All importers are required to submit ISF filing for cargo bound for U.S. ports. ISF, or Import Security Filing, is a documentation system that ensures all cargo passing through U.S. ports is legal and safe. ISF can sound complicated at first, but it comes down to a single form that gets submitted electronically. This guide will cover all of the details of how ISF works, what data is required, and how to submit ISF filings.
What Is Import Security Filing?
Import Security Filing and Additional Requirements is a rule established by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Also known as ISF or 10+2, this rule requires importers and agents shipping cargo to the U.S. over ocean or sea transportation to file information on their cargo with CBP. Complying with ISF allows CBP to ensure that no illegal cargo is passing through U.S. ports.
ISF only applies to cargo shipped via ocean or sea – it does not apply to cargo imported by air. However, ISF does apply to Foreign Cargo Remaining On Board (FROB), Immediate Exportation (IE), and Transport & Exportation (T&E) shipments. The data needed for these types of shipments differ slightly from the requirements for standard inbound cargo.
ISF Importer Responsibilities
The importer for a cargo shipment destined for the U.S. is responsible for completing an ISF filing for the shipment. Importers are generally the owner, purchaser, or agent responsible for the goods being shipped. The requirements are fairly straightforward, but there are two different versions of ISF for different cargo types.
Regardless of the cargo type, importers are required to submit their ISF filing at least 24 hours before the shipment departs for its journey to a U.S. port.
ISF 10+2 vs. ISF 5
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has two versions of ISF: ISF 10+2 and ISF 5. ISF 10+2 is the most common, applying to standard inbound cargo. ISF 5 requires fewer data to be submitted and applies only to transit cargo, including FROB, IE, and T&E shipments. Any importer who is unsure which category their cargo falls under should contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
ISF 10+2 applies to all cargo, including goods that are entering the U.S. or being shipped to a Foreign Trade Zone. The ISF 10+2 form requires 10 data elements related to the shipment: Seller, buyer, importer of record number or FTZ applicant ID number, consignee number, manufacturer or supplier, ship to party, country of origin, and Commodity Harmonized Tariff Schedule number. The ocean line must provide two additional data elements: The vessel stow plan and container status messages.
ISF 5 is similar but doesn’t require as much data. This shorter form applies only to transit cargo. ISF 5 requires five data elements related to the shipment: Booking party, foreign port of unlading, place of delivery, ship to party, and Harmonized Tariff Schedule number.
All of this information should be readily available to the importer. However, if the importer is unable to find their Commodity Harmonized Tariff Schedule number, they can refer to the U.S. International Trade Commission database for the schedule and more information. Any other missing information will need to be obtained from the other parties responsible for the goods being shipped. If this person is not the agent completing the ISF filing, the importer will need to contact the cargo’s owner and purchaser.
Consequences of Failing to Comply With ISF
Failing to properly submit ISF filings can result in fines of $5,000 or more, as well as potential penalties on the cargo itself. U.S. Customs and Border Protection may withhold the release of cargo that does not have an ISF filing submitted. Additionally, cargo that arrives at U.S. ports without its ISF filing may be refused an unlading permit and may even be seized by CBP officials.
How to Prepare and Submit ISF Filings
Preparing your ISF filing is a straightforward process that should take importers only a short time to complete. Make sure to get started well before the shipment is scheduled to depart, just in case any data is missing or difficult to track down. Have contact information on hand for everyone connected to the shipment, particularly the owner and purchaser.
1. Gather All Necessary Information as Soon as Possible
The first step to submitting an ISF filing is to gather all of the necessary information for either ISF 10+2 or ISF 5 as soon as possible. Refer to the section above for the complete list of data needed for either ISF format. Most of this should be readily available, but be prepared to contact the shipment’s owner or purchaser. Don’t wait until the last minute to gather ISF data.
2. Choose a Filing Method
Once all of the necessary information is organized, it is time to choose a filing method. Submitting an ISF filing is similar to submitting a tax return; importers can do it themselves or they can hire a third-party agent to submit their form for them.
There are several third-party services available for this purpose, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection also operates a secure online portal where importers can submit ISF filings themselves. Either way, ISF data must be submitted electronically – there is no paper submission option.
3. Submit ISF Filing
Once the importer has selected a filing method, they can go ahead and submit their ISF filing. Remember to double-check all of the data before either submitting or giving the data to an agent or third party to submit. If the data is found to be inaccurate, it could result in fines or penalties from CBP.
4. Tracking ISF Status
Importers can use the CBP portal mentioned above to track the status of their ISF filing. CBP typically does not update the tracking status every step of the way. Importers are simply notified once the ISF data is either accepted or rejected.
Import Security Filing Common Questions
The ISF submission process is usually easy and straightforward with the right information on hand. However, it is common to still have a few questions afterward.
What If ISF Data Changes After Submission?
ISF data can change in the event of last-minute shipping changes or alterations to the goods being shipped, or simply if more accurate data become available. Incidents like this are especially common today due to ongoing supply chain disruptions and delays. Emerging supply chain technologies like IoT can help importers maintain accurate, live status information on their shipments, which may reduce the need for last-minute ISF changes.
If the ISF info does need to be updated, importers have some flexibility to do so. U.S. Customs and Border Protection allows importers or agents to update their ISF data up to 24 hours before the cargo arrives at a U.S. port.
Is There a Fee to Submit an ISF Filing?
Yes, there are fees to submit an ISF filing. Importers have to pay an ISF bond as well as a filing fee. The exact amounts for these fees vary slightly, but the total amount is typically up to $120.
Stay Safe by Submitting Your ISF Filing
Importers protect their cargo, their business, and their customers when they submit ISF filings. U.S. Customs and Border Protection designed the ISF filing system to ensure only legitimate cargo passes through U.S. ports. Submitting the necessary data does not take long and maintains safe and legal shipping standards for importers, port employees, and American customers.
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