Import FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to import FAQ

We have grouped in various sections the most common import FAQ regarding freight. As an importer – whether a first-timer or not – it is good to know the answers to these questions.

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

Import FAQ - Need help? Talk to us!

Common freight terms and import FAQ

What if my shipment gets delayed or reshipped at a later date?

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

It is rare for this to happen; however, there is no need to worry if your shipment is delayed or needs reshipping. We will contact you as soon as we are made aware via phone and/or email and will work out all the adjustments that need to be made to keep your import on track as much as possible. We are here to help you.

What is a freight forwarder?

A freight forwarder offers a service where they coordinate the transportation of goods between two locations. They manage the communication between parties such as the owner of the goods and any couriers, shipping or airline freight providers.

At FFQO, we have an extensive network of freight partners and an experienced team which is why we are able to advise the most cost-effective way to move your goods and meet the timeline you require.

What is a customs broker?

A customs broker must be licensed to represent their customers when dealing with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS). They assist in providing paperwork, paying duties and taxes on the imported goods and communicating on your behalf.

Once the customs requirements are completed a notification is received from Customs to determine advising whether the delivered goods are now permitted to be retrieved and sent on to the customer.

What is an air freight service?

Air freight service is the transfer and shipment of goods via plane, either in the belly of a passenger flight or a carrier that is dedicated to transporting goods. These services travel out of the domestic, international and commercial-only airports.

What is a sea freight service?

Sea freight is the transportation of goods via ships – mostly, 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 and their use is typically restricted to packages considered important enough to warrant the cost.

What are personal effects?

Personal effects are household and personal items that you personally owned while residing overseas.

You are permitted to classify your goods as personal effects if you are a migrant with permission to enter Australia.

Also qualifying to import personal effects are those who have returned to Australia or intend returning to Australia and are one of the following:

  • an Australian citizen
  • a temporary resident of Australia
  • a permanent resident of Australia

Please note that you must also have owned these goods for a minimum of 1 year prior to importing. For more information on this visit our personal effects page.

What are Incoterms?

Incoterms are a list of terms along with guidance on how this is applied to contracts of sale. They are adopted worldwide by governments, legal authorities and practitioners for use when conducting trade.

So if you hear someone refer to DPU or DAP know that the first place to check is the Incoterms rules for information on what this means and who is responsible for this part of the trade process.

Learning these terms initially may seem daunting, but if you intend to import (or export) on a regular basis it can be really helpful. It allows people from different countries to communicate in a common language.

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. While the name refers to “Marine” this insurance is used for all types of transport whether that is by sea or other means such as rail, postage or air freight.

What are free trade agreements?

Australia has eleven Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) actively in place with other countries but also has several that are finalised or in discussion and not yet implemented.

Why is this important? FTAs allow for goods to be sold or traded with less additional charges or taxes applied, removing some of the cost and hassle associated with trading between these partners. This is intended to strengthen trade and provide opportunities for Australia to increase its export market.

Page contents

What is our number one import FAQ?

We get asked ‘Do I really need insurance?’.

Insurance is highly recommended for valuable or irreplaceable items in case of damage throughout the many shipping and handling points in the supply chain.

Still not sure?

That is OK, our team can discuss your personal situation and help advise the pros and cons.

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

Import FAQ for containers and freight terms

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”. For example if one importer has goods that will only partially fill a 20 or 40 foot sea freight container, the goods can be packed into the container along with other shipments. When using this option goods may be supplied in boxes, crates or on pallets based on the shipment size.

What is LCL cargo availability?

LCL means “Less than Container Load” and refers to cargo availability when cargo has arrived at the final destination, 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 delivery is very helpful when you have shipped a considerable amount of goods (more than what would fit in a small van) but still less than a full shipping container.

The advantage is that goods are dropped off in a truck that is fitted with a lift device at the rear so the delivery can be lowered to ground level by pushing a button and then removed using a trolley without risky manual handling at heights or the need for a forklift.

What is an FCL shipment?

FCL is the abbreviation for “Full Container Load”. The exporter is responsible for securely packing the entire container and then sealing it so it is ready for pickup. The container is then transported, remaining sealed throughout the journey via sea. The goods will only be opened prior to delivery if required for inspection purposes.

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 (7 to 10 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 need for 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 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 leave the container on a trailer on your dock so it can be unloaded.

A guide to Incoterms

What is our number two import FAQ?

I have found an item that I want to buy, but it is overseas and the seller doesn’t ship to Australia.

Can you help?

We certainly can. We have experts that can check if the goods are permitted, if import conditions apply and get you a free quote. Call 1300651233.

Import FAQ relating to Customs

Basic shipping terms

How to guides

What are prohibited and restricted goods?

Certain goods brought into Australia require an import permit or approval. Border Security can hold or confiscate goods if they are found to be non-compliant or required documentation is not provided.

Some of the products that are subject to import conditions or are banned from import to Australia include:

  • Laser pointers
  • Medications, including some herbal preparations
  • Performance and image enhancing drugs containing restricted substances
  • DVDs or publications featuring objectionable/offensive content
  • Dog collars/harnesses with prongs or protrusions
  • Products made from protected animal species
  • Products that contain cat or dog fur
  • Equipment/presses for forming tablets

Visit the Department of Agriculture’s import conditions database to check if conditions apply to your product or call us toll-free on 1300651233 for assistance.

Find out what are prohibited and restricted goods?

What is our number three import FAQ?

Should I use air freight or sea freight?

If it is urgent, fragile, or needed by a guaranteed date then air freight and it is less than 100 kg than air freight is your best choice. But keep in mind, it can be more expensive.

Read our detailed article on sea vs air freight for more information.

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 under which imported products are classified. These codes let Customs know under what tariff rate specific products should be charged. 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 carpets and the tariff was 4.5%, then duties would then be $9,000.

In order to meet the commitments made by Australia to the WTO regarding tariffs and duties all goods must be classified by importers. Choosing the appropriate classification is important as will indicate what charges will apply. This classification also forms part of your declaration to Australian Customs who enforce import restrictions.

What are import regulations?

Import regulations is a broad term used to describe all the mandatory rules in place that must be considered when importing a product. This includes government regulations, duties, permits and biosecurity requirements.

What are Commerce (Trade Descriptions)?

The Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act 1905 prevents some goods from being imported if they are lacking the correct trade description or are labelled with false information. There are also requirements for goods that will be exported.

To find out more visit the Australian Border Force how to import page.

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

No. If the goods are for personal use then your business details such as an ABN are not needed.

To clarify, an ABN may be requested when shipping goods for a business to assist in processing GST payment. When shipping personal items this information is not required.

How is the Customs value (CV) calculated?

The Customs Value of goods imported into Australia is the total value of the goods as determined by the importer’s commercial invoice as well as any applicable Customs duties, costs, transport costs and taxes. These additions are known as the taxable importation (VoTI) and brings the cost of goods inline with the Australian currency purchase price.

If Australian Customs determine that the value of the goods shown on the commercial invoice is understated the Customs value will be modified accordingly.

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 further information see our explanation of how to calculate GST on your imports.

What customs duties are payable on imported cargo?

What duty may be payable on imported goods depends on several factors. 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?

Goods and Services Tax (GST) will be required for most imported goods and can also apply to gifts. The amount paid is proportionate to the value of the imported goods. Click here for how to calculate GST for your goods.

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

If your goods have been paid for and the payment remittance (evidence of payment) is provided then the exchange rate used to purchase the goods will be used to calculate any duty or GST.

Otherwise, when goods are being imported from overseas and have not yet been paid for then we use the customs exchange rate, which is the average of the four major banks on the date the goods were exported.

What is the GST deferral scheme?

It is an initiative that allows a business to pay GST when they next lodge an Business activity statement (BAS) with the Australian tax office (ATO) rather than each time they import goods or receive them from a licensed warehouse.

In order to participate businesses are required to:

  • Be registered with an Australian Business Number (ABN)
  • Be registered for GST
  • Lodge and pay their BAS monthly online
  • Correspond with Customs and Border Security services online
  • Be free of any debt or outstanding returns to the ATO

Will my goods be stopped by Customs?

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

  • Value is over AUD$1,000
  • Alcohol or tobacco of any quantity or value is present
  • Goods of interest to Customs are present
  • Items prohibited by Customs are present

Do Quarantine rules apply to my cargo?

Strict quarantine rules and regulations are implemented in Australia.


  • Check if you’ll need an import permit
  • Prepare a packing declaration to prevent delays and added costs
  • Make sure your container is free of contaminants such as grain and soil.
  • Check that any wood based materials are permitted
  • Check packing materials (wool, paper, foam etc) for contaminants
  • Inspect goods from high risk countries for signs of disease or infestation


  • Use any straw packing as it can carry insects and diseases.
  • Pack items in used egg, meat or fruit cartons as these may carry disease.
  • Include any timber with bark attached. Bark is prohibited.

What is ISPM15?

This is an abbreviation for The International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures Number 15 which is a standard that covers the treatment of wood based materials.

As part of this standard wood based containers used in shipping are covered such as pallets, stands and crates. If the thickness of the wooden material is more than 6mm, treatment is required to prevent the spread of any pests or disease. This involves the removal of bark, heating and fumigating. Once completed a stamp or brand is applied to indicate that this has been carried out to the ISPM15 requirements.

For more details and information on how to access the standard in full visit the Department of Agriculture’s ISPM15 page.

Learn about Incoterms

Import FAQ - need help?

Import FAQ for documentation

What documents are required for customs clearance?

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

What is a bill of lading?

A bill of lading is a key document used in the transport of goods. It is common to see this document referred to as the B/L or BOL as a shortened form of the description. 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 allow goods to be collected 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.

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 will not be necessary for all shipments but we recommend checking if this is required by the importing country, consignee or under the letter of credit conditions in order to be prepared.

For products originating in Australia the process is straightforward but will require some documentation to be provided such as an exporter’s information update form and evidence of the goods origin such as an invoice, bill of lading or statutory declaration.

A list of certificate of origin providers is available on the Austrade website.

What is a packing declaration?

A packing declaration states to Australian Customs what type of packing material is used in your goods. It is only required for sea freight shipments. Please note straw is prohibited by Australian Customs and must not be used.

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 the goods.

What is a sea waybill?

A sea waybill is used in place of a bill of lading and acts as a contract when cargo is moving between two companies but not being sold through a letter of credit (or equivalent process). You must also check that under the two countries involved there is no mandatory requirement for a bill of lading to be used.

While this simplifies the documentation, using a sea waybill and relying on payment via separate means is not recommended unless your business is comfortable with this risk and the other party has demonstrated that they can be trusted with your goods. In a sense, the sea waybill is similar to a bill of lading, a contract and the main shipping document.

What is a commercial invoice?

Document required by Customs to determine for assessment of duties and taxes that shows the true value of the imported goods.

What is an ATA Carnet?

Find out about ATA Carnet.

Import FAQ - what is a bill of lading

What is our number four import FAQ?

Help! I don’t understand what I need to do with this document.

There are so many terms used in freight and it can be really confusing at the start.

At FFQO we will work with you to classify the product, understand what requirements apply and talk you through documentation or complete it on your behalf. Call 1300651233 or send a message for help.

What is a Certificate of Origin?

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 regard to protein powders. As long as the quantity of protein powder is a maximum of 10 kilograms or 10 litres then this is permitted. Just make sure that they are intended for personal use and manufactured in one of the countries recognised by 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 that contain ingredients sourced and/or manufactured in a country NOT listed in the FMD-approved country list, please refer to the BICON import conditions database and search for Dairy Products for further information.

Can I bring health supplements into Australia?

Another product-related import FAQ is in respect of health supplements.

For personal use, the maximum quantity of plant-based supplements allowed is the amount equivalent to 3 months usage. This can be calculated by following the recommended dosage instructions on the product label or associated documentation provided by manufacturer.

To avoid being required to apply for an import permit you must also ensure:

  • Goods are comprised of only plant material
  • Goods are imported directly by the person who will consume them
  • Goods were produced at a commercial establishment

Acceptable formats for supplements are listed under the Department of Agriculture page for Importing of therapeutic substances information.


You may import a maximum of 1 kilogram of dried plants or plant mixes as a food or for therapeutic use, however please note the following conditions:

  • Free from any animal material
  • Free from soil, insect, foreign seed or plant residue
  • Thoroughly dry and non-viable (unable to propagate)
  • Stored in new packaging
  • Packaging details are provided
  • All ingredients and components are listed by common or botanical name

The importance of identifying the product you are importing cannot be emphasised enough. If Border Security officers cannot do this the product will be destroyed or exported at your expense.

Full details on import conditions are available by searching for the plant you wish to import using the BICON import conditions database .

In addition to these requirements please also note that for more information on buying medicines online or from overseas please refer to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Need to what's involved when importing protein powders?

What is our number five import FAQ?

Can I import health supplements, foods or protein powders from overseas?

We can help you understand what is restricted or conditionally allowed. Make sure you have information such as the list of ingredients that makes up the product to help us advise you on whether this can be imported.

Import FAQ - looking for help?