ISF's must be filed prior to vessel departure or risk possible penalties. Make sure your suppliers are aware and give you the paperwork complete and timely. The correct bill of lading number is critical and while an ISF can be amended, it cannot even be filed without an accurate bill of lading number including 4 letter carrier code.
For small shipments of a few hundred pounds or less, airfreight is often competitive in costs. Small ocean shipments have certain minimum and warehouse charges that inflate the cost of those shipments and of course take much longer to arrive.
Always request a telex or express release or waybill. Generally original bills of lading are only used when there are letters of credit involved. But they are often not sent from overseas to the importer timely delaying the freight. Further they force the importer to pay courier costs that may not be necessary with a telex release.
When dealing with a new supplier always best if possible to start with smaller orders to make sure the product is of the quality being ordered. The best guarantee of honesty of a supplier is for them to believe that there will be future orders.
All importers must post a bond and pay a non refundable bond premium at time of importer or filing of the ISF. General rule of thumb. 6 air shipments or 3 ocean shipments a year are cheaper with an annual bond. Otherwise, singles are fine.
When dealing with government agencies, do your homework before importing. For example, if you are bringing in produce or animal products, check with USDA to see what permits are required. Of these permits, for example, take months and will cause your shipment to be returned at your expense or destroyed. When dealing with FDA, make sure the manufacturer is registered and has a current 11 digit registration number that is on the import paperwork.
If shipping items with solid wood packaging materials make sure the wood has been treated and bears the appropriate USDA stamp indicating that the material is compliant with SWPM regulation.
Always get your broker the documents as soon as possible and as complete as possible. It is not possible to clear customs without a commercial invoice and bill of lading or air waybill. Some items require more documentation.