US Customs Export Control Says: I’m Screwed


Help! This is very bad. Since sometime about April 26, nearly every international shipment I’ve sent has been returned by US Customs Export Control, for unknown reasons. The packages come back with an export compliance sticker that says something is “missing”, but doesn’t explain further. I discussed the problem with the staff at my local post office, but they couldn’t explain it either, and said the customs information on the package looked OK to them. They also said that when an outbound package is rejected by US Customs, there’s basically no recourse: the customs inspectors don’t respond to calls or emails about specific packages. In the staff’s words, “You just have to guess”.

All of the packages were shipped by US Postal Service’s First Class Package International service. I’ve not recently changed anything about the packages, their contents, the address labels, or the customs information printed on the label.

TL;DR – I am completely unable to ship any international packages, and I don’t know why, or who to ask for help. The shipments never get out of the USA.

To put it mildly, this is bad.

There are some clues. Here’s a list of every international shipment I made between April 19 and May 3. Packages shipped after May 3 probably haven’t reached customs yet.

Date Destination Tracking Contents Status
4/19/21 Canada LW227139012US Emu Bundle, ROM-inator delivered
4/19/21 Bulgaria UC009977527US Emu Bundle in transit, in USA
4/19/21 Canada LW227139026US Emu Bundle in transit, outside USA
4/19/21 Germany LW227139349US Emu Bundle delivered
4/19/21 Netherlands LW227139352US Emu Bundle delivered
4/19/21 Italy UC009977717US Emu Bundle in transit, in USA
4/19/21 Switzerland UC009977725US Emu Bundle in transit, outside USA
4/19/21 Germany LW227139882US Emu Bundle delivered
4/19/21 Austria UC009977734US Emu Bundle in transit, in USA
4/19/21 Canada LW227140038US Emu Bundle delivered
4/21/21 Japan LW227159119US Emu Bundle delivered
4/21/21 Italy UC009981138US Emu Bundle in transit, outside USA
4/21/21 Italy UC009981141US Emu Bundle in transit, outside USA
4/21/21 Belgium LW227159502US Emu Bundle, ROM-inator delivered
4/21/21 Netherlands W227159516US Emu Bundle delivered
4/21/21 UK LW227159935US Emu Bundle delivered
4/21/21 Switzerland UC009981257US Emu Bundle in transit, outside USA
4/21/21 Finland UC009981265US Emu Bundle in transit, outside USA
4/23/21 Japan LW227178166US Emu Bundle, ROM-inator delivered
4/23/21 Canada LW227178705US Emu Bundle, ROM-inator, ADB cable delivered
4/23/21 Australia LW227178719US ROM-inator delivered
4/23/21 Canada LW227178722US Emu Bundle, SD card delivered
4/26/21 Canada LW227199020US Emu Bundle, Noisy Disk in transit, outside USA
4/26/21 Australia LW227199033US Emu Bundle delivered
4/26/21 Canada LW227199603US Emu Case, ROM-inator returned to sender
4/26/21 Italy UC009987745US Emu Bundle in transit, in USA
4/28/21 Canada LW227224665US Emu Bundle returned to sender
4/30/21 UK LW227242788US Emu Case, Wombat Case returned to sender
4/30/21 Sweden UC009995619US Noisy Disk, Daisy Chainer in transit, outside USA
4/30/21 Italy UC009995640US Noisy Disk in transit, in USA
5/3/21 UK LW227275605US Emu Bundle returned to sender
5/3/21 Canada LW227275619US Emu Bundle returned to sender
5/3/21 Australia LW227275622US Emu Bundle returned to sender
5/3/21 Czech Rep. UC010000416US Emu Bundle in transit, in USA
5/3/21 Mexico UC010000420US Emu Bundle returned to sender
5/3/21 Belgium LW227276035US Emu Model C, ROM-inator returned to sender
5/3/21 Germany LW227276044US Emu Bundle returned to sender
5/3/21 Germany LW227276486US Emu Bundle, SD card, ROM-inator returned to sender

Almost all of the packages shipped prior to April 26 have been delivered, or have at least made it outside the US. The three from before the 26th that show “in transit, in USA” are misleading because they all have tracking numbers starting with the letters UC, which indicates a destination country where tracking normally isn’t available beyond the US border.

But almost every package shipped After April 26 is either still stuck in the US, or has been returned.

Something changed within a few days around or after April 26. The date of change was probably May 1 – roughly when packages shipped April 26 would arrive for customs processing. A new customs inspector employee? New inspection procedures or policies? New export control laws? Or maybe something changed with Shippo, the service that I use to print the address and customs labels?

Notice that the return label says more information is available at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/ if you click on “Export Issues” under Consumer Help. But that section and that heading do not exist. I couldn’t find anything on that site to help explain what’s going on.

With no information and apparently no recourse, I’m starting to panic a little. For the time being I’ll have to disable all ordering for customers outside the USA, which is a large fraction of the total for BMOW. And I’ll have to contact all the customers whose shipments have already been impacted, or who’ve ordered and paid but whose packages haven’t yet shipped, and try to determine what’s the next step.

If you know anyone who works in any type of export manager capacity, who might be able to advise or consult with me on this, that would be fantastic. Or if you know anybody affiliated with the postal inspection service who might have insight into what’s going on, that would be great too. I’ll take all the help I can get to resolve this crisis.

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