Importer Security Filing (ISF)

Understanding the complexities of international shipping, such as Importer Security Filing (ISF), is critical for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), regardless of whether they operate independently or with a freight forwarder. Misunderstandings can result in costly penalties and delays. 

In this guide, we will delve into the importance of ISF Filing, discuss its potential impact on your business’s bottom line, and explore how freight forwarders can help streamline this process, resulting in a smooth and efficient shipping experience.


What is ISF Filing in International Shipping?

The Importer Security Filing (ISF), sometimes referred to as “10+2”, is a regulatory requirement implemented by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

This regulation specifies that importers or their designated agents (for example, freight forwarders) should provide an electronic set of specific data elements about cargo headed for the United States. 

In order to comply with this requirement, the submission must be made at least 24 hours before loading the cargo onto the shipping vessel at the port of departure.

The term “10+2” is derived from the ten data elements the importer must provide and the two additional elements required from the carrier. These data points provide the CBP with detailed information about the cargo, allowing them to evaluate the risk associated with the imported goods, thereby contributing to the security of U.S. borders and reducing illegal activities.


Who is Responsible for Filing the ISF?

If you’re an SMB importing goods into the U.S. by sea, you’ll need to file an ISF. 

This responsibility usually falls on the Importer of Record – the person or company officially in charge of the goods. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. A freight forwarder can also help you to file the ISF on your behalf. These professionals act as your agents, helping ensure everything is done correctly and on time.


ISF Filing and Customs

The ISF is designed to enhance national security and international trade facilitation by providing more accurate information to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on what is being imported into the United States.


Legal Requirements and Penalties

Failure to comply with ISF filing requirements can lead to penalties of USD 5,000 to USD 10,000 per violation. CBP may also withhold the release or transfer of the cargo, refuse to grant a permit to unload the cargo, and if such cargo is unloaded without permission, it may be subject to seizure.


How Freight Forwarders Facilitate ISF Filing for SMBs

Freight forwarders can handle the ISF filing process on behalf of SMBs, allowing them to focus on their core business. They ensure that all necessary information is accurately provided and that the filing is completed within the required timeline.


What’s Included in an ISF Filing? Different Components of ISF Filing

An ISF filing consists of ten essential data elements that are used by CBP for assessing the admissibility and security risks associated with inbound shipments. 

The ten data elements that are required from the importer or their agent are:

  • Manufacturer: The manufacturer or supplier is the party that produced or supplied the goods. 
  • Seller: The seller is the party selling the goods to the buyer.
  • Buyer: The buyer is the party purchasing the goods from the seller.
  • “Ship to”: The “ship to” party is the party to whom the goods will be shipped.
  • Importer of record: The importer of record is the party responsible for ensuring that the goods comply with local laws and regulations as well as paying the assessed import duties and other taxes on the goods.
  • Container stuffing location: The container stuffing location is the place where the goods are loaded into the container for shipment.
  • Consignee number(s): The consignee is the party to whom the goods will be delivered.
  • Commodity Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the U.S. (HTSUS): The Harmonized Tariff Schedule Number (HTSUS) is a code used to classify and define internationally traded goods.
  • Country of origin: The country of origin is the country where the goods were produced or manufactured.
  • Consolidator (stuffer) name and address: The consolidator, also known as the stuffer, is the party who loads the goods into the container.

The carrier is responsible for supplying two additional pieces of information:

  • Vessel Stow Plan: This is a detailed layout that shows the exact placement of each container aboard the sea vessel. 
  • Container Status Messages: This is a set of updates that track the different stages and movements of the containers, for example, when they are loaded onto a ship or moved.


Frequently Asked Questions about ISF Filing


What is the Importance of ISF Filing in International Shipping?

ISF Filing enhances national security and international trade facilitation by providing CBP with quality information about what’s being imported into the United States.


What is the Deadline for ISF Filing?

The ISF must be filed at least 24 hours before loading the ship at the port of origin. 


How Does the ISF Filing Process Work?

The ISF filing process involves the submission of the required data elements to CBP 24 hours before the goods are loaded onto the ship at the origin. This can be done by the importer or their agent.


How Does ISF Filing Relate to Other Shipping Documents?

ISF Filing is a part of the overall documentation required for international shipping. It complements other shipping documents like the Bill of Lading and Commercial Invoice.


How Do Customs Procedures Affect My ISF Filing?

Customs procedures require accurate and timely ISF filing for the clearance of goods. In the event of non-compliance, there may be penalties and delays in the release of goods.


What Are the Legal Consequences of Incorrect ISF Filing?

Incorrect ISF filing can result in penalties of USD 5,000 to USD 10,000 per violation. It can also lead to the withholding of the release or transfer of the cargo, refusal to release the merchandise, and potential seizure of the cargo.


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