Discusses the prevalence and reliability of express delivery firms within the country, time from large U.S. cities, and relevant customs procedures, including de minimis amounts.
Last Published: 7/27/2017

The reliance on express delivery modes and companies in India as a means of trade has shown steady growth rate in recent years.  Faster delivery times, unpredictability of the Indian postal system and growth in e-commerce have contributed to this trend.  The Government of India regulates, assesses and clears goods imported by courier under the Courier Imports and Exports (Clearance) Regulations, 1998.

At present, the facility of courier clearance is available at Customs airports in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, and Land Customs Stations at Petrapole and Gojadanga. Under the scheme, the courier goods are cleared through a fast track mode. Examination of parcels is kept to the minimum and clearance is allowed on the basis of selective scrutiny of documents. The duty, where possible, is paid by the courier company on behalf of importers/exporters before taking delivery of the parcels. The weight limit for courier/express material (individual packages) imports is fixed at 150 pounds. However, there is no such weight limit for export of goods through courier.

Classification of Goods:
For the purpose of Customs clearance, goods imported via courier have been divided into three categories:

  • Documents - include any message, information or data recorded on paper, cards or photographs having no commercial value, and which do not attract any duty or are subject to any prohibition/restriction on their import or export.
  • Samples and free gifts -  any bona fide commercial samples and prototypes of goods supplied free of charge of a value not exceeding $750 for exports and $75 for imports which are not subject to any prohibition or restriction on their import or export and which does not involve transfer of foreign exchange. Free gifts refers to any bona fide gifts of articles for personal use of a value not exceeding $375 for a consignment in case of exports and $75 for imports which are not subject to any prohibition or restriction on their import or export and which do not involve transfer of foreign exchange.
  • Dutiable or commercial goods
The regulations require the above three categories of goods to be packaged distinctively in identifiable courier company bags with appropriate labels to enable assessment and clearance of goods in the respective category.

Goods in the first two categories do not attract any customs duty.  Therefore, simplified Bills of Entry (Courier Bill of Entry-III for documents and Courier Bill of Entry-IV for samples and free gifts) have been specified for their clearance. One single Courier Bill of Entry (CBE) is sufficient for clearance of any number of such goods imported by any Authorized Courier on a particular flight.
It is necessary that, for the purpose of clearance of documents, the manifest filed by the Authorized Courier specifies the nature of document i.e. whether letters, brochures, catalogues, or manuals. This is necessary to verify that the item of import is duty free and deserves to be cleared under CBE-III of the regulations.

For clearing dutiable or commercial goods, Form CBE-V is required to be filed. This form can contain a number of individual consignments imported by one courier on behalf of more than one consignee. There is no limit as regards the quantity of dutiable or commercial goods which can be imported through the courier. These goods are assessed to duty like any other imported goods, and exemptions available wherever allowed and claimable.

It may be noted that the limit on value prescribed for samples and free gifts is exclusive of the freight and insurance element. In case of goods valued above $75 freight and insurance is added to calculate the duty payable.

The simplified procedure for filing CBE does not apply to all goods. The regulations stipulate that for certain categories of imports, a regular Bill of Entry (B/E) prescribed in the Bill of Entry (Forms) Regulations, 1976 is to be filed. These include, (a) goods imported under duty exemption scheme applicable to Export Oriented Units (EOUs) and units in Export Processing Zone (EPZs); (b) goods imported under Duty Entitlement Pass Book (DEPB), Duty Exemption Entitlement Certificate (DEEC) and Export Promotion Capital Goods (EPCG) Schemes; (c) goods imported against the license issued under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation), Act, 1992 and (d) goods imported by a related person defined under the Customs Valuation Rules, 1988.

Disposal of Uncleared Goods:
The regulations prescribe a procedure for clearance of uncleared goods. In case of imported goods, a notice is required to be issued to the Authorized Courier and goods can be disposed of after the expiry of 30 days of the arrival of the said goods. The charges payable for storage and holding of such goods are to be borne by the Authorized Courier. In the case of export goods, a similar procedure has been prescribed, the only difference being that such goods can be disposed of if they have not been exported within seven days of arrival into the Customs Area or within such extended period as may be permitted by the Customs.

Import through Courier:
Imports by courier are classified based on the respective customs tariff headings.
Import duty and taxes are due when importing goods into India from the United States irrespective of whether it is by a private individual or a commercial entity. The valuation method is Cost, Insurance and Freight (CIF), which means that the import duty and taxes payable are calculated on the complete shipping value, which includes the cost of the imported goods, cost of freight, and cost of insurance. Duties are calculated on the sum of the CIF value and landing charges. Some duties are also based on quantity measurements. In addition to duty, imports are subject to other taxes and charges such as landing charges, countervailing duty and taxes.

If the CIF value of the consignment imported does not exceed $150, the relative B/E is required to be filed by the registered courier service.  If the CIF value is $150 or more, importers are to file separate B/E as in the case of other imports.
In case of remittances for imports through courier services, authorized dealers should ensure submission of Exchange Control Copy of B/E for home consumption in the case of imports valued at $150 or more.

Duty rates in India when importing from the United States can be ad valorem (as percentage of value) or specific (rupees per unit). Duty rates vary from 0% to 150% with an average duty rate of 11.9%. Some goods are not subject to duty.
More information on import declaration procedures and import restrictions can be found at the Indian Customs website.
Know Your Customers (KYC) norms for identification of clients by Customs House Agents (CHAs):

In the wake of increasing number of irregularities involving export promotion schemes, fraudulent availment of export incentives and duty evasion by bogus Import Export Code (IEC) holders, the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) has introduced the Know Your Customer (KYC) guidelines for CHAs to curb this problem.  Accordingly, Regulation 13 of the Customs House Agents Licensing Regulations, 2004, stipulates that CHAs are to verify the antecedent, correctness of the IEC, identity and functioning of his client at the declared address by using reliable, independent, authentic documents, data or information.  It is obligatory for the client/customer to furnish to the CHA, a photograph of himself/herself in the case of an individual and those of the authorized signatory in respect of other forms of organizations such as company/trusts and others, and any two of the listed documents in the table below.

A detailed guideline on the list of documents to be verified and obtained from the client/ customer has been specified in the in the annexure to the regulation.

Features to be verified and documents to be obtained from clients/customers
S. NoForm of organizationFeatures to be verifiedDocuments to be obtained
1Individual(i) Legal name and any other names used
(ii) Present and Permanent address, in full, complete and correct.
(i) Passport
(ii) PAN card
(iii) Voters Identity card
(iv) Driving license
(v) Bank account statement
(vi) Ration card
Note: Any two of the documents listed above, which provides client/ customer information to the satisfaction of the CHA will suffice.
2Company(i) Name of the company
(ii) principal place of business
(iii) mailing address of the company
(iv) telephone, fax number, e-mail address.
(i) Certificate of incorporation
(ii) Memorandum of Association
(iii) Articles of Association
(iv) Power of Attorney granted to its managers, officers or employees to transact business on its behalf
(v) Copy of PAN allotment letter
(vi) Copy of telephone bill
3Partnership firm(i) Legal name
(ii) Permanent address, in full, complete and correct.
(iii) Name of all partners and their addresses, in full complete and correct.
(iv) Telephone, fax number, e-mail address of the firm and partners.
(i) Registration certificate, if registered 
(ii) Partnership deed
(iii) Power of Attorney granted to a partner or an employee of the firm to transact business on its behalf
(iv) Any officially valid document identifying the partners and the person holding the Power of Attorney and their addresses
(v) Telephone bill in the name of firm/ partners
4Trusts, Foundations(i) Name of trustees, settlers, beneficiaries and signatories 
(ii) Name and address of the founder, the managers, directors and the beneficiaries, in full, complete and correct.
(iii) Telephone and fax number, e-mail address of the trust, founder and trustees.
(i) Certificate of Registration, if registered 
(ii) Power of Attorney granted to transact business on its behalf
(iii) Any officially valid document to identify the trustees, settlers, beneficiaries and those holding the Power of Attorney, founders/ managers/ directors and their addresses
(iv) Resolution of the managing body of the foundation/ association
(v) Telephone bill

The leading companies involved in courier /express delivery mode shipment are:
Jet Worldwide

Each company has their own time frame for clearing the courier mode shipment. Overall the average time of clearance of each shipment will be a maximum of 4 – 5 business days.

Web Resources:
Central Board of Excise and Customs
Express Industry Council of India
Customs Manual

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