Day In Life of a Custom Broker in Malaysia

Do you ever wonder what it is like to be custom broker? What are the required skills and knowledge in surviving in this environment?

While we are neither saving lives like a fire fighter, nor finalizing the details of a multi-million dollar deal, we race against the clock making sure the latest shipment of potatoes are cleared by customs, governing agencies and delivered on time to destination.

The reefer container carrying the potatoes is not connected to a generator therefore only have a limited residual cool temperature to sustain the 5-hour drive from port. We do this on a daily basis.

Early Morning

Coming into office at 8:30am, making sure we have enough time to brew a cup of fresh coffee before sitting on the desk piled with pending files.

We fire up our email, 425 emails unread, nothing out of the ordinary.

Documents, documents, documents

It’s a big matching game, we make sure Commercial Invoices match the Packing List items, which matches the Certificate of Origin’s product description, which Tariff Codes match the ones we are declaring to customs officers, which shipment details tally with the Bill of Lading…

The name of the game is to make sure all documents are genuine, logical and makes sense to the Customs Officer.

This is no simple feat as common sense is often not too common.

We see many ambiguities where some items are missing either from the invoice or the packing list, the license or permit provided does not apply to the cargo in question, one small detail in documents that is incongruent, especially in the Letter of Credit will stall the whole shipment.

Finally this incurs unwanted detention and demurrage cost, which our clients would not be all too happy to pay.

Clearing your documents with Customs Officer

Malaysia has differing methods of declaring import or export shipments, where Customs officers and other governing agencies such as the Department of Environment, Quarantine Department and Ministry of Health, Malaysia Timber Board etc.

In dealing with customs, Malaysia utilizes an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) systems, to declare shipments document. Then we proceed to pay the applicable duty and government tax mainly via Electronic Fund Transfer.

Confusing Product makes declaring difficult

Taking the shipment from the top pile of the file, we start to look through the invoice item. It says engine oil additive. We start to sweat on what’s the suitable Tariff Code to declare to customs. We applied the Customs guideline outlined here to arrive to the conclusion that Tariff Code Heading 3811 is most suitable. 1 down, 46 more items to go.

Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

Off to the next shipment declaration, this particular import project is a shipment of wine crates. We communicated with warehouse operators to arrange labours to label individual bottles with the duty paid stickers, mandated by Malaysian Customs.

Of course previously we had declared the shipment as a transshipment to transfer the crates to a “Critical Warehouse” where customs can scrutinize the process.

In tandem, we make sure that the import license that the consignee carries is accurate and relevant. This is done by running through a checklist of required conditions

  1. Liquor License Fee is paid
  2. Liquour License is within the allowable calendar period
  3. Relevant documents, company details are furnished to the customs or readily made available to customs

Communicating with Shipping Agents

We communicate frequently with Shipping Agents and Non Vehicle Operated Common Carriers (NVOCC). Another part and parcel of our job is to liaise with them, prepare documents that they require to validate the fact clients authorizes us as a custom brokers to act on their behalf.

We examine closely that the bill of lading, prepare container deposits, prepare letter of undertaking and/or prepare letter of indemnity depending on the requirement of shipping agents.

Late Evening

5.30pm, all the shipping agents are closed for the day.

We compile our shipment files in preparation for tomorrow’s work, confirm with truckers and hauliers that they have received our transport request for the day, and fill in our own shipment tracking report.

Computer shutdown at 6.30pm. Let us hope and pray there are no hiccups with the shipments we arranged for the day.


Hello! I'm Kelvin, I work as a custom broker and I'm thrilled with having the experience to share my industry knowledge with you. I hope that you enjoy reading them as much as I do posting them.

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