Ultimate Guide to the Customs Clearance Process in Malaysia

The customs clearance process is a crucial aspect of international trade that involves submitting various documents and compliance with specific regulations to facilitate the movement of goods across international borders

In Malaysia, as in many other countries, customs clearance plays a pivotal role in regulating imports and exports, ensuring national security, and collecting revenue. 

This comprehensive guide will delve into the customs clearance process in Malaysia, covering key aspects such as customs documentation, procedures, regulations, and challenges.

Table of Contents

Overview of Malaysia’s Customs Authority

The Royal Malaysian Customs Department, known as Jabatan Kastam Diraja Malaysia (JKDM), is the government agency responsible for overseeing customs matters in Malaysia. Its primary functions include revenue collection, trade facilitation, and customs laws and regulations enforcement. 

Customs clearance is essential to its mandate, ensuring that goods entering and leaving Malaysia comply with all legal requirements.

Customs Clearance Procedure in Malaysia

The customs clearance process in Malaysia involves several steps, which may vary slightly depending on the type of goods, mode of transportation, and specific customs office. Here is an overview of the typical customs clearance procedures:

1. Pre-Arrival

Before goods arrive in Malaysia, importers should ensure that all required documentation is complete and accurate. This includes verifying that the commercial invoice, bill of lading or airway bill, packing list, and other relevant documents are in order.

2. Submission of Documents

Upon arrival in Malaysia, the importer or their appointed customs broker submits the necessary documents to the relevant customs office. The customs declaration form and supporting documents are crucial at this stage.

3. Goods Examination

Customs officers may examine the goods to verify their accuracy against the documentation provided. This may involve physically inspecting the cargo, checking the packaging, or conducting laboratory tests for specific products.

4. Assessment of Customs Duties and Taxes

Based on the information provided in the customs declaration form and supporting documents, customs officers assess the applicable customs duties and taxes. These charges may include import duties, excise duties, sales tax, and GST (Goods and Services Tax).

5. Payment of Customs Duties and Taxes

Before customs clearance, importers must pay the assessed customs duties and taxes. Payment can be made electronically through the customs department’s designated channels.

6. Customs Clearance Approval

Once all customs duties and taxes are paid, and the goods are deemed compliant with customs regulations, customs clearance is granted. The goods can then be released for further transportation or delivery to their final destination.

7. Post-Clearance Audits

Customs authorities in Malaysia may conduct post-clearance audits to ensure ongoing compliance with customs laws. These audits may involve a review of importers’ records and documentation to verify the accuracy of previous declarations.

Documents Needed for Customs Clearance in Malaysia

Proper documentation is the cornerstone of successful customs clearance in Malaysia. Importers and exporters must provide the necessary paperwork to facilitate the process. The key customs documents in Malaysia include:

1. Commercial Invoice

A commercial invoice is a detailed document that specifies the value of goods, their description, and other pertinent information. It is essential for assessing customs duties and taxes.

2. Bill of Lading/Airway Bill

For sea and air shipments, the bill of lading and airway bill serve as proof of ownership and contain critical information about the cargo, including its origin and destination.

3. Packing List

A packing list details the contents of each package, including the quantity, weight, and dimensions of each item. This information assists customs officers in verifying the shipment’s accuracy.

4. Certificate of Origin

The certificate of origin indicates where the goods were manufactured or produced. It is often essential for determining eligibility for preferential tariffs under free trade agreements.

5. Import Licence

Certain goods may require an import licence or permit from relevant authorities in Malaysia. These licences must be presented to customs for clearance.

6. Customs Declaration Form

The customs declaration form provides detailed information about imported or exported goods, including their classification, value, and origin. It is used to assess customs duties and taxes.

7. Other Relevant Documents

Depending on the nature of the goods and the specific requirements, additional documents may be necessary, such as certificates of inspection, health and sanitary certificates, phytosanitary certificates, or special permits for specific products.


Read More: Essential Guide to De Minimis Regulations In Several Countries


Duties, Taxes and Fees Applicable at Customs Clearance in Malaysia

Importers should know the duties and taxes that may apply to their imported goods. 

A. Import Duties

Import or customs duties or tariffs are taxes imposed on imported goods. These duties are calculated based on the customs value of the imported goods and are designed to protect domestic industries, generate revenue, and regulate trade. Import duties in Malaysia can vary widely depending on the type of goods, their country of origin, and any applicable trade agreements.

The RMCD classifies goods under the Harmonized System (HS) code, determining the applicable import duty rates. Importers must determine the correct HS code for their goods to calculate the import duty accurately.

B. Sales and Services Tax (SST)

The Sales and Services Tax (SST) is a consumption tax that replaced the GST for specific goods and services in Malaysia. SST is imposed on the manufacturing and sale of taxable goods and the provision of taxable services. Importers may be subject to SST on certain imported goods, and the rates can vary depending on the type of goods and their classification.

C. Excise Duties

Excise duties are taxes applied to certain goods, such as alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and petroleum products. These duties are designed to regulate the consumption of these items and generate revenue for the government. Importers of excisable goods are required to pay excise duties and other duties and taxes.

D. Special Import Duties

In some cases, Malaysia may impose special import duties on specific goods to protect domestic industries or address trade imbalances. These duties are typically temporary and subject to change based on government policies and trade agreements.

E. Customs Clearance Fees

In addition to import duties and taxes, importers may be required to pay various fees during customs clearance in Malaysia. These fees serve to cover administrative costs and ensure compliance with customs regulations. 

  • Import Entry Processing Fee (IEPF)
    • The Import Entry Processing Fee (IEPF) is a fee for processing customs declarations and entries. The amount varies depending on factors such as the mode of transport and the value of the goods.
  • Customs Documentation Fee
    • Importers may incur fees for preparing and processing customs documentation, including customs declarations and permits.
  • Storage and Handling Charges
    • If imported goods are stored at a customs warehouse or container depot, importers may be responsible for storage and handling charges until the goods are released.
  • Inspection and Examination Fees
    • Customs authorities may charge fees for inspecting or examining imported goods to verify compliance with regulations.

Customs Regulations for Importing into Malaysia

We delve into the legal framework, customs procedures, classification and valuation, trade agreements, and compliance considerations that shape the importation landscape in Malaysia.

A. Legal Framework for Importing into Malaysia

1. Customs Act 1967

The Customs Act 1967 is Malaysia’s principal legislation governing customs procedures, duties, and taxation. It empowers the Royal Malaysian Customs Department (JKDM) to regulate and control the importation of goods, collect customs duties and taxes, and enforce customs laws. The Act outlines various customs clearance, valuation, penalties, and appeals provisions.

2. Customs (Prohibition of Imports) Order 2017

The Customs (Prohibition of Imports) Order 2017 specifies the goods that are prohibited or restricted from importation into Malaysia. These restrictions are in place to protect public health, safety, national security, and the environment. Importers should refer to this order to ensure compliance with restrictions on certain goods.

3. Customs (Valuation of Imported Goods) Regulations 2004

The Customs (Valuation of Imported Goods) Regulations 2004 provide detailed guidelines on the valuation of imported goods for customs purposes. It specifies the valuation methods, including the transaction value method based on the price paid or payable for the goods.

4. Customs (Amendment) Act 2017

The Customs (Amendment) Act 2017 introduced several changes to customs regulations, including amendments related to the treatment of goods and services tax (GST), preferential tariff rates under free trade agreements (FTAs), and penalties for customs offences.

B. Classification and Valuation Methods for Goods Imported into Malaysia 

Proper classification and valuation of goods are critical aspects of customs regulations in Malaysia. These elements determine the applicable customs duties and taxes based on the Harmonized System (HS) code and customs valuation methods.

1. Harmonized System (HS) Code

The HS code is a standardised system for classifying goods used by customs authorities worldwide. Like many other countries, Malaysia employs the HS code to categorise goods for customs purposes. Each HS code represents a specific product or group of products, and it is used to determine the customs duty rates, restrictions, and other regulatory requirements applicable to the goods.

Importers must correctly classify their goods using the appropriate HS code to ensure accurate customs duties and tax assessments. Misclassification can lead to disputes and customs delays.

2. Customs Valuation Methods

The Customs (Valuation of Imported Goods) Regulations 2004 outline the methods for valuing imported goods for customs purposes. The primary method is the transaction value method, based on the price paid or payable for the goods sold for export to Malaysia. Importers should understand the valuation methods to ensure compliance and accurate valuation of their goods.

C. Trade Agreements

Malaysia has entered into various trade agreements and regional arrangements that impact customs regulations for imported goods. Understanding these agreements is essential for importers seeking preferential tariff treatment and market access:

1. Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)

Malaysia has signed FTAs with numerous countries and regions, such as the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), ASEAN-China FTA, ASEAN-Korea FTA, and Malaysia-New Zealand FTA. These agreements aim to reduce or eliminate tariffs on certain goods traded between Malaysia and its FTA partners.

Importers can benefit from preferential tariff rates under these FTAs if their goods meet the rules of origin criteria specified in the agreements. To claim preferential treatment, importers must provide a valid Certificate of Origin (COO) issued by the relevant authorities.

2. ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA)

The ATIGA is an integral part of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and aims to promote trade and economic integration within the ASEAN region. It includes provisions for customs procedures, tariff reduction, and trade facilitation.

Under the ATIGA, goods from ASEAN member states may benefit from preferential tariff rates when imported into Malaysia. Importers should verify the origin of their goods and meet the ATIGA’s requirements to claim these benefits.

3. Import Licensing under Trade Agreements

Some goods subject to trade agreements may require specific import licences or permits. Importers should know these requirements and ensure they have the licences or permits to comply with customs regulations.


Read More: Essential Guide to HS Codes


Categories of Restricted Goods in Malaysia

Restricted goods require special permits, licences, or government approval before being legally imported into the country. A robust understanding of these regulations is vital for businesses importing restricted goods in Malaysia.

A. Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices

The importation of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and related products is subject to strict regulations. Importers must obtain the necessary licences and approvals from the Ministry of Health. Compliance with quality, safety, and labelling standards is essential.

B. Controlled Substances and Narcotics

Controlled substances, including narcotics and psychotropic substances, are highly regulated. Importers in this category must secure licences from the National Anti-Drug Agency (AADK) and ensure compliance with international treaties, such as the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

C. Hazardous Materials and Chemicals

Importing hazardous materials, chemicals, and toxic substances requires approval from the Department of Environment. These goods are subject to strict environmental and safety standards to prevent harm to human health and the environment.

D. Firearms and Ammunition

The Royal Malaysia Police heavily regulate the importation of firearms, ammunition, and explosives. Importers must obtain permits and comply with strict security and safety measures.

E. Hazardous Waste

Importing hazardous waste materials is subject to strict regulations to safeguard the environment. Importers must adhere to disposal and treatment guidelines specified by the Department of Environment.

F. Plants and Plant Products

The importation of plants, plant products, and plant-based materials is subject to phytosanitary regulations. Importers must obtain phytosanitary certificates and meet the requirements set by the Department of Agriculture.

G. Wildlife and Endangered Species

The importation of wildlife, endangered species, and their derivatives is strictly regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Importers must obtain CITES permits and comply with international conservation efforts.

Permit Requirements for Restricted Goods

Importing restricted goods into Malaysia necessitates obtaining the appropriate permits, licences, or approvals from the relevant regulatory authorities. Permit requirements vary depending on the nature of the restricted goods. Here are some common permit types:

A. Import Licences

Restricted goods importers often need licences issued by the relevant regulatory authority. These licences specify the quantity, quality, and conditions for importing the goods.

B. Pharmaceutical Product Registration

Importers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices must register their products with the Malaysian Drug Control Authority (DCA) and obtain a product registration certificate.

C. Dangerous Goods License

Importers must obtain a Dangerous Goods License from the Department of Environment to import hazardous materials, chemicals, and toxic substances. They must also adhere to safety and environmental regulations.

D. Firearms Import Permit

Importers of firearms and ammunition require an import permit from the Royal Malaysia Police. This permit outlines the conditions for the importation and storage of firearms.

E. Phytosanitary Certificate

Importers of plants and plant products must obtain a phytosanitary certificate from the Department of Agriculture. This certificate verifies compliance with phytosanitary requirements.

F. CITES Permit

Importers of wildlife, endangered species, and their derivatives require CITES permits issued by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN). These permits ensure compliance with international conservation efforts.


Read More: Essential Guide to Prohibited and Restricted Goods


Common Causes of Customs Clearance Delays in Malaysia

Identifying and addressing the common causes of these delays is essential for importers and businesses seeking to maintain efficient and reliable trade operations in Malaysia. But not all of them (such as random inspections and container backlogs) can be remedied by shippers. 

1. Incomplete or Inaccurate Documentation

One of Malaysia’s most prevalent causes of customs clearance delays must be completed or updated documentation. Customs authorities require specific documents to process imports; any discrepancies or omissions can result in hold-ups. 

2. Regulatory Compliance Challenges

Navigating the complex web of customs regulations and compliance requirements is another common cause of customs clearance delays in Malaysia. Here are some common compliance challenges.

  • Tariff Classification Errors
    • Incorrectly classifying goods under the Harmonized System (HS) code, leading to incorrect duty calculations.
  • Non-compliance with Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)
    • Failing to meet the rules of origin criteria specified in FTAs, resulting in loss of preferential tariff rates.
  • Non-compliance with Import Restrictions and Bans
    • Importing goods that are restricted or banned without the necessary permits.
  • Inadequate Record Keeping
    • Poor record-keeping practices make it challenging to provide customs authorities with requested documentation.
  • Non-compliance with Customs Valuation Rules
    • Incorrectly valuing goods, leading to disputes and delays.

3. Logistics and Supply Chain Causes

Effective logistics management plays a crucial role in customs clearance. Delays often stem from these logistical issues at the ports.

  • Transportation Delays
    • Transportation delays due to factors such as adverse weather, port congestion, or logistical bottlenecks.
  • Container Backlogs
    • Congestion at ports leads to container backlogs.
  • Inefficient Warehouse Practices
    • Inefficient warehousing practices result in delays in retrieving goods for customs inspection.

4. Communication and Collaboration Causes

Effective communication and collaboration with customs authorities, customs brokers, and other relevant parties are essential for customs clearance. Delays can occur due to these causes.

  • Lack of Communication with Customs Brokers
    • Inadequate communication between importers and customs brokers leads to misunderstandings or missed deadlines.
  • Insufficient Communication with Customs Authorities
    • Failure to engage in proactive communication with customs authorities when issues arise.
  • Misunderstandings with Regulatory Authorities
    • Misunderstandings or disagreements with regulatory authorities over compliance or documentation.

5. Random Inspections and Audits

Customs authorities may conduct random inspections or audits of shipments, which can lead to delays even when all documentation is in order. This is particularly common for high-risk or sensitive goods. 

6. Importer’s Lack of Understanding or Expertise

Importers who need a comprehensive understanding of customs regulations and processes may inadvertently cause delays due to insufficient training or expertise in customs matters. 

Best Practices to Minimise Delays in the Customs Clearance Process for Malaysia

By implementing these practices, importers can streamline their operations, reduce the likelihood of delays, and ensure a smoother entry into the Malaysian market.

1. Pre-Importation Preparation

Effective importation begins with thorough preparation before the goods arrive at the Malaysian border. Successful importers consider the following best practices:

Regulatory Compliance Assessment

Understand the customs regulations, permit requirements, and any trade agreements that apply to your specific goods. Familiarise yourself with the Customs Act 1967, customs procedures, and other relevant laws. Ensure you correctly classify your goods using the appropriate Harmonized System (HS) code. Accurate classification is essential for determining the applicable customs duties and taxes.

Documentation Preparation

Gather and verify all required importation documents, such as the commercial invoice, Bill of Lading or Airway Bill, Packing List, Certificate of Origin (if applicable), and any necessary permits or licences. Ensure that all documents are consistent and accurately reflect the details of the goods, such as quantity, value, and description. Any discrepancies can lead to customs delays.

Import Permits and Licences

Identify whether your goods require import permits or licences. Obtain these permits well in advance to avoid delays at the customs clearance stage.

2. Simplify Customs Clearance

Customs clearance is a critical stage in the importation process. Implementing efficient customs clearance practices can significantly reduce delays:

Engage a Licensed Customs Broker

Utilise the services of a licensed customs broker who is well-versed in Malaysian customs regulations. A customs broker can navigate the complexities of customs clearance and ensure compliance. Experienced customs brokers often have established relationships with customs authorities, which can expedite the clearance process.

Utilise the National Single Window (NSW)

Submit customs-related documents electronically through the National Single Window (NSW). This digital platform streamlines and accelerates the customs clearance process. Reducing paperwork minimises the risk of document-related delays or errors.

Apply for Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) Status

Consider applying for Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) status if your business meets the criteria. AEO-certified companies often receive benefits such as expedited customs clearance and reduced inspections.

Submit Pre-Arrival Processing (PAP)

Take advantage of the Pre-Arrival Processing (PAP) sea and air cargo declaration system. Submitting PAP allows customs clearance procedures to begin even before the arrival of the goods, reducing waiting times at ports.

3. Effective Documentation Management

Accurate and organised documentation is vital for customs clearance. Employ these best practices for effective documentation management:

Document Digitization

Maintain digital copies of all importation documents securely and organised. This facilitates easy retrieval and sharing of documents with customs authorities and other relevant parties.

Document Verification

Cross-check all documentation to ensure consistency and accuracy before submission. Address any discrepancies promptly.

Real-Time Tracking

Implement tracking systems that enable real-time monitoring of the status of your importation documents, including customs clearance progress.

Backups and Redundancy

Maintain backup copies of critical documents in case of data loss or document damage. This ensures you can provide necessary documents promptly when required.

4. Supply Chain and Logistics Optimisation

Efficient supply chain and logistics management can significantly reduce delays in the importation process:

Partner with Reliable Suppliers and Carriers

Partner with reliable overseas suppliers who understand the importance of accurate documentation and timely delivery. Select professional shipping and logistics companies with a convenient and secure transportation track record.

Maintain Clear Communication

Maintain open and transparent communication with your suppliers, ensuring they know your specific requirements and deadlines. Collaborate with your suppliers and logistics partners to plan shipments well in advance, allowing for buffer time in case of unexpected delays.

Select Suitable Ports

Select the most suitable Malaysian port for your goods. Consider factors such as proximity to your destination, capacity, and congestion levels.

Utilise Strategic Warehouse Facilities

Utilise strategically located warehousing facilities that accommodate your goods while awaiting customs clearance.

5. Risk Management and Contingency Planning

Identify Risks

Identify potential risks that could lead to delays, such as adverse weather conditions, labour strikes, or geopolitical issues.

Develop Contingency Plans

Develop contingency plans that outline responses to potential delays. These plans should include alternative logistics routes and communication procedures. Maintain a list of emergency contacts for customs authorities, logistics partners, and regulatory agencies.

Purchase Insurance Coverage

Consider purchasing cargo insurance to protect against loss or damage during transit. Insurance coverage can help mitigate the financial impact of unexpected delays.

Conduct Customs Compliance Audits

Conduct regular internal audits to ensure ongoing customs compliance. Address any compliance issues promptly to prevent future delays.

6. Stay Informed and Adapt

The landscape of international trade is continually evolving. Stay informed and adaptable:

Monitor Regulatory Updates

Continuously monitor updates and changes to customs regulations, tariff rates, and trade agreements that may affect your goods.

Join Professional Associations

Consider joining trade associations or industry groups related to your sector. These organisations often provide valuable insights and updates.

Engage Customs Experts

Consult customs experts or legal professionals specialising in international trade when in doubt. Their expertise can help you navigate complex customs issues.

7. Ensure Complete Compliance

Compliance with customs regulations is paramount to prevent delays, fines, and penalties. Importers should consider several key compliance factors:

Tariff Classification and Valuation

Accurate classification of goods using the correct HS code and proper valuation are crucial for compliance. Importers should exercise due diligence to ensure they correctly classify and value their imported goods, as errors can lead to disputes and penalties.

Maintain Record Keeping

Importers must maintain records of their customs transactions, including invoices, declarations, and supporting documents. These records should be kept for a specified period and be readily accessible for customs audits or verifications.

Duty Payment

Importers must ensure timely payment of customs duties, GST, and other applicable taxes. Non-payment or underpayment can result in penalties and delays in customs clearance.

Documentation Accuracy

All customs documents must be accurate and truthful, including the customs declaration form, invoices, COO, and other supporting documents. False information can lead to legal consequences and jeopardise customs clearance.

Prohibited and Restricted Goods

Importers must be aware of goods that are prohibited or restricted from importation into Malaysia. Attempting to import such goods can result in severe penalties.

Compliance with Trade Agreements

For importers seeking preferential tariff treatment under FTAs and other trade agreements, strict adherence to the rules of origin and other agreement-specific requirements is essential. Any deviation from these requirements can lead to the loss of preferential treatment.


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