A Passion for International Trade

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Twelve years ago, while engaging in missionary work in Malaysia, Kelli Thompson encountered a woman who was working with former prostitutes in Thailand, helping the women to become self-sufficient. The Thai women were creating beautiful handmade wares, and their mentor asked if Thompson might be willing to help sell the products in the United States. Thompson eagerly began researching import regulations, and soon found herself immersed in the world of international trade law.

Thompson has since become a leading expert in the area of international trade and compliance, and served for over seven years with the United States Customs and Border Protection, in the role of supervisory import specialist. In 2014, Thompson looked to move away from enforcement action and combine her two passions: international trade and helping others. She established Integrity International Trade Consulting (IITC) – an international trade consulting company – where she works primarily with small businesses, guiding them toward better business practices. Recently, Thompson became an instructor with the College of Charleston School of Professional Studies, and will be teaching a course to help prepare individuals for the Custom’s Broker Exam. (Spring 2016).

While with the United State Customs and Border Protection agency, Thompson served as an instructor for all new hires nationwide, training the import specialists at every port throughout the United States. Many of the topics taught as a part of this intense government training program resembled those on the Customs Broker Exam, giving Thompson an edge over many exam prep instructors. Thompson acknowledges that the material can be daunting for some, but hopes that her excitement for the subject improves student engagement: “I like to make topics interesting, and break it down to make it easier to understand.” Thompson, who is certified as both a customs specialist and a law enforcement instructor, also recently took the Customs Broker Exam herself (passing with an impressive 85%), helping her to better understand the nature of the test.

The Customs Broker Exam is notoriously challenging, with a 4-28% pass rate. “What happens a lot of times,” Thompson says, “(the individuals) walk into that test already defeated.” In an effort to help build student confidence, Thompson employs examples of past exams: focusing on highly-tested topics and demonstrating how to use the allocated time effectively. Thompson stresses that with proper time-management techniques – and significant study time – passing the Custom’s Broker Exam is within the reach of all of her students: “A lot of times people are intimidated by the test, but if you come in with a positive attitude and put in the time, you can do it.”

Typically, the Custom’s Broker Exam is taken by individuals who are already working for a customs broker and are looking to advance in their career. However, Thompson points out that those wishing to obtain a customs broker license – and pursue this longstanding profession – do not require any specific degree or experience: one must only be a US citizen and 21 years of age. “Most companies who import in to United States hire a customs broker to help them import items into the US,” Thompson notes, “(this career) can be very lucrative once you get your license.”

Kelli Thompson is truly passionate about international trade law, and looks forward to sharing her knowledge with those who enroll in the Custom’s Broker Exam Prep Course: “I just enjoy what I teach, I love the topics. I think that it’s a great career.”