Import Security Filing (ISF): How it works and what firms must do

Whenever a business is shipping items to the US, whether this is raw materials, components or finished manufactured goods, it's vital they provide full details of their imports to US authorities in a complete and timely fashion.

For imports that arrive via sea, the primary process for doing this is known as Import Security Filing, or ISF. This alerts Customs and Border Protection (CBP) about what items are entering the country and is a critical requirement if firms want to avoid customs delays or financial penalties.

What is Import Security Filing (ISF)?

Import Security Filing (ISF) is a requirement for all items that arrive in the US via ocean cargo. It does not cover those moving by air freight or across the land borders with Canada or Mexico. It documents all the vital important details authorities will need as items move from point to point.

This information is used by CBP to ensure visibility into all incoming shipments in order to assess items for potential threats, such as if the goods may pose a public safety hazard, enabling them to take appropriate steps against items they deem to be a risk.

The process is sometimes known as 10+2 filing, which refers to the specific amounts of information required - ten pieces of data from the importer or supplier, plus two from the carrier.

What are importers' ISF responsibilities?

It is the ultimate responsibility of the importer to ensure the information contained within the ISF is complete, accurate and submitted on time, regardless of whether or not they are using a customs broker to complete the filing process itself.

Many ISF details must be submitted no later than 24 hours before goods are loaded onto the carrier vessel at the port of departure, with remaining information to be submitted at least 24 hours prior to arrival in the US.

What are the penalties for filing failures?

There are financial penalties for failing to provide the required information. Inaccurate, incomplete, or untimely filings may be subject to fines of up to $5,000 per violation being levied by CBP. The authority may also refuse to grant a permit to unload or to take the merchandise, or seize the cargo if unloading goes ahead without this permission, which can lead to significant extra costs for businesses.

What information is required for Import Security Filing (ISF)?

Specific details that are required to be submitted by importers and carriers are laid out by CBP, and an Import Security Filing (ISF) is considered incomplete and subject to penalties if it is missing any one of these. In total, there are ten elements that must be provided by the importers and two by the carrier.

There are eight items that must be provided by the importer no later than 24 hours prior to shipment loading. These are:

  • Seller name and address
  • Buyer name and address
  • Importer of record number or FTZ applicant identification number
  • Consignee number(s)
  • Manufacturer (or supplier)
  • Ship to party name and address
  • Country of origin
  • Commodity Harmonized Tariff Schedule

The remaining two elements under the remit of the importer must be filed at least 24 hours prior to arrival at a US port. These are:

  • Container stuffing location
  • Consolidator name and address

While these final two items may be submitted while goods are in transit, it is usually best practice to provide all details as early as possible to avoid the risk of missing filing deadlines.

In addition, it is the responsibility of the shipment carrier to provide the following information:

  • Vessel stow plan
  • Container status messages

How must Import Security Filing (ISF) be made?

All filings for ISF must be made electronically, as there is no provision for paper alternatives. While importers are permitted to use a customs broker to complete the actual process, they may also self-file, which can be a cheaper option. To do this, they will need an account with CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment Portal (ACE) and approved customs filing software that can interface with the platform.

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