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Importer Security Filing (ISF): The Complete Guide
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Importer Security Filing (ISF): The Complete Guide

November 16, 2022
Last Updated:
July 23, 2023
5 min read

✔️If you're importing to the US, read our guide to learn the ins and outs of filing and importer security filing (ISF) and how it impacts your business.

Importer Security Filing (ISF): The Complete Guide

Table of Contents

Did you know that the United States is one of the most open economies in the world when it comes to imports?

In fact, the US imports more than it exports, and with that comes increased responsibility for importers to ensure the safety and security of the goods they are bringing into the country.

This is where Importer Security Filing (ISF) comes in. It's a requirement that all importers must fulfill before their goods arrive in the U.S.

Our handy guide will walk you through everything you need to know about the ISF filing, including all of the rules, requirements, and processes involved.

So if you're ready to learn more about it, and understand how you can become compliant in this vital area of import safety and security, then read on.

What is Importer Security Filing (ISF)?

ISF stands for Importer Security Filing, and it's a US customs requirement for all ocean shipments entering the country. The ISF is also known as the "10+2 filing" because it requires 10 data elements about the shipment and 2 data elements about the importer.

Understanding how to complete an ISF accurately and on time and staying up-to-date with any changes or updates to the filing requirements is essential for those looking to import goods into the US and avoid costly delays or penalties.

The purpose of the ISF is to allow Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to identify high-risk shipments and target them for inspection. This helps protect US businesses and consumers from imported goods that may pose a security risk.

Importer Security Filing (ISF) Requirements and Rules

The following 10 data elements need to be submitted through the Automated Manifest System (AMS) for all ISF filings:

  1. Seller name and address
  2. Buyer name and address
  3. Ship-to name and address
  4. Manufacturer name and address
  5. Country of origin
  6. Commodity Harmonized Tariff Schedule number(s)
  7. Container stuffing location(s)
  8. Consolidator (stuffer) name and address
  9. Importer of record number or foreign trade zone applicant identification number
  10. Consignee number(s)

The two additional data elements are filled out by the carrier or carrier's agent and include the:

  1. Vessel stow plan
  2. Container status message

Who Is Responsible for Filing the ISF?

The importer of record is responsible for filing ISF. They are the legal entity that owns the goods being imported or who has been authorized by the owner to make entries on their behalf.

While the importer of record is ultimately responsible for filing the ISF, there are a few different ways to go about it. The importer can file the ISF themselves, or they can hire a customs broker to file it on their behalf.

There are pros and cons to both methods. Filing the ISF yourself requires you to have a deep understanding of CBP regulations, which can be complicated and ever-changing. If you make a mistake on your ISF, it could result in delays at the port or even fines from CBP.

Hiring a customs broker to file your ISF ensures that your filing will be done correctly and in a timely manner. However, it does come at an additional cost.

When Does ISF Have to Be Filed?

ISF needs to be filed at least 24 hours before the cargo is loaded onto the vessel at the port of origin, so it's important to keep track of upcoming shipments and plan accordingly. In some cases, you may be able to submit an ISF filing up to 10 days in advance of the vessel departure date.

ISF Late Filing Penalty

If an ISF is filed late or if any of the required data elements are missing or incorrect, importers can face significant fines and penalties.

Here are some common errors that importers or their agents make, which can lead to fines of up to $10,000 per shipment:

  • Failure to file
  • Late filing
  • Incomplete filing
  • Failure to withdraw

To avoid these costly penalties, it's important to stay up-to-date with ISF filing requirements and understand your responsibilities as an importer.

How to Check ISF Filing Status?

After submitting your ISF filing, be sure to check in to see if it has been accepted or rejected by CBP. This can be done through:

  • ISF transaction number — through this unique 10-digit number, you can look up the status of your filing and see if any errors have been identified by CBP
  • AMS Match — you can tell if your ISF was accepted if the Master and House Bill of Lading numbers appearing on your receipt matches what the carrier submitted to CBP
  • Customs ABI Status Message — you'll receive an email from CBP if there is an issue with your filing or if it has been accepted

How Much Does Importer Security Filing (ISF) Cost?

The cost of filing an ISF depends on several factors, including whether you are filing your own ISF or hiring a customs broker to do it for you. In general, the cost is minimal compared to the potential delays or fines that can result from incomplete or late filings.

Typically, the fee for an ISF filing through a third-party agent is around $50-$100. On the other hand, it can be as little as $10 if you file it yourself.

Tips for Ensuring ISF Compliance

To ensure compliance with ISF filing requirements:

  • Keep detailed records of your shipments — you will need to provide information such as the commodity type, value, quantity, manufacturer, and country of origin for each shipment. Keeping good records will help you avoid errors when filing your ISF.
  • File your ISF as early as possible — you must file your ISF no later than 24 hours before the goods are loaded onto a vessel bound for the US. CBP may grant extensions in certain circumstances, but it's best to file as early as possible to avoid delays.
  • Use a trusted agent or broker to file your ISF — filing an ISF can be complicated, so it's essential to use a reliable agent or broker who is familiar with the process and can help ensure compliance.
  • Be prepared for changes — the ISF regulation is subject to change, so you have to stay up-to-date on the latest requirements. Your agent or broker should be able to keep you informed of any changes that may affect your shipments.

Make ISF Customs Compliance a Priority

As an importer, it's essential to stay on top of your ISF filing requirements and understand the consequences of non-compliance.

ISF filing can be confusing and complicated, but by staying up-to-date with the latest CBP regulations and hiring a customs broker if needed, you can avoid costly fines and delays in your shipments.

Cargoflip's publicly available free templates can help you easily and accurately submit all trade documents. When working with us, you can be confident that your trade documents will be in order, on time, and compliant with all applicable regulations.

Sign up today and get started on your next shipment.

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