Irrespective of the mode of transportation (air, sea, or land), it is mandatory for AliExpress shipments to undergo customs clearance in order to be delivered to their final destination.

A “Clearing Customs” message on your order status means the item has arrived at the destination country and is currently in the possession of the customs department for import clearance.

This guide will provide an overview of how AliExpress orders are cleared for customs, the risks associated with customs clearance failures, and list some best practices that you can adopt to ensure that your order goes through a successful import clearance process.

How AliExpress Orders Are Cleared For Customs

Customs clearance refers to a stage in international shipping where customs control completes an item’s custom import clearance. This customs control body is located in the destination country where the item has been imported.

clearing customs screenshot on aliexpress

After assessing all documents and the cargo, the customs body will release the item to the delivery agent. All countries establish customs regulations to safeguard their citizens and protect the economy and environment from the potential adverse effects of imported goods.

If your AliExpress order status is stating “Clearing Customs”, the customs authorities are currently assessing the following tasks:

Evaluation of Shipping Documents

During the customs clearance process, all shipping documents such as the invoice, packing list, and other relevant documentation are assessed and evaluated by customs officers.

Customs officers will check if the imported item matches the documentation. They will also assess if the item is cleared for import, if it’s listed as restricted or prohibited, or if special certificates or licenses are required.

Duty & Tax Assessments

The customs officers will also determine the import duties that need to be paid on the item. Such duties vary depending on the item’s value and corresponding Harmonized System (HS) code.

Depending on the country, the responsibility of paying duties may fall on the AliExpress seller or the buyer. In some countries, the import taxes or duties need to be paid in advance, and in other countries, they may be collected from the buyer through a delivery agent.

Cargo Inspection 

During the cargo inspection process, various aspects of the cargo are examined to ensure compliance with relevant regulations and prevent the entry of harmful goods into the country.

This process may sometimes involve a physical examination if certain irregularities or inconsistencies are found between the documentation and the item that’s being imported.

The physical examination may also involve unpacking and inspecting the AliExpress item for any signs of damage, contamination, or prohibited items. The cargo may also be subjected to scans or x-rays to detect any concealed items that may have drawn suspicion.

Risks Associated With Failure of Customs Clearance

While most items do get through customs without issues, some items may be held at customs until further clarifications are provided. Some possible causes and risks associated with this include the following.

Unpaid Import Duties

Your item may get held at customs due to unpaid or underpaid import duties. This usually happens if the item’s value was under-declared or misdeclared. In other cases, the country may have imposed additional taxes on the goods for exceeding a certain value.

Documentation Issues

There is a possibility that the customs authorities may encounter difficulties with the clearance of the items in question, as it does not match the submitted documentation.

This could be due to incorrectly submitted shipping or cargo information pertaining to cargo value, weight, or description. Customs officials may also check for document consistency between the packing list, commercial invoices, permits, and certificates.

If the relevant documents are missing or contain incorrect information, the customs authorities may hold the cargo for further inspection or until further clarification is provided.

Restricted or Prohibited Items

Customs may seize the item if it is restricted or prohibited in the importing country. In other cases, customs may seize items that would normally be permitted but are coming from high-risk countries.

Order Returned to Sender

AliExpress orders that do not clear customs successfully may stay with customs indefinitely or may eventually be returned to the sender.

Best Practices for Successful Customs Clearance When Buying from AliExpress

When purchasing items from AliExpress, there are certain practices that you can employ to ensure a smooth customs clearance process and to facilitate a seamless delivery.

  • Ensure That Shipping Details Are Accurate – Ensure you enter the correct address, name, and contact details on the shipment. This will make it easier for customs officials to verify where and to whom the item is consigned, as well as provide a contact if further clarification is required.
  • Understand & Verify Import Restrictions – Avoid importing items that are restricted. You can look up which items are permitted at your country’s customs office or website. You can also check which items require specific licenses or permits. It’s vital that you obtain them accordingly.
  • Respond to Inquiries Timely – Customs or delivery agents may contact you to provide further clarifications pertaining to the ordered items. This typically includes the item type and value. It is vital to respond to customs or delivery agents timely to avoid long holding times during the customs clearing process.
  • Ensure That You Use a Reliable Carrier – Consider getting your item shipped by a reliable carrier. A great carrier will keep a close watch on your item, offer information on its location at all times, and provide clarification if more information is required during the customs clearance process. You can use their tracking system to learn when your item has entered and cleared customs. 
  • Order From a Reputable Seller – The seller is responsible for providing customs with the correct value and item description. For this reason, it is vital to purchase your item from a reputable seller who is honest and understands which information to provide customs.
  • Be Aware of the Import Taxes – You should note any import taxes that may be due on the item. It’s also vital that you pay them accordingly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below, we’ll address some of the most frequently asked questions that were submitted by our readers, with regard to the customs clearance process on AliExpress. If you’d like to have your questions added, please get in touch with us and we’ll add them to this list.

How Long Does Import Customs Clearance Take for AliExpress Orders?

Import custom clearance may take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to complete. This time frame varies based on many factors that we’ve addressed in this guide. For example, if your item is undergoing a full check, it will stay with customs for a longer period.

Similarly, if your item requires permits and licenses or has import duties, customs may take longer to process.

Can I Speed Up the Customs Clearance Process?

You cannot speed up the customs clearance process as customs officers are required to follow a strict process. However, you can minimize delays by ensuring you provide customs with all the correct details and complete any import duty payments.

Does Every Item Go Through Customs?

Every item goes through customs in some form. Items that are deemed to be suspicious are typically tagged and taken for more detailed checks, while non-restricted items or products of lower value are typically cleared on time.

How Do I Know If My Order is Held At Customs?

An import agent will notify you if your goods are held in customs. This agent is typically the delivery agent. You will also see your AliExpress order status message change to “Held At Customs”.

Once you know your item is held at customs, you should contact the delivery agent or customs office and ask what the issue is. If the problem is related to import duties, you can simply pay the amount required. If the customs authorities require more information, you’ll be able to provide it.

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Agnes Aui

Head of Marketing
at freightcourse

About the Author

Agnes is the Head of Marketing at freightcourse and seamlessly blends her strong background in content management with strategic marketing expertise.

She brings a wealth of knowledge to readers, specializing in various e-commerce topics such as order fulfillments, purchasing, payments, and more.