Working as an Import/Export Clerk: Duties, Skills, Challenges

Updated January 2024

Import/export clerks play a key role in managing the movement of products to and from foreign countries. They work for air, sea, and road shipping companies, retail businesses, and industrial companies.

They're also employed by export management companies who help other enterprises sell goods abroad.

Any organization that buys products from overseas, or wants to sell goods in foreign markets, needs the help of an import/export clerk to coordinate the shipping and delivery process.

Products may include everything from clothing and electronics to cement and other raw materials. The marketplace is truly vast.

Precisely what role does an import/export clerk play within the sphere of international commerce? What's it like to work in this field?

In this post, we look at the everyday responsibilities of an import/export clerk, and which core skills are most important to excel in this career. You'll also find information on import/export training, and the best way to launch a career in this field.

Let's get started.


Typical Responsibilities of an Import/Export Clerk

The primary function of an import/export clerk is to communicate with buyers and sellers, and organize the shipment of goods from point A to point B—while ensuring all customs regulations are closely followed.

The following responsibilities outline the key steps and procedures involved in managing the efficient, affordable, and legal delivery of products within and across borders. These are the everyday duties of an import/export clerk:

  • Preparing shipping quotes, cargo receipts, customs clearance, and other documents
  • Ensuring shipping invoices are accurate
  • Tracking shipments and updating clients on progress
  • Coordinating with overseas customs agents for international deliveries
  • Communicating with suppliers
  • Taking and comparing price quotes from shipping companies
  • Organizing carriers and route assignments
  • Calculating the quantity of goods that can fit into shipping containers
  • Calculating tariffs and duties on transported goods


Most Important Skills for Import/Export Clerks

Import/export clerks must be detail-oriented, meticulous, and able to work well under pressure.

Because this work involves overseas communication, knowing multiple languages can be an asset and give you a competitive edge when looking for work.

Other key skills considered essential for import/export clerks include:

  • In-depth knowledge of import/export laws and regulations
  • Comfort working with numbers and performing basic calculations
  • Excellent customer service and negotiation skills
  • Computer skills (knowledge of Microsoft Office is valuable, plus the ability to learn computer programs used by different import/export companies)
  • Understanding of global supply chain and logistics (including the advantages and disadvantages of various transportation methods, security requirements, inventory management and order processing, etc.)
  • Research skills (locating and evaluating international trade opportunities, analyzing data, etc.)


Challenges of working as an import/export clerk

This role is administrative. That means the job requires long periods of sitting and working at a computer.

Also, import/export clerks are often pressed to solve problems that arise while negotiating the flow of goods across borders— such as delays in deliveries or issues with customs.

You need to be able to manage stress, communicate well, and work within tight deadlines to succeed in this position.

Effective multitasking is also a key requirement. Import/export clerks attend to different orders at various points along the supply chain, juggling accounts for multiple clients simultaneously.

Bottom line: You need to be a good problem solver and highly organized to meet the challenges of this role.


How Do You Start an Import/Export Career?

In order to become an import/export clerk (or start your own import/export business), you need quality education in the laws, procedures, and strategies of international commerce.

You don't need a university degree to start a career in this field. A range of Canadian colleges offer import/export training at the diploma level. You can complete a comprehensive program in well under two years.


Import/Export training at Herzing College

Herzing College offers a 15-month International Commerce & Import/Export program. Training is delivered online and includes an eight-week internship. Every student gets real work experience before they graduate.

The curriculum for this diploma is based on the Forum for International Trade Training (FITT). FITT is the world's leading expert on import/export training and certification.

Our graduates are eligible to pursue the Certified International Trade Professional (CITP) designation. This credential is recognized across the globe and proves your knowledge of international trade processes.


Want to learn more about training and careers?

If you have questions, we strongly recommend speaking with an admissions advisor. 

An advisor will guide you through the import/export program, explain tuition and financial aid, and answer any questions you may have.

Click below to learn more about training and careers and chat live with an advisor. We're here to help!

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