Customs Assigned Importer Number (CAIN)

A Customs Assigned Importer Number (CAIN), which is also formally known as Customs Assigned Number, is a unique identification number assigned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to certain importers of record in the United States. This number allows these importers to report imported goods to CBP for clearance.

The CAIN helps CBP identify the importer and track their imports over time. It is commonly used by foreign importers who do not have a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN). However, in certain situations, U.S.-based individuals or businesses without an SSN or EIN may also be assigned a CAIN for customs purposes.

When an importer uses a CAIN, it must be provided with the relevant customs entry documents when filing an import shipment with U.S. customs. The shipment cannot clear U.S. customs or receive duty-free treatment under certain trade agreements without a valid importer identification number, which could be a CAIN, EIN, or SSN, depending on the importer’s specific situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following is a list of frequently asked questions concerning the customs assigned importer number and how it is used for international shipping.

How Do I Apply for a CAIN? 

In order to obtain a Customs Assigned Importer Number (CAIN), foreign businesses or individuals without a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN) should first ensure they meet the eligibility criteria set by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The process begins with gathering necessary documentation, such as proof of foreign business registration and identification of the business owner or key stakeholders. These documents will be needed for verification purposes.

It is advisable to contact CBP directly or consult with a logistics service provider for accurate guidance on the application process. They can provide CBP Form 5106 (Create/Update Importer Identity Form) or direct applicants to the online portal for submission.

Applicants should fill out the form with precise and accurate details, then submit the completed application and supporting documents as instructed by CBP or the assisting logistics provider. This may involve online submission, email, or postal mail.

CBP will review the provided information in order to assign a CAIN. Once approved, CBP will issue the CAIN, which will be essential for all future importing activities, regardless of the type of goods being imported. The CAIN remains valid unless there is a change in the importer’s information, at which point an update must be submitted to CBP.

Is There A Cost Associated with Obtaining or Maintaining a CAIN?

Obtaining a Customs Assigned Importer Number (CAIN) from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not typically involve any direct fees. This identifier, crucial for importers without a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN), is assigned to facilitate the customs clearance process. As such, CBP provides this service without charging a fee for the issuance of a CAIN, making it accessible for eligible importers looking to engage in trade within the United States.

However, it’s important for importers to be aware that while the CAIN itself comes without a cost, the broader importation process encompasses various expenses. These can include customs duties, taxes, and fees for customs brokerage services, among other potential costs associated with compliance and logistics. Additionally, maintaining up-to-date compliance with customs regulations and managing import documentation can incur administrative expenses. For this reason, importers are encouraged to consult with CBP or a freight forwarder to fully understand the comprehensive costs involved in importing goods into the U.S. and to ensure adherence to all regulatory requirements.

What is the Difference Between an EIN, SSN, and CAIN

The Social Security Number (SSN), Employer Identification Number (EIN), and Customs Assigned Importer Number (CAIN) serve as distinct identifiers within the United States, each issued by different agencies for specific purposes. 

The SSN, which is issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA), is primarily aimed at tracking individuals for Social Security and taxation purposes. It is a critical component of an individual’s identity in the U.S., affecting employment, credit, and various financial activities for U.S. citizens and eligible residents. On the other hand, the EIN is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and targets business entities. Its main function is to identify businesses for tax purposes, facilitating tasks such as hiring employees, opening business accounts, and filing tax returns. The EIN is essential for corporations, partnerships, LLCs, non-profits, and even sole proprietors who employ others.

Differently, the Customs Assigned Importer Number (CAIN), issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), is tailored specifically for importers, particularly those from abroad who lack a U.S. SSN or EIN. The CAIN becomes necessary when setting up a Customs bond, a step that enables the CBP to monitor and control the importation of goods into the U.S. effectively. It’s a specialized tool designed to streamline the customs clearance process for goods entering the country, ensuring compliance with U.S. import regulations.

These identifiers serve unique roles within the U.S. regulatory and economic landscape: SSNs and EINs are fundamental to the tax and employment systems for individuals and businesses, respectively, while CAINs cater exclusively to the import sector, addressing the needs of foreign importers engaging with U.S. customs. This segmentation underscores the tailored approach the U.S. takes in identifying and managing the diverse entities and activities within its borders.

As a Foreigner in the USA, What Should I Do if I Want to Import Goods Without an EIN or SSN?

As a foreign individual or business looking to import goods into the United States without an Employer Identification Number (EIN) or Social Security Number (SSN), your best course of action is to apply for a Customs Assigned Importer Number (CAIN) through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The CAIN is specifically designed for foreign importers who don’t have the typically required U.S. identification numbers.

To begin the process, gather the necessary documentation that proves your foreign business registration and identifies the key stakeholders or business owners. Then, reach out directly to CBP or consult with a trusted logistics provider to guide you through the application process. They will provide you with CBP Form 5106 (Create/Update Importer Identity Form) or direct you to the appropriate online portal.

Fill out the form accurately and submit it along with the supporting documents as instructed. CBP will review your application and, upon approval, issue you a unique CAIN. This number will be essential for all your future importing activities, regardless of the goods you’re bringing into the country.

Keep in mind that while obtaining a CAIN is free, there are other costs associated with importing, such as duties, taxes, and brokerage fees. Work closely with CBP or your logistics provider to ensure you understand and comply with all requirements.

Once I Obtain My Customs Assigned Importer Number (CAIN), What Are the Next Steps to Begin Importing Goods?

After you have received your CAIN and found a suitable supplier, you can partner with a reliable digital freight forwarder to streamline the importation process. The freight forwarder’s responsibility is to ensure that your goods are shipped safely and efficiently. As part of their services, they take care of crucial aspects such as helping you select a carrier, secure cargo insurance, clear customs, and final delivery. By leveraging their expertise, you can focus on running your business while they handle the intricacies of the importation process.



Ready to get started?

By land, air, or sea, Ship4wd makes it easy for businesses to take control of their international shipping