What to be aware of when making a US customs filing

Accurate, timely customs filing is a critical activity for all businesses trading in the US, whether they are importing goods to the country or exporting out of it. However, ensuring this is performed correctly and in full can be a time-consuming, labor-intensive process.

The costs of failing to do this can be high. At a bare minimum, incomplete or inaccurate US customs filing can result in severe delays in releasing items from ports, which can have major knock-on effects throughout the supply chain. In serious cases - especially those involving more sensitive and restricted goods - consequences can include large fines or licenses being revoked.

Therefore, it's essential that all businesses are familiar with the basics of US customs filing. This should include a working knowledge of the technologies and processes they are required to use, what information is needed and who is responsible for filing it.

It also pays to have access to the most up-to-date technology that can not only automate the process of customs filing, but also ensure firms are paying the correct amount of duty and complying with any relevant legal regulations, such as restricted party screening and export controls. Having this all in one place greatly simplifies the process of US customs filing and ensures trade can flow as smoothly as possible.

Using the Automated Commercial Environment

The heart of the US customs filing system is the Automated Commercial Environment, or ACE. This is the main digital system for reporting imports and exports to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency and offers an electronic single window that covers all manifest, cargo release, post-release, export and partner government agency data.

The main goals of ACE are:

  • To improve security
  • To improve interconnectivity between agencies
  • To cut down on manual reporting processes
  • To improve the collection of duties and other taxes
  • To speed up the flow of goods into and out of US ports of entry

Secure Data Portal and EDI

The ACE system can be accessed either via the web-based Secure Data Portal or the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). While the Secure Data Portal can be used through most modern web browsers, using the EDI requires filers to have approved systems that are able to send and receive CBP data, such as authorized ACE software.

CBP highlights a range of benefits of using EDI to complete a US customs filing. These include:

  • Faster CBP transaction processing
  • Sharing of electronic data between CBP and other government agencies
  • Import and export manifest filing
  • Entry summary filing
  • Electronic census warnings and override features and post summary corrections capabilities
  • Document Image System functionality

Import Security Filing and 10+2

When importing goods to the US, the customs filing system enterprises must engage with is called the Import Security Filing (ISF). This is a mandatory requirement for all goods arriving in the country via sea freight and provides CBP with essential information about goods entering the country, such as what public safety hazards they may pose.

To maintain compliance with these customs filing rules, the majority of required details must be submitted no later than 24 hours prior to loading at the port of departure, with the remainder provided at least 24 hours before arrival at a US port. This means organizations must ensure they have the necessary information on hand in a timely manner to avoid delays or fines.

What information must be included in a filing?

Import customs filing declarations are sometimes referred to as 10+2, which refers to the separate pieces of information they must contain - ten elements to be provided by importers and a further two that must come from the shipment carrier.

For importers, the information they must provide as part of an ISF 10+2 declaration 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
  • Container stuffing location
  • Consolidator name and address

The remaining two elements, which are the responsibility of the shipper, are the vessel's stow plan and any container status messages.

In order to make these declarations, importers can use a broker, or opt to self-file. While self-filing is the cheaper option, it can be more time consuming and open to errors if firms are using manual processes. Again, these processes will need to use the ACE's EDI portal.

The benefits of US customs filing software

In order to make US customs filing as straightforward as possible, having access to the right software is vital. This allows businesses to automate many of the critical processes involved in these activities, ensuring that documentation is submitted in a timely manner and all required information is included. By interfacing directly with the ACE system, this ensures importers and exporters can remain fully compliant with their legal requirements.

The first step should be to find a software solution approved by the US government and certified to submit transactions to CBP via the Automated Broker Interface (ABI).

While there are a wide range of options to choose from, many of these are limited in what they can offer. For instance, while there are many vendors that are approved to file ISF data, there are far fewer that can also offer services for ACE Entry, Document Image System, drawback, or Foreign Trade Zone capabilities.

Partnering with a provider that can offer everything an importer and exporter needs in one single, easy-to-use package greatly simplifies the process of US customs filing. As well as allowing organizations to connect directly with the ACE system, it also ensures that companies can remain up to date with any changes to requirements that may affect how goods are classified.

This also ensures greater accuracy when it comes to customs classifications and that businesses are always paying the correct tariffs on any imports. All this means firms using US custom filing software can enjoy lower expenses, more streamlined supply chains and better visibility into their operations.

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