Understanding the Different Types of US Customs Holds and Exams

Finding out that your cargo has been selected for Customs Exam is one the news an importer is not happy to hear from their customs broker. A Customs Exam could translate into prolonged delays, expensive fees, and not being able to comply with your end customer’s expectation of on-time delivery.

Why are shipments put on hold by US Customs?

With thousands of tons of cargo coming into the country every day it is the responsibility of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to ensure that restricted, illegal, or even improperly packaged cargo does not enter the country, many import shipments are flagged, putting the process on hold, and potentially subjecting the merchandise to an exam.

If US Customs issues a HOLD to your shipment, you will receive a notification directly from CBP or from your Customs Broker advising of the situation and if there is anything required from you as the importer. The most common type of cargo holds you may encounter when importing goods into the US are:

  • Manifest Hold: Cargo in transit to the US is manifested either via an ISF (ocean) and/or the AMS transmitted by the carrier. CBP may want to verify the manifested information and will request additional information/documents.
  • Commercial Enforcement Hold: Any hold imposed by CBP, or another federal agency may be referred to by the general term “commercial enforcement hold.” It could be for verification of copyright, trademark, safety requirements, or licensing. Also, if CBP suspects the classification or valuation of the imported goods is not correct.
  • Statistical Validation Hold: If there are inconsistencies between your shipping documentation and the actual cargo, such as different weights, values, or commodity declarations, your cargo may be put on hold.

Once the cargo is flagged for examination, CBP agents have about a month to conduct an exam on held goods. The exam must take place at the port of arrival in compliance with customs law.

Types of Cargo Examinations

There are three most common types of US Customs exams that may be applied to your cargo. These are:

  • VACIS/NII Exam: Respectively, this stands for Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System Exam and Non-intrusive Inspection. This exam requires that your goods go through a giant x-ray machine, giving the CBP agents a better look at its contents.
  • Tailgate Exam: This is another simple test, in which the Customs agent handling the inspection opens the freight container and performs a brief visual check of the items inside.
  • Intensive Exam: Your merchandise will be thoroughly inspected at a CES location (Centralized Examination Station). The entire cargo container will be taken to a privately run warehouse where it will be unloaded, sorted, and stripped. The Customs agents may take samples, if necessary.

The examination process can take from a few days to some weeks, depending on how busy the examination location is, which will result in storage and demurrage fees for the importer.

Need Help? Hire A Customs Broker!

If your shipment is chosen for inspection, there isn’t much you can do. Working with a C-TPAT certified customs broker such as Promptus can help you be prepared for any worst-case scenario.

We are a global logistics company that offers freight forwarding services to companies all over the world as well as a licensed Customs Broker. If CBP holds your shipment, our Brokers will assist you in navigating customs regulations and procedures. Contact us today at 1-877-776-6799.