Update: How to Avoid Unnecessary Brokerage Fees

I’ve written previously on the Step-by-Step process for saving yourself money on brokerage fees, which can amount from a few dollars to (much more common) paying the entire value of your package over again. (For the Step-by-Step on HOW, Click HERE to read my previous blog.)

What Exactly IS Brokerage?

To quickly re-iterate, brokerage fees are fees charged by your shipper (UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc) to clear your package through customs. The problem is in many cases, your brokerage charges are much, MUCH more than the actual duties and taxes.

Very often, the fees are not broken down when you pay at the door, so many people actually think they’re paying taxes to the government and there’s nothing they can do about it.  Next time you get a package, and before you agree to sign and pay for it, ask for the detailed receipt of the fees, or call your shipper and ask for a breakdown while the package is in transit. Alternately, check over your old receipts.  You’ll see you could have saved a lot of money.

How Do I Avoid Paying Brokerage Fees?

To avoid these fees, recipients are able, by LAW,  to “Self-Clear” or “Self-Import”, thus saving potentially a LOT of money. The trade off;  your time. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it. But in most cases, I’m able to self clear a package in about an hour; including travel time to our airport area in Calgary.

I’ve gotten quite good at the self-clearing process now , having done it a few times. As a result, I’m hearing a lot of new excuses and deflections, that the shippers are hoping will have me throwing up my hands, throwing in the towel, and just agreeing to their exorbitant fees.

Here are the most common excuses, and how to successfully deflect them.

1. “Oh, you can’t self-clear now, because we’ve already cleared it for you.”

Untrue. The shipper is attempting to coerce you into paying a fee for a service you did not ask for, likely don’t want, and can easily do yourself. You were likely never offered or even told about any possible alternatives. I think this is wrong. It’s negative-option billing.  I’d probably have a lot less of a problem with brokerage fees if I got a phone call or an itemized list of the fees, taxes, duties and brokerage and could make an informed decision about whether it’s worth it for me to pay it before it’s at my door. In most cases, it’s NOT.

Here’s a list of recent (non-commercial) packages I received, what UPS in my particular cases was going to charge me, and what I ended up paying on my own: (keep in mind different goods, from different countries are all brokered and dutied at different rates; these are my personal experiences)

Women’s clothing/accessories: Approx total value: #$200 UPS Brokerage + Fees: $22.37 Customs & Taxes using Self-Clearance: $7

Women’s jewelry: value $30 UPS Charges: $22.37 Customs & taxes using Self-Clearance: $4.50

Vitamins: value $200 Brokerage from UPS: $80. Duties & Tax using Self-Clearance: $1.15

Coffee: Value $45 UPS Charges: $41.68 Duties and taxes owing using Self-Clearance: $0 (outrageous!!)

Check your invoice before you agree to pay at the door. Your shipper may be charging more than the Government.
Check your invoice before you agree to pay at the door. Your shipper may be charging more than the Government.

So no matter what they try to tell you, stand firm and demand to speak to a supervisor if you need to. They MUST give you the option of self-clearing if you ask for it. It’s your right. I spoke to a CBSA official who told me, “Shippers have no right to hold your package ransom,” adding, ” it seems some shippers’ brokerage and self-clearing policies are meant to confuse people and get them to give in.”

Even UPS admits it must allow you self-clearance.  Their Media Relations department tells me, “It is a CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) policy which allows casual importers to clear their own goods. It is not a policy that can be changed by UPS.Regulations for importing and exporting are controlled by various government departments.”

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) policy allows casual importers to account for their own goods directly with the CBSA.  In order for the customer to self-clear outside the port of arrival, certain conditions must be met:

-The customer must be a casual importer (non-commercial).

-The shipment must be low value ($2500 CAD or less) and not manifested.

-The customer must be willing to go to a nearby Customs office where Courier Low Value Shipments Program clearance is performed.”

If you need to, invoke this paragraph above on the phone.

2. “We can’t e-mail you the paperwork. You have to come pick it up.”

Yes, they can. They may not WANT to make it easy on you, and would probably rather you felt the cold sting of having to make that extra stop at their office in person to pick up a copy of your paperwork, but they can certainly e-mail it to you and WILL if you insist strongly enough. (And by law they have to give you access to it). The shipper (again, I most frequently deal with UPS) has an electronic copy of your waybill/packing slip/invoice in their system. It’s about a 1 minute task to email it to you. Insist. Again, ask for a supervisor if you must. I have yet to be denied this request by a supervisor, even if a call-taker did. As an aside, they seem much more happy to FAX you the papers. If you still have this relic, go for it.

3. This is a “Dutiable/manifested/cargo controlled shipment and is not eligible for self clearing. You need to wait for the port of entry to contact you before you can self-clear”.

Ummm, no. Likely more double-speak designed to discourage you from self clearing, or perhaps a confused employee. If your shipment is a personal (ie non-commercial) package, you can always self clear it. Insist on receiving a copy of the invoice/packing slip/bill of lading by email, no matter what they try to tell you about the shipment, its status, or what you can and can’t do with it. UPS recently tried to convince me they had some new-fangled system in place and I needed to wait for a representative of the Government of Canada to contact me, and send me the paperwork (also called a Port Form or a “B-15”) before I could self clear. I believed that to be false, so I called up Canada Border Services. They told me that was, in a word; bunk. Non-commercial shipments can self clear at any time. The government is not involved. Your shipper has to provide you with a copy of the paperwork. You do NOT need to wait for the government to do anything. Can you imagine if the government had to approve every parcel coming into the country, do the paperwork for you, and call YOU at home to say it’s ready. HA! No. Again, escalate to a supervisor if necessary, and if they still won’t help you, ask for the paperwork, ask for the package to be held for pickup, and take care of business on your own.

The needed B-15 form. You get a copy of this when you've paid your duties & taxes. It's your packages 'get out of jail free' card.
The needed B-15 form. You get a copy of this when you’ve paid your duties & taxes. It’s your packages ‘get out of jail free’ card.

I recently faced this excuse, and went straight to UPS’ Media Relations Department for the answer.  Here it is verbatim: “An individual can slef-clear any of their personal shipments and UPS has a process which allows for this.”

4. Well, it’s already on the truck for delivery.. soo its too late…”

In a word, it’s NOT. Shippers can and will change the package’s status in the computer, and have it returned to the warehouse to await your pickup after self-clearing. If the driver doesn’t get the message in time, and they DO try to deliver it again, you can refuse it at the door, and say you’ll be self clearing it. It’s never too late.

In a pinch, you can stick the delivery sticker/notice on the door and write “Hold for Self Clearing” on it for the driver to see, as I’ve become aware many drivers will just repeatedly try to re-deliver the same package without checking for an updated status.

UPS tells me, “It is considered too late to self-clear a package when you have already agreed to have the courier clear the package for you.” So if you have not actually agreed to this process in writing, you’re good to go.

5. Any other excuse that results in them basically saying NO to self-clearing, or making it hard for you to self-clear

Shippers charge a LOT of money for brokerage. In the last week alone, I’ve avoided $140 on 4 packages. That’s a lot of money out of the shipping company’s pocket. Imagine if everyone did that? They’d be hooped. So, in my experience, they try to make it hard,  unreasonable or just downright troublesome to get the package self cleared. Case in point; on another recent occasion I had two nice customer service reps from the shipping company promise to e-mail me my paperwork. Both times it never came. After a lot of phone time and a supervisor, I got it by both e-mail and fax.


Need more help? The Government of Canada WILL HELP you deflect brokerage fees:

If the feds aren’t charging you money, why should the shippers? The Government of Canada has been very helpful to me in providing information about importing and self-clearing packages. Check out their website.

You can also call and speak to a real live person: 1-800-461-9999 (make a selection from the 4-option voice prompt, then you can hit ‘0’ for a real person)

To self-clear your packages in Alberta; there are (sadly for rural Albertans) only 3 offices where you can complete your paperwork: Calgary, Edmonton, and Coutts Border Crossing. For other offices across Canada here’s the list.

Worth noting; as of April 2013 the Calgary office has re-located to (a new street not yet on some mapping services!) It’s at Unit 162, 175 Aero Way NE, Calgary, Alberta T2E 6K2. Complete details on the new location HERE


So why do I go to what seems like a lot of trouble to self-clear my packages?

  1. The Money. There’s a LOT of money to be saved. I’d rather have it in MY pocket.

  2. The Principle. I hate that shipping companies can charge you such fees, and basically hide them as duties and taxes. Most people never look at the invoices when the pay the COD fees at the door; in fact they’re usually wrapped up in plastic sleeves tapes to the box. To me this is a clever way to gouge customers. I also resent the fact they don’t offer you a choice in advance to do this yourself.

  3. It’s not really that much trouble any more. I’ve gotten good at it; and the above deflections I get from shippers really make it kind of like a game now. I want to win at this game; and I do. And now I get to share the tools with others, in hopes you can all save some money too.


Coffee Lust: Debating between the Rancillio Silvia and Jura Empressa E80

The debate raged a year ago; which espresso machine to choose?  And my narrowed-down choices couldn’t be more different; the Rancilio Silvia is a fully manual machine that relies heavily on the skill of the operator to make a great cup.  The Jura Impressa E80 is fully automatic, and there’s little you need to or can do to alter your espresso in this machine.

Both get very positive reviews online in their respective classes.  My decision was basically a simple one; did I want to work for my espresso each morning, or did I want is handed to me on a silver… shot glass?

Rancilio Silvia espresso machine_1

The Rancilio costs about $700 new.  It also, however, requires an expensive burr grinder to be able to finesse just the right coffee coarseness.  I went with the very well-rated Baratza Vario, which itself retails for about $400.   By comparison the Jura retails for about $1700 new (and up from there, and requires no special grinder, as it’s built right in.


In the end I went manual.  Mainly because I want to learn how to make a great cup of coffee, and all the intricacies and factors that go into making it properly.  I’m no coffee expert; save for knowing what I like and what I don’t, and occasionally being known to import coffee from my favourite California coffee house, Urth Caffe.  Even being a novice, the Rancilio has been fantastic.  While it’s a wee bit on the noisy side when pulling a shot, they’re always piping hot, and with the right bean and the right grind, the shots are always delicious with just the right amount of creamy crema. The water tank hold plenty for my needs, and the machine is easy to clean. The only downside if it can be considered one is that the machine is fincky.  Many online reviews told me this and they’re correct.  Heat, humidity, beans (roast, grind), tamping pressure and even time of year make figuring out what grind setting to use to get the beans just right a challenge.  Once you’ve got it, you’re usually good; unless the weather changes drastically, then it’s back to the grinding board.

Now I didn’t mind this process so much because as I say I want to learn.  But I have gone through a good amount of (fine, pricey) beans to get things just right.

jura images

So when I was able to pick up a used Jura Impresa E80 for a song, I snapped it up, figuring now would be the time to see if I was missing anything.  If I elected not to keep it, I could always put it back on the block.

The Jura, as I say takes the human factor out of the espresso.  While some things (grind, shot size, auto-off) are all somewhat adjustable, the Jura leaves little for the operator to do.  At the push of a single button I get a fresh espresso, with beautiful crema.

The machine heats up quickly; within a minute it’s ready to go. With the hopper loaded with beans, there’s nothing to do but press a button for your mild/regular/strong espresso.  The shots are pulled in seconds.  This machine will be a major advantage when we’re having dinner parties.  My biggest complaint about the Jura is I feel the water is not as hot as the Rancilio.  With the Rancilio I’d need to leave the shot for a moment to cool before I could take that first sip.  With the Jura, it’s at a drinkable temperature right away.  This is where i find pre-heating the cups is very important or it cools off much too quickly.

On a bleary-eyed morning, there is some definite advantage to poking a button and ending up caffeinated quickly.  But I do miss the process and the love-labour of the Rancillio.  As a result, both are currently snuggling on my kitchen counter, much to my husband’s dismay.  I’m still deciding who stays and who goes.

if you have any insight.. please post below.  I could use some help!