The 3 Golden Rules for Cross-Border Freight

From customs paperwork to carrier requirements, to potential security clearances…cross-border freight is a different type of shipment.

And when it comes to cross-border shipping, one slip-up… well, it could cost your business thousands of dollars.

Yes, a simple mistake can lead to border delays, unplanned fees, and sleepless nights for you as you wrangle your freight back into compliance and across the border.

Cross-border freight is not an area where you want to have unforced errors.

So how does a shipper mitigate against potential problems?

When getting started on your cross-border shipping journey, there are three things you need to know upfront.

Following these three rules will be the difference between a perfectly executed shipping experience and an international incident.

Here are: The 3 Golden Rules for Cross-Border Freight.

#1 Documentation is Everything

90% of all cross-border shipping problems are related to documentation.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) aren’t playing when it comes to cross-border shipping. They need to know exactly what you’re bringing into their counties, and where it came from. And your documentation will tell them just that. 

Why is this the #1 most important thing to do correctly? Because if done incorrectly or if something is missing, your driver will be held up at the border until it’s resolved. And who knows how long that can take. 

Do you hear that? That’s the screeching sound of fees and delays as your freight sits idle at the border… 

But no need to panic. We’ve got you covered when it comes to cross-border paperwork. You can find a complete list of all the cross-border documents and forms right here.

#2 Hire a Customs Brokers 

When it comes to shipping your company’s products, no one knows the ins-and-outs better than you. But when it comes to cross-border shipping, your job gets a bit tougher. You now need to factor in duties, taxes, costs… and that’s a whole other beast to tackle. But luckily, no one expects you to know that stuff.

That’s why Licensed Customs Brokers exist… and we highly recommend hiring one if you are shipping cross-border freight.

A broker essentially serves as the liaison between you and the customs agency. They are responsible for:

  • Advising you on the proper documentation needed for your shipments
  • Preparing entry forms 
  • Transmitting any and all documents and forms to the customs agency
  • Managing the payments for all duties, taxes and fees
  • Retaining and managing all transaction records for several years in case of an inspection or audit
  • Responding to any CBP / CBSA concerns after payment

Simply put, customs brokers will make your life easier and ensure your shipment crosses the border seamlessly.

If you’re looking for a reputable customs broker, we’ve compiled a list of the best 11 customs brokers in the business. You can find them here.

Pro Tip: Not all customs brokers are experienced with specific products. So if you’re moving something like pharmaceuticals, oil, gas, automobiles, food, or textiles, try to find a broker with experience in your industry.

#3 Choose a transportation partner with proven cross-border shipping success 

Carriers are another important piece to the cross-border puzzle.

Whether you use an asset-based carrier or 3PL, be sure to choose a transportation provider who has proven experience hauling cross-border freight.

Giving your cross-border shipment to a carrier who does not specialize in cross-border freight is a dicey call.

Pro Tip: Select a transportation provider who has experience in cross-border freight PLUS your commodity. Keen attention to detail is needed for cross-border moves, so choosing a provider who has relevant experience is paramount.  


Cross-border trade between the US & Canada is big business… it generates astronomical profits for companies that can leverage a North American distribution model.

But, cross-border movement of goods also comes with its own set of rules.

And more importantly, one mistake could have BIG ramifications.

In order to mitigate any problems, shippers should strictly adhere to The 3 Golden Rules of Cross-Border Freight… (1) documentation is everything (2) hire a customs broker (3) choose a transport partner that has relevant experience

Ignore them at your peril.

Looking for more information on cross-border freight?

We wrote the guide.

Check out The Complete Guide to Cross-Border Freight.   

Inside you’ll find everything you need to know about shipping between the US and Canada including a step-by-step guide to moving freight across the border, a detailed description of the processes and procedures you’ll need to know, and print-ready forms and documents.

It’s your handbook to cross-border shipping success. Get your copy right here.

Of course, if you need help moving freight across North America, reach out. Our network of 54,000 carriers and 400,000 trucks is a great asset to any shipper… and our service levels are impeccable. Give us a try… Get a quote today!