Import FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to import FAQ

We have grouped the common and import FAQ regarding freight into various sections. It is good to know the answers to these as an importer, whether you are first time importer or not.

If you need more information or assistance, feel free to ask for help directly by calling us on 1300651233 or sending us a message.

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Common freight terms and FAQ

One of the most important import FAQ is what happens if things are held up or changed.

What if my shipment gets delayed or re-shipped at a later date?

It is rare that this would happen. However, there is no need to worry if your shipment is delayed or needs re-shipping. We will contact you as soon as we are made aware via phone and/or email and work out all the adjustments that need to made to keep your import on track as best as possible. We are here to help you.

Listed here are the common terms used in industry. Be familiar with these and you’ll have an easier time when freighting.

What is a freight forwarder?

A freight forwarder arranges physical cargo movement for both imports and exports to / from the place of manufacture to the designated delivery address. We liaise with the airline, courier and shipping line services that are available to us to ensure that your freight is moving the most cost effective way according to your time delivery needs.

What is a customs broker?

A customs broker is licensed by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) to customs clear import and export cargo. A customs broker performs customs clearances electronically in most instances and a response is received from Customs to determine if the goods can be collected from the wharf or airline and delivered to the customer.

What is an air freight service?

Air freight service is the transfer and shipment of goods via an air carrier, which may be charter or commercial. Such shipments travel out of commercial and passenger aviation gateways to anywhere planes can fly and land.

What is an sea freight service?

Sea freight is the transportation of goods via ships, mostly via ocean going cargo carriers.

What is a courier service?

A courier service delivers messages, packages and mail. As a premium service, couriers are usually more expensive than standard mail services, and their use is typically restricted to packages that are considered important enough to warrant the cost.

What are personal effects?

Personal effects are household and personal items that you personally have owned while you resided overseas. You must be a citizen, temporary or permanent resident returning to take up residency in Australia, or an approved migrant coming to Australia to live. You must have personally owned and used the items overseas for a period of at least twelve months prior to entry into Australia.

What are Incoterms?

Incoterms are international rules that are accepted by governments, legal authorities and practitioners worldwide for the interpretation of the most commonly used terms in international trade.

They either reduce or remove altogether uncertainties arising from differing interpretations of such terms in different countries.

What is marine cargo insurance?

Marine cargo insurance is required to cover you for loss and/or damage of goods while in transit. It is important to ensure your cargo is protected by insurance just in case. Marine cargo insurance covers the transportation of goods from one place to another. The mode of conveyance can be by sea, air, rail, road, parcel post or courier sending.

What are free trade agreements?

Australia has six Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with other countries in force and another eight under negotiation. The FTAs contain legally binding commitments by each member to liberalise access to their markets for goods and services as well as investment.

Page contents

Container terms and FAQs

What are the sizes of air freight containers?

Air freight containers come in a range of sizes. For detailed information air freight container sizes.

What are the dimensions of shipping containers?

Shipping containers come in a range of sizes. For detailed information on shipping container dimensions.

What is an LCL shipment?

LCL means “Less than Container Load”. This shipping term is commonly used to describe an international ocean freight service that designed for shipping boxed, crated or palletised cargo from or to Australia that cannot fill an entire 20 or 40 foot sea freight container.

What is LCL cargo availability?

LCL means “Less than Container Load” and refers to cargo availability when cargo has arrived at the final destination and has been unpacked from the container and made available for collection/delivery.

What is an LCL tail lift delivery?

An LCL “Less than Container Load” tail lift is a mechanical device permanently fitted to the back of van or truck which is designed to assist in the unloading of goods from ground level or a loading dock to the level of the load bed of the vehicle, or vice versa. The use of a tail lift can obviate the need to use machinery such as a forklift.

What is an FCL shipment?

FCL is the abbreviation for “Full Container Load”. This term is commonly used to describe an international sea freight service that is designed for ocean freight shipments of cargo where shipper has exclusive use of sea freight multimodal container. As a rule, ocean freight containers are loaded and sealed by the shipper at the shipper’s facility. Then it’s transported by ocean, rail and/or truck directly to the point of final destination.

This term is commonly used to describe an international sea freight service that is designed for ocean freight shipments. Cargo owners have exclusive use of seafreight multimodal container.

These ocean freight containers are loaded and sealed by the shipper at the shipper’s facility. Then it’s transported by ocean, rail and/or truck directly to the point of final destination.

What is FCL cargo availability?

FCL means “Full Container Load” and refers to cargo availability when cargo has arrived at the final destination and is available for collection from the terminal.

What is container detention?

Container detention is used to prevent the late return of containers. These are charges applied by the shipping lines if the containers are not returned to the designated location within the ‘free time’ period (seven to ten calendar days, including weekends and holidays).

What is a side loader container delivery?

A truck will deliver your 20 or 40 foot container or cargo directly to your site, without the need of a dock or crane. It is an especially helpful mode of delivery when there is limited space either in front of or behind where the container is to be placed. Most side loader trucks can handle both 20 foot and 40 foot containers.

What is a standard container delivery?

Where a truck will deliver your 20 or 40 foot container or cargo directly to your site and will leave the container on a trailer on your dock so it can be unloaded.

A guide to Incoterms

Do forget about marine insurance - it's important to be covered for loss or damage during freight

Customs and import FAQ

Basic shipping terms

How to guides

What are prohibited and restricted goods?

Certain goods brought into Australia require an import permit or approval. Customs and Border Protection may seize or detain such goods pending presentation of the permit. Alternatively, the goods may be a prohibited import and not allowed into the country under any circumstance.

Items that may be detained or seized by Customs and Border Protection include, but are not limited to:

  • Performance and image enhancing drugs containing restricted substances
  • Laser pointers
  • Medications, including herbal preparations
  • Videos, DVDs, CDs and books/publications with objectionable or offensive content
  • Protrusion dog collars
  • Tablet presses
  • Animal products made from protected species or with cat or dog fur.

Thus it is best to determine first whether you need import permit for your goods before importing.

Find out what are prohibited and restricted goods?

Import faq - need help importing

Import FAQ for tariffs, duties and GST

What are tariffs and duties?

A Tariff directly relates to the levied rate on which imported products are classified under. These codes let customs know what tariff rate should be charged to specific products. A Duty is the actual amount of money paid on the imported product. Although, the actual tax reference is the same thing, the import duty paid depends on the quantity imported. For example, if I imported $200,000 worth of the carpets and the tariff was 4.5% them duties would then be $9,000.

Australia has commitments under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on tariffs and tariff quotas, export subsidies and domestic support for agricultural products. All goods imported in Australia require classification via declarations. Declaration procedures are based on self-assessment by importers. Declarations must be made to the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, which also enforces import restrictions.

What are import regulations?

Businesses considering importing should be aware of government regulations, duty taxes, permits, quarantine and treatments that apply to imported goods. Imports that do not meet these requirements can be seized by the Australian Customs.

What are Commerce (Trade Descriptions)?

The Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act 1905 states that some goods can’t be imported unless they are correctly labelled with the required trade description. To find out whether the goods you’re importing need a trade description and the guidelines around them, see Customs information on commerce markings.

Do I need to provide my ABN if the goods are for my personal use?

No. You only need to provide your ABN if the goods are for use by your business and you wish to claim input tax credits on your BAS for the GST you pay upon importation.

How is the Customs Value (CV) calculated?

The Customs value of goods imported into Australia is based on the value of the goods as determined by the importers commercial invoice. The Customs value is combined with other items (customs duty, international transport and insurance costs and, where applicable, Wine Equalisation Tax) to produce the value of the taxable importation (VoTI). It is equivalent to the Australian currency purchase price of the goods.

My goods were a gift, why should I pay anything?

The law requires that all goods, even gifts, are subject to GST. Whether GST is payable depends on the value of the imported goods. For how to calculate GST on your imports.

What customs duties payable on imported cargo?

Several factors depend on what duty may be payable on imported goods. For a guide, read up on how to estimate duty. You can also refer to our duty guide which covers common products and countries of origins.

Is GST payable on imports?

Whether a Goods and Services Tax (GST) is payable depends on the value of the imported goods. For how to calculate GST on your imports.

What foreign currency exchange rate is used to calculate the Duty/GST?

We apply one of two possible exchange rates depending on whether the goods have already been paid for or not.

If at the time of importation the importer has not already transferred payment to the overseas supplier for the goods then we use the customs exchange rate, which is the average of the four major banks at the date of exportation of the goods from the origin.

If the goods have already been paid for and you provide the payment remittance (e.g. T/T, Paypal Receipt, Credit Card Statement etc.) then we use the exchange rate that you paid for the goods on hence the Duty/GST is calculated based on the actual AUD amount you paid.

What is the GST deferral scheme?

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) operates a scheme that provides for the deferral of GST on imported goods. Customs duty is still payable before the goods are released from Customs control.

Deferral of GST on imported goods extends to all goods that enter into the commerce of Australia, either at the time of importation or from a Licensed Warehouse.

Importers are qualified to apply to the ATO for admission to the scheme if they satisfy certain eligibility criteria including:

  • Having an Australian Business Number
  • Being registered for GST
  • Lodging their Business Activity Statement (BAS) monthly, via the internet-based e-commerce system operated by the ATO
  • Paying their Business Activity Statement (BAS) liabilities electronically
  • Dealing with the ACBPS electronically
  • Not having any debt to or returns outstanding with the ATO

Will my goods be stopped by Customs?

Customs will stop your goods if they meet ANY of the below criteria:

  • Have a value over AUD $1,000 
  • Contain Alcohol or Tobacco of ANY quantity or value
  • Contain goods of Customs Interest
  • Contain any Customs Prohibited Import

Do Quarantine rules apply to my cargo?

Strict quarantine rules and regulations are implemented in Australia.


  • Check if you’ll need import permit for your cargo to meet the import requirements
  • Prepare a packing declaration containing your cargo’s information (cleanliness and packing materials used) for customs to prevent unnecessary delays and cost
  • Make sure that your container is free of contaminants like grain and soil. You’ll be required to provide cleanliness declaration regarding this
  • All timbers should be treated using the Customs approved method
  • Examine other packing materials such as wool, shredded paper, plastics and foam
  • Be aware that imports from countries which have a high risk of diseases are inspected thoroughly


  • Do not use straw packing. It’s not allowed by Customs for it can carry insects and diseases
  • Goods should not be packed in egg, meat or fruit cartons for these may inhibit diseases. These will be destroyed by the Customs
  • Do not use timber with bark attached. Bark is prohibited

What is ISPM15?

International Standards For Phytosanitary Measures No. 15 (ISPM 15) is an International Phytosanitary Measure developed by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) that directly addresses the need to treat wood materials of a thickness greater than 6mm, used to ship products between countries. Its main purpose is to prevent the international transport and spread of disease and insects that could negatively affect plants or ecosystems.

ISPM 15 affects all wood packaging material (pallets, crates, dunnages, etc.) requiring that they be debarked and then heat treated or fumigated and stamped or branded, with a mark of compliance.

Learn about Incoterms

Import FAQ - need help?

Import documentation FAQ

Knowing the required import documents for your cargo will give you a smooth and worry-free import process. Here are the import FAQ regarding import documentation.

What documents are required for customs clearance?

Customs generally require bill of lading, packing list and declaration, insurance certificate, and commercial invoice. Customs will require more documents depending on your cargo’s type and country of origin.

What is a bill of lading?

A bill of lading (sometimes abbreviated as B/L or BOL) is a key document used in the transport of goods. Its main purpose is to provide a record of shipment for goods. It is also a receipt for cargo accepted for transportation and must be presented to take delivery at the final destination.

What is a telex release?

A process by which a shipper/Supplier may electronically authorise release of goods to a consignee without presentation of the bill of lading.

Import FAQ - what is a bill of lading

What is a certificate of origin?

The certificate of origin (CO) is a document to certify the place of growth, production or manufacture of goods. It is required when exporting to specific countries, when requested by the consignee for customs clearance, or when it’s stipulated in a letter of credit.

The CO identifies goods and contains an express certification by a government authority, or other empowered body, that the goods in question originate in a specific country.

Although obtaining a CO is straightforward, it’s important that specific procedures are followed:

  • You must include an exporters information form update.
  • Evidence of origin (ie. copies of the invoice, a bill of lading, a letter of credit, or a statutory declaration) must be supplied prior to stamping.
  • Exporters must provide a copy of the documents being stamped for Chamber records.
  • Importantly, certificate of Australian origin forms can’t be used for any other origin, other than Australian.

What is a Certificate of Origin?

What is a packing declaration?

A packing declaration states to the Australian Customs what the type of packing material that is used in your goods. It is only required for sea freight shipments

What is a letter of credit?

A letter of credit is a letter issued by a bank to another bank (typically in a different country) to serve as a guarantee for payment to be made to the seller of goods.

What is a sea waybill?

Shipping companies issue sea waybills as proof that they actually received the goods from the shipper and agreed to carry it to a stated destination. In a sense, the sea waybill is similar toe bill of lading, which is the main shipping document.

What is a commercial invoice?

Document required by customs to determine true value of the imported goods, for assessment of duties and taxes.

What is an ATA Carnet?

Find out about ATA Carnet.

Import FAQ - Making a packing list is important

Protein powders and health supplements import FAQ

Can I bring protein powders to Australia?

An import FAQ that comes up from time to time is in regards to protein powders. An import permit is not required for commercially prepared and packaged protein powders in quantities of no more than 10 kilograms or 10 litres. Just make sure that they are intended for human consumption only and manufactured in one of the countries recognised by the the Department of Agriculture as Foot-and-Mouth disease free (FMD).

See the list of FMD free countries here.

Commercially prepared and packed protein powders for personal use only are permitted to contain enzymes and/or egg proteins without requiring a permit.

Note: For products which contain ingredients sourced and or manufactured in a country NOT listed in the FMD approved country list, please refer to the ICON case for Dairy Products (excluding cheese) from Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) – Unapproved Country List for Dairy Products.

Can I bring health supplements into Australia?

Another product related import FAQ is in regards to health supplements. For plant based health supplements, an import permit is not required, provided that:

  • It Is a human therapeutic dietary supplement or natural medicine containing ingredients of plant origin only (this may be supported by product labelling, an accompanying brochure or internet printout, or a letter from a doctor)
  • Is imported into Australia (whether personally or by post) by a person who intends to use it for their own personal use
  • In a quantity of no more than three months supply as per the label dosage advice, or, as per letter in English from a medical practitioner, naturopath or alternative health provider, or, as per statutory declaration by the importer stating that the product is for personal use only and is less than 3 months supply
  • Is commercially prepared and packaged. The product must be in one of the following forms: capsules, tablets, vials for injection, liquid, powder, ointment.


Personal consignments of all dried plant parts (including seeds, fruits, herbs, bark and roots) and plant part mixes for human consumption or human therapeutic end use weighing no greater than 1 kg per product type are permitted if they meet the following import conditions:

  • Products weighing more than 1 kg must comply with commercial conditions
  • All material in the consignment must be thoroughly dried and not capable of propagation
  • Each consignment will be subject to an inspection to verify that it is free of prohibited seeds, live insects, soil and other quarantine risk material

If the consignment is not botanically labelled, the dried herbs are not listed on ICON, or the officers cannot identify the plant matter and the consignment does not contain seeds, then the consignment is to be directed for treatment using:

  • Heat treatment (T9569)
  • Gamma irradiation (T9651)
  • Re-exported
  • Destroyed at the importer’s expense

If seeds are found on inspection the consignment is to be directed for treatment using:

  • Gamma irradiation (T9651)
  • Re-exported
  • Destroyed at the importer’s expense

After inspection and treatment, all consignments that meet the above import conditions will be released from quarantine. For more information on buying medicines online or from overseas please refer to Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Need to what's involved when importing protein powders?

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