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U.S. Customs Holds and Exams explained

It’s probably the last thing you want to see. A notification that your cargo is on hold, or has an exam. But what does it all mean, and why your shipment?

It is important to know that this isn’t something International Freight Forwarders (IFF) has control over. In fact, Under 19 USC 1467, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the right to examine any shipments imported into the United States, and you, the importer, are required to bear the cost of those cargo exams.

So why is your freight being flagged? Why some shipments and not others?

Well, to be honest, CBP does not disclose the examination information to the trade community due to national security risk. There can be a number of reasons a shipment is flagged for an exam or hold. Things like shipper, importer, tariff number, and country of origin or export are all taken under analytical consideration. Food items and cosmetics also come under heavy scrutiny from agencies like the FDA.

Although some examinations are completely random, there is a track record that follows you and your supply chain. If you are a first time importer, CBP will likely examine your first few shipments in order to establish credibility. If you are a repeat offender of marking or labeling issues, for example, beware of the magnifying glass.

Of course, sometimes you just get unlucky. And once Customs has selected a cargo for exam, there is nothing you can do to wiggle out of it.

The following are the most common types of holds and exams we will notify you about:

VACIS EXAM

(Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System Exam) If you are still wondering what that means, it is just a huge X-Ray machine. Customs wants to peek inside but does not want to open the shipment.

TAILGATE EXAM

Customs wants to look inside the back of the container, but does not physically handle the cargo.

USDA REVIEW/HOLD

(U.S. Department of Agriculture Hold) Their main goal in terms of goods imported into the U.S. is to ensure Animal and Plant health. Wood, paper, and other packing materials can contain bugs and parasites. If packing materials are not properly fumigated and from a country with known issues, USDA may choose to hold your shipment for an examination of these materials.

FDA REVIEW/HOLD

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) controls the approval of all food, cosmetic, and drugs into the U.S. The FDA has a vast array of holds and procedures they can implement. Here are the most common we encounter.

FDA HOLD – Usually FDA wants to see more documentation about the imported product.
FDA EXAM – FDA has determined it wants to physically inspect the cargo.
FDA SAMPLE – FDA wants a sample of the product for testing or further diagnosis.

INTENSIVE EXAM

Customs has decided that they want to look very carefully through the entire batch of cargo, piece by piece if they feel necessary. The cargo is taken to a “CES” or, container Exam Station. This is a private company outside of the port, who is authorized by customs to unload and prep the cargo for Customs inspection.

We understand. Customs Holds might be intimidating. But they help to keep us safe.

Questions? Call 800 288 7139 or email us at customerservice@iffusa.com.