Outbound Export Customs Cleared: Meaning?

Here’s what outbound export customs cleared means:

When a package clears export customs, it is released by the country of origin for shipment.

Ultimately, this means that the first stage of the journey is underway, and there will be plenty of additional steps before you receive your package.

But, a package that clears customs once is likely to clear it again.

So if you want to learn all about how outbound customs clearance works, then this article is for you.

Let’s delve into it!

Outbound Export Customs Cleared: Meaning? (All the Info)

What Does the Tracking Message “Outbound Export Customs Cleared” Mean?

The easiest part of this discussion is the message itself.

It is telling you that your package has made it through customs on its way out of a country.

In many cases, it’s leaving the country where it was originally shipped, but there are some shipping routes that are more complicated.

If your package has to run through customs in multiple countries, you might see this message more than once.

What’s just as important for discussing this message is what it doesn’t mean.

It does not mean that your package has been cleared for inbound customs in your country.

Why Is the Message “Outbound Export Customs Cleared” Even There?

In fact, that’s one of the reasons this message exists.

It is deliberately there to distinguish between inbound and outbound customs to prevent confusion or misunderstandings related to customs.

If the outbound message simply said “cleared customs,” then you might reasonably assume that it cleared customs in your country.

That would mean your package is through most of the hurdles that prevent it from getting to you.

Instead, the outbound customs message is making it perfectly clear that the package is not yet in the same country as you.

That’s an important distinction, and it helps with expectation management.

What Is the Difference Between Outbound and Inbound Customs?

That might make sense, but what is the difference between outbound and inbound customs?

Why does a package have to go through customs twice on one delivery?

For instance, if a package is shipping from China to the United States, why would it need to clear customs in both countries?

Shouldn’t one customs inspection be enough?

The truth is that both countries have a vested interest in enforcing customs regulations.

It turns out that outbound customs and inbound customs are primarily worried about different things. (For reference, I will be using the terms “outbound” and “export” interchangeably.

Similarly, I’ll be using “import” and “inbound” interchangeably for the sake of this discussion).

Inbound Customs

If you have ever traveled internationally, then you have likely gone through the customs process personally.

For those who haven’t, here’s an idea of what happens. When you leave your own country, you will probably be asked to show a passport, but that’s really to avoid problems.

You don’t technically need a passport to leave your country (for most of the world).

Customs happens when you arrive in a new country.

Before you are free to go around and do things, you have to go through the customs checkpoint.

When you do, they will check your passport, potentially issue a visa that allows you to stay in their country, and they will probably ask you questions about your luggage.

They may also inspect your luggage.

With shipping, this also happens.

Any package that arrives goes through inbound customs, and the purpose, whether it’s a package or luggage, is the same.

The country is trying to control what substances and materials and items enter their borders.

Some of this is to prevent harmful or banned substances and items from entering the country.

Some of it is about enforcing trade regulations.

Ultimately, the point is to deny entry to things that aren’t supposed to be there.

Outbound Customs

Outbound customs is quite a bit different.

You don’t have to go through outbound customs as an individual traveler.

Instead, this is all about shipping and commerce.

Now, part of outbound customs is dedicated to checking labels to try to prevent contraband from shipping in the first place.

In that regard, it’s similar to inbound customs, but it’s not the primary purpose.

Instead, outbound customs is mostly dedicated to regulatory compliance.

The customs officers (or brokers) go through manifestos and paperwork to double check that everything is above board and following the rules.

There are also often fees and taxes assessed in outbound customs, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

What Are the Aspects of Customs Clearance? (5 Stages)

Understanding that inbound and outbound customs have very different goals is a good step.

But, we can expand on this and clarify everything by going deeper into outbound customs.

Looking at everything that is inspected in detail will show what is really being accomplished with the process.

When you get your message that outbound export customs has been cleared, all of these stages have been completed. 

#1 Label Inspection

This is purely regulatory.

Every item that is exported from a country has to be properly managed.

Usually, the paperwork involved is tied to shipping manifestos and labels.

The customs officer or broker is going through the paperwork to check that the shipment is as it claims to be.

This isn’t about preventing contraband at this stage.

Instead, label inspections ensure that fees and taxes and other regulations will all be enforced appropriately.

As an example, export fees on bananas might not be the same as export fees on microchips.

Labeling is important because it shows that the shipment is as intended, and that enables the customs process to function.

#2 Item Compliance

Item compliance is not a legal term, but this is the part of export customs that mirrors import customs.

At this stage, brokers are double-checking the manifesto and destinations to make sure there is no unintended contraband onboard the shipment.

For many in shipping, accidentally violating customs at a port of entry is a huge headache and not worth the trouble.

So, it’s common to employ a third-party broker to go through things and make sure the rules are all being followed correctly.

The point of this step is to avoid problems at the destination.

It may not technically be a component of the legal customs process (this varies by country), but it’s definitely important to major shipping companies.

So, they’re very likely to include this as a part of what is cleared in export customs. (To clarify, you probably won’t get a notice about item compliance, but if your package cleared export customs, it should also clear import customs later because of this.)

#3 Destination Compliance

This is quite a bit more complicated, and it’s all about trade agreements and international regulations.

Basically, every pair of countries in the world sets their own trade agreements.

Germany and France have specific trade agreements between them.

Now, there are international bodies, such as the European Union or OPEC, that can heavily influence trade agreements between countries, but ultimately every agreement is set by the two countries involved.

Because of that, the regulations tied to international shipping can be massively complicated.

If a container ship is going to leave from China to the United States, it has to comply with all trade agreements between the two countries.

That’s easy enough, but what if that container ship is full of items that are headed to an Amazon warehouse?

And what if those items are then going to be shipped internationally?

Things can get complicated pretty fast.

So, the destination compliance part of export customs is checking the shipping manifesto for the intended destination of every item onboard.

That list of destinations is ultimately used to see what trade restrictions or regulations are in place for everything in the shipment.

To skip endless pages of international trade law, here’s what you really need to know.

Destination compliance is a part of how a country will assess tariffs and other fees and such tied to a shipment.

So, your package has to get through all of this paperwork before it is leaving the country.

#4 Fee Assessment

Fee assessment is largely what it sounds like.

All of the paperwork up until now is used to calculate all of the applicable fees, taxes, tariffs, duties, and anything else governments can charge for a shipment.

Again, it can be pretty complicated, but the point is easy enough.

The government is going to take its cut, and the shipment is not leaving a port until that happens.

This is definitely a crucial component of outbound customs, and it really highlights one of the main differences between import and export customs.

#5 Release

At this point, it’s all done.

Your package has gone through everything necessary, and the government in question will release the shipment to leave the port.

This means that your package is really only beginning its journey.

But, bringing this back to the original message, when a shipment is released, you are likely to see that it has cleared outbound customs.

Every shipping company makes its own rules in this regard, but this is what the message is intended to convey.

It’s on the way from one country to another, and import customs will be the next major stage of the journey.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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