How to become an expert in board game customs clearance?

How to become an expert in board game customs clearance?

Reza Mokdad

Reza Mokdad

August 5, 2019

You’ve been a board game fan for years, you’ve played 7 Wonders or Pandemic. Slowly you started to develop game ideas, then you decided to make your own board game as a hobby. It’s going pretty well; your family loves it, your friends like it, your fellow gamers at your board-game cafe enjoy it, and the board-game community endorses it.

After facing positive feedback from your circles, you decide to unveil your amazing boardgame to the world, commercialize it, and why not make a living from your passion. 

And here’s when challenges start! 

Launching your own game is a journey full of challenges, you’ll need to find a manufacturer, a warehouse, and then send your product to customers and retailers.

All of this implies dealing with customs clearance, which is a scary and overwhelming step for every newcomer in the industry. Let’s face the facts, no one likes to deal with customs and all the administrative tasks it implies, but if you want to succeed in your game quest, you still need to go through it.

In today’s article, we prepared for you all the necessary information for a painless custom clearance and importation process to avoid getting your board game stuck in European customs.

First, let’s start by defining what is a toy and what isn’t a toy because this is what will determine the documents needed for customs clearance.

1. Toys:

According to the European Commission, a toy can be any product designed, whether or not exclusively, for the use in play by children under 14 years of age.

To avoid any confusion, we’ll go deeper into the definition. 

In Europe, games are categorized depending on the target audience’s age. So games that are meant to be played by children under 14 years of age are considered toys and consequently are subject to the requirement of The Toy Safety Directive.

The Toy Safety Directive is a directive that lays down the safety criteria that toys must meet before they can be marketed in the EU. Toys must also comply with any other EU legislation applicable to them. The essential safety requirements cove

- General risks: the health and safety of children, as well as other people such as parents or caregivers
- Particular risks: physical and mechanical, flammability, chemical, electrical, hygiene and radioactivity risks

However, if your game is destined for +14 years old players, then your product isn’t considered as a toy and thus isn’t subject to the same requirements.

In case your game is targeting a large audience of children and teenagers between 12 and 16 years old, you’ll still need to comply with the requirements of the Toy Safety Directive even if your game isn’t exclusively designed for children under 14 years old. 

To put it simply, if your target audience includes players younger than 14 years old, you’ll have to comply with all the special requirements of the Toy Safety Directive (TSD). 

2. The importance of respecting the TSD:

Respecting the Toy Safety Directive is highly important if you want to successfully sell your game in Europe and has many advantages:

  • It ensures that your product won’t accidentally harm children.
  • It helps to avoid fines and product recalls.
  • It can reveal product-related problems before going to market, therefore, it helps in saving money.
  • It helps in increasing customers’ trust in your brand and your products.
  • It shows that you are committed to safety and that you care about your customers (and you’re not an as***le btw).

Taking a look at these advantages will help you understand that TSD shouldn’t be seen as a pain anymore but as an opportunity to prove that your game is on point with the safety standards and that it won’t harm any child’s life.

3. Marking:

Now that you understand what differentiates a toy and a game and you grasp the importance of complying with the TSD. Let’s get into the heart of our subject and explore the marking process that you need to go through so that your games won’t be stuck at customs because of your new (warm and welcoming) friend (the customs officer).

Here are the mandatory requirements for marking:

  • Age restrictions: minimum or maximum age of the user
  • Warnings must also be included in the product. It has to be preceded by the words “Warning” or “Warnings”.
  • Identification number: Toys made available in the EU market must have a type, batch, serial or model number or other element allowing for the identification of the toy.
  • Contact details: it shall indicate the name, registered trade name or trademark of the manufacturer and the address at which they can be contacted on the toy.
    If the toy is marketed under another person’s name or trademark, that person will be considered as the manufacturer.

Note that these requirements apply for any game even if its target audience is above 14.

Forget one of these 4 requirements and your products will be stuck at customs for a while. It will lead to a more in-depth inspection of your cargo (which will probably take some time). Whereas a well-done marking will facilitate the identification of your products and will lead to a quick and smooth clearance process.

You can also add non-mandatory marking to your products such as the maximum weight of the user or if the toy must be used under an adult’s supervision.

4. CE Marking:

The CE mark is a mandatory legal mark applied to all toys (remember, toys are designed for kids under 14 years of age) sold within the EU, It is often described as the product’s trade passport mark. CE Mark proves that your product conforms to the minimum standards needed to be sold within the EU.

If your product’s target audience is older than 14 and your product holds a “+14 mark”, you don’t need the CE Mark to be sold within the EU.

The CE mark has to be visible and readable on the packaging and should be placed next to other warnings or instructions of use.

In order to apply the CE mark, your product needs to go through the EN71 tests.

IMPORTANT : CE mark has to come with a Declaration of conformity and EN71 test reports.

5. EN71 Standards:

EN71 is a set of safety standards that applies to all toys sold in the EU and this test also covers the requirements to sell on American soil (if uncle Donald doesn’t decide to change them). It ensures that all the toys sold in the EU meet minimum safety standards. The EN71 is made up of 13 parts, but the first 3 parts are mostly used:

  • EN71-1: Mechanical and physical properties
    This part is about checking to see if any physical or mechanical feature of the toy can injure a child. It helps in determining if there are share points on the toy or if there are parts that can easily be swallowed.
  • EN71-2: Flammability
    This part tests the number of different factors that could lead to an injury to a child because of flammability. It helps in determining the presence of flammable materials in the toy, how long the item burns and how quickly the fire spread across it.

  • EN71-3: Specification for migration of certain elements
    This part restricts the amount of lead released AND identifies eighteen additional other toxic elements that can be even more harmful than lead.

The tests can be done in two ways: either send your product to a lab and let them do it for you (usually starting from $500) or do the certification by yourself. I advise you to go for the first option. Self-certification is quite complicated and the regulations you need to follow are hard to find.

Once you’ve successfully completed the tests, you’ll get the EN71 report which you need to present to the customs officers (your warm and welcoming friends).

6. EC Declaration of conformity:

It is a written statement drawn up by the manufacturer to demonstrate the fulfillment of the EU requirements related to the product he manufactured and who’s bearing the CE marking.

You can find a template of EC declaration of conformity.

7. Summary

Here’s a picture to help you summarize everything:

Once you’ve gone through all of these elements and made sure that your product has all the above-mentioned requirements and markings, your board game is ready to be sold in the EU and you can be sure your cargo won’t be stuck at the customs (at least not for these reasons).

Congratulations! You’ve become an expert in board games customs clearance!

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