shipping rate. All you’ll pay on top of the cost of your goods and shipping charge is the applicable tax.

Ground/Standard shipping DOES NOT include this service. When a package is due to arrive shortly, I get a call from UPS informing me that my package needs to “clear customs” and they will ask if I have a broker. If not, UPS offers to act as my broker. If I say yes, they ask for my credit card number to bill the fees and taxes and my package arrives as usual. Then I see my credit card statement and have a heart attack.

UPS DOES NOT NEED TO BE YOUR BROKER!

What they don’t tell you is that you don’t need a broker at all. You can clear your own package without involving a third party.

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO DO:
1.
Once your package is on its way and you have a tracking number, call UPS at 1-800-PICK-UPS. Let them know that you’ll be clearing your own package. At this point, they should tell you where you’ll need to go to pick up the paperwork to do so (it’ll usually be a hub location). Here in Vancouver, the UPS hub is in Richmond, BC near the airport. The hub locations are different in each city and it may not always be a close drive for you as it was for me. They will call you when the paperwork arrives.

2. Once the paperwork arrives, pick it up from the hub and take it to any Canada Border Services Agency office. At the UPS hub I went to, they told me the location of the closest CBSA office and even gave me a map which was great. The paperwork generally consists of a commercial invoice and the shipping documentation. You have 5 business days to pick up the paperwork, get it processed and returned for your package to be released. After 5 days, the package is returned to sender.

3. At the CBSA office, you will need to fill out a B3 form. Since my package was for my business, it’s considered a commercial import. As such, I needed to have an Importer Number and the form is filled out on a computer. If this sounds complicated, it wasn’t really. The staff at the office were extremely helpful. I didn’t have an Importer Number but all I needed to do was call a toll-free number they gave me and I got one right away (I’m talking 5 minutes on the phone and another 15 minutes for the system to update). This is a one-time set-up and should be the same as your Business Number but with a couple different letters. As for the form, there are step by step instructions that walk you through filling in all the necessary information. I’m not sure what the steps are for personal goods but it’s probably something similar without the extra steps of having to get an Importer Number and such. It’s best to ask an agent there.

4. Once the form is completed and printed out, labels are applied to the paperwork and it all gets stapled together and submitted for processing. They have up to 48 hours to do so but in actuality it takes about an hour or two. They will call when the paperwork is processed and ready for pick up.

5. When you retrieve the paperwork from the CBSA office, you will at this time pay any applicable taxes and duties to a cashier there. Be sure the appropriate documents have been stamped cleared as UPS won’t release your package without the proper stamps.

6. Take the paperwork back to the UPS hub where you originally picked up the paperwork and they’ll release the package to you then and there.

I realize that this may not be a viable option for everyone. If you don’t live close to a hub, then all the driving back and forth can be time consuming, less convenient and ultimately more costly in effort. For me, it was easy since both the hub and CBSA office were no more than 5 minutes apart and close to my home and business.

So how much did I save? The cost of the goods were $150 CAD and the ground shipping charge $50 CAD. If I were to have UPS as my broker, I would have paid close to $60 in fees and taxes. But because I cleared the package myself, I only had to pay the GST which was $7.22 CAD. I’d say the savings are worth the one hour of my time that it took to do it all.

It’s a pretty long post but I hope you found it useful. For other shippers such as FedEx, I imagine you’d be able to do something similar. Good luck and here’s to saving all those brokerage fee dollars!

~ Cassie

Comments 24

  1. Thanks for the post Cassie!
    Any tips on how to save on fees when shipping your paper goods from Canada into the US?

    1. Hey Val,

      Unfortunately not at the moment since I haven’t had to do much of that yet. Glad you liked the post! Clearing my own packages now is such a money saver.

      Cassie

  2. Thank you for that valuable information. I heard about clearing the package yourself but your website explained it very clearly. It will definitely save me a whole lot!

    1. I’m so glad you found it helpful! I wanted to offer as much info as possible so it wouldn’t be intimidating to try yourself. Dealing with shippers and the government can end up being a logistical mess!

  3. Amazing tip! Thanks for sharing. I live in Vancouver also and will be heading to UPS hub in Richmond to get the papers, may I ask where the closest CBSA office is in Richmond or Vancouver as I hope to return to pick up the package on the same day if possible. Thank you.

    1. Hi there!

      The closest one is near the Vancouver airport:
      113-5000 Miller Road
      Richmond, British Columbia
      V7B 1K6

      When you go to pick up your papers at the hub, you can ask for directions and they’ll give you a printed map.

      Good luck!

      Cassie

  4. Thanks for the tipe but When I tried this, UPS told me that I need to clear the package a the point of entry. Is this true? How can I clear it here in Ottawa when the point of entry is Fort Erie?

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Jeff,
      I’m not really sure. Since I live in Vancouver, the packages all arrive at a hub in Richmond, BC. From the hub, I believe they go through customs and then get dispersed out to their intended locations. If the closest hub to you is in Fort Erie, then that might be the case unfortunately.

      I suggest calling UPS again and asking them what’s the closest hub for you to go pick up the papers to clear customs yourself. If there is one near you, the best bet is to have future deliveries go to that address instead.

      Hope this helps!

      Cassie

  5. UPS are thieving swine. I clear all my own packages using just the methods described above. Not difficult to do if you’re in the lower mainland. Do it once and you’re an expert. Bring a book though- UPS staff don’t rush. Bonus, you get to watch the cool bike racing packs on the paved roads around the airport.

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      Author
  6. I have found UPS to be an atrocious company. As stated they charge huge amounts and do not listen. My nephew had a package come in and we explicitly told UPS that we would clear it ourselves. It was used equipment which had gone out on travel and was being shipped back. UPS sent it through customs, with a $100 customs bill, and $50 customs brokerage by UPS. And they refused to budge. And this was not the only time they screwed up a trans-border shipment.
    Ie, do not use UPS to ship things across the border. Most other courier companies are far better.

  7. I know this is an old post — BUT THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    I was really hesitant about clearing my own package since UPS made it sound so difficult, but after reading this I decided to do it myself. Just waiting for them to call me to pick up the paperwork now!
    You just saved me out of spending $90 for nothing !

    Thank you <3

  8. Thanks SO much for this article. I’m opening a new retail business, got ups to do my brokering and then got the $275 brokering fee!! As this didn’t even include the freight charges or duty…like you said…heart attack. I’m close to Vancouver so I’ll be doing it myself from now on, thanks again!

  9. I’m going through this exact process now thanks to these great instructions 🙂 I also appreciate Allen’s tip to bring a book.

  10. Thank you Cassie. Very useful information. You are a jewel. I wonder why CBSA doesn’t provide such information on their website( like a tip for example). At the end we are paying their salaries trough our taxes. In other words they have to protect our interest not the interest of UPS and such.

  11. Thanks for the post. Tried to clear a package myself now in 2016. It was coming from USA into Canada. They wanted me do drive 2hrs to the nearest border for the paperwork while the HUB is actually here in town. I’ll never ship by UPS.

    1. I’ve had pretty good success lately with calling up UPS and having them emailing me the paperwork I need to self clear. Kind of expected more push back from them, but they provided what I asked for so I could go to the CBSA office to self clear. (and saved about $65.00 on an item with technically a value of about $200….but, the cost of the item was supposed to be $0.00 to me as it was a warranty replacement. It was not properly labelled as such by the shipper on the commercial invoice, and UPS would not accept my paperwork from the company stating this was the case…hence wanting to charge me the HST and brokerage fees). When I took my paperwork to CBSA, they came through in a big way, took the time to look at all my documentation, and presto…no HST, and all cleared with no charge, and able to take my B15 back to the UPS depot for my parcel (which they then had to search for over 15 minutes to find)!

  12. I was hit with a customs broker charge worth 48% of the value of the item! I won’t pay it. I’ll be sending the item back and going through the process again, and clear the item myself. Thanks for this. I agree with many of the posters here the UPS company is not being forthright with their customers/victims.

  13. Thank you for this blog post. It’s very helpful. I’m getting some studio cables from a store NY and now I know how to self-clear.

  14. Hi There, in the same position… but in Toronto. Does anyone know where the closest clearing office is to DHL downtown. I don’t want to have to go to Pearson Airport.

    The website isn’t clear about There locations services in Regards self clearance.

    Thanks you!

  15. Good to know. Thanks for the info! I’m expecting an UPS Ground parcel from US. I didn’t know the seller uses UPS ground, otherwise I would think twice before buying. I know their brokerage fees are ridiculous, so I googled other ways to clear customs and came across your article. Too bad I need to work weekdays so I can’t do this at a CBSA office myself. Instead, I hired a broker to clear customs on my behalf. Still gotta pay a brokerage fee, but at least it is a flat rate (no surprise at the door!) + probably half of what UPS is charging. 🙂 My package is still in transit. If this goes smoothly, I will do the same going forward and never, NEVER let UPS be my broker.

  16. Hi I’m from Vancouver and first time importing fashion accessories ($100 worth) from the US to Canada. Im curious to know which code do you usually put down for the Tariff Classification section when you fill out the B3 form on the computer?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Andie,

      Sorry, I don’t happen to know the code you are to use. There should be a resource there to guide you.

      Cheers!

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