Examining the Issue: A Behind the Scenes Look at Customs Inspections

Michael Wohlfrom, Transportation Service Representative, pushes for cargo release so you don't have to.
Michael Wohlfrom, Transportation Service Representative, pushes for cargo release so you don't have to.

As the ETA of your freight approaches, your palms start to sweat, you begin to pace your office, hit the refresh button on the tracking website, and start calling your Customs broker every hour on the hour.  The underlying fears…will your freight be snagged for examination?! Cue dramatic music.

Importers have come to know and dread the hold notifications, whether e-mailed or called in by their broker – but that doesn’t make the news any less painful to hear.  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.  Does it help if we tell you that it applies to personal shipments as well as commercial ones? No?  Ok, well, we tried.  Let’s take a different approach and break out the process as well as define some common examinations you may experience as an importer.

You first may ask yourself, ‘Why is my freight being flagged – and why me and not that guy over there?’  Well, to be honest, CBP does not disclose the examination information to the trade community due to national security risk and all that hoopla.  What we know is that elements such as shipper, importer, tariff number, and country of origin or export are all taken under analytical consideration. 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.

Now, let’s get to the dirty details.  If your shipment is flagged for exam, how do you know? If your shipment has been electronically transmitted to Customs via Automated Broker Interface (ABI), your Customs broker will receive an electronic system notification advising a “manifest hold.”  A notification is also sent out to the carrier, as well as anyone listed in the Notify Party field on your Bill of Lading.  If the field is blank, it will be sent to the Consignee listed.  Once on exam, companies that are Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) certified receive preferential treatment if moved to a Centralized Examination Station (CES); in other words, your container moves to the front of the line.  You should also note that CBP as well as any Participating Government Agencies (PGA) that regulate your cargo have the right to recall your goods with a redelivery notice up to 180 days after release.

The following is a quick breakdown of common exams that importers may encounter.

Vehicle and Cargo Inspection Systems Exam (VACIS)/Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII)/X-Ray Exam

VACIS uses gamma ray technology to produce images of tankers, commercial trucks, sea and air containers, and other vehicles for contraband such as drugs, weapons, and currency.  This examination does not break the seal on your container, and is usually completed ship-side or within the port compound.  Depending on the size of the freight (number of pallets, container type), exam fees can range from $25 (per pallet, if LCL) to $350 (40’ container) plus any transportation/trucking to exam plus any PGA fees, if applicable.  Exam charges must be paid before the container can be released from the port, even if it is moving to another CBP or PGA mandated exam.

Tailgate/Backdoor Exam

In this exam, Customs or PGAs have the container moved to an exam area within the port and open the back of the container without handling the cargo.  The seal is removed and, pending any suspicious indicators, could at that time be flagged for a more intensive examination or released.  Costs for this exam range from $100 and up, depending on the port.

Contraband Enforcement Team (CET) Exam/Intensive Exam

This one is a doozie for sure. Not only is this an in-depth search of your container and products, this exam has hefty fees associated with it.  An Intensive Exam is usually initiated after a VACIS exam.  But wait, you may say…‘if they are already going to open my container, why do I have to pay for an X-ray?!’  Although there are a multitude of reasons (and plenty of speculation), we’ve been told that it is for the safety of the off-site workers who will be unloading and handling your cargo.  Intensive examinations require your freight to be moved off-port to a Customs Examination Station (CES) in order to be physically unloaded and inspected.  Because the freight is not Customs released, there are costs associated with using a bonded carrier in order to move the cargo to the CES.  Once the container arrives at the CES, it may wait up to a week in line depending on how many are in the queue.  This is when being C-TPAT certified gives you an advantage, which is essential if you want to avoid demurrage or detention charges from the steamship line for having their equipment in use and out of the port.  Keep in mind that all ports differ in their definition of whether demurrage is applicable to a container that has been moved for a required exam.  After the exam is completed, the importer must pay any charges associated with the exam as well as those due to the steamship line.  An Intensive Exam can range in cost from $500 to over $1000, depending on the port.

If you are sending your freight in a consolidated container, take note that in the event the container goes on a VACIS exam, then the cost of the VACIS is spread over the entire container. If there is an intensive exam, then Customs waits for the container to be stripped and just examines the cargo designated.

Now that fear has been instilled sufficiently into your life, breathe into a paper bag and just hear us out.  The complicated hoops and red tape routine are prime reasons you need someone who is able to juggle the responsibilities of guiding your freight through this complex process.   Also, patiently take note that the charges associated with examinations are not your broker’s fault.  Let’s just gang up and put the blame where it belongs, on CBP.  Just kidding; we’re thankful they are keeping us safe.  Keep in mind that although you know your freight is safe, or at least you think so, the determining safety factor is each and every hand in your supply chain.  It’s all risky business, not only on the terrorism side, but also for PGAs, like U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Though you may hear about a recall of salads from your favorite local chain restaurant, what you don’t hear about are all the cases of food poisoning, sickness, and sometimes deaths that were prevented by these exams.  Tile importers, wildly known throughout the industry for receiving VACIS and Intensive exams, happen to bring in a commodity that contains pests harmful to our agriculture (cue in fumigations on top of exams).  And you know how upset we would get if we didn’t get all that corn syrup in our food!    So bottom line is, although they won’t tell us how and why exams and importers are not created equal, as an importer, broker, or forwarder we are required to comply.

Have a fun exam story to share?  Leave me a comment below!

-- Olga Lyakhovetskaya
Marketing Manager


  • Don Huber

    Very good explanation of the exam process. Valuable for importers who have never been to a port.

  • Gene Edwards

    Thanks for the synopsis, Olga. Great information.
    What gets me is when CBP performs a tailgate exam they interupt my chain of custody by not recording the seal that they broke and by not reporting to me (or the ship-line or the port system) the seal that they installed afterward. As a C-TPAT Tier 2 importer, I have asked the several SCSS that have been assigned to our account over the years what can be done to ensure that CBP upholds the same standards that we as importers are held to. No one has an answer, a solution, or a point of contact to address this. Makes one wonder

  • Shapiro

    Hello Gene! Thank you for the feedback!

    I have consulted with our Director of Compliance, Jane Taeger, on the issue you have brought up. It’s our understanding that Customs is supposed to place the original seal just inside the door of the container so that the importer can match it up with the documents. The replacement seal should indicate that it was placed by CBP. Generally, importers are aware when they have had an exam, so they should expect that the seal number will not be the original as shown on the docs.

    If Customs is not placing the original seal inside the container after an exam, you should contact your C-TPAT Supply Chain Security Specialist.

    I hope this helps, even if only a little, with this problem.

    Thank you so much for your feedback and we hope you subscribe to our many informative publications under Shapiro Says and Shapiro U.

  • Monika H

    Thanks for the information provided here, it’s much appreciated. I have a question though. You state “After the exam is completed, the importer must pay any charges associated with the exam as well as those due to the steamship line. ” Where does it say that we, the examined parties, have to pay these fees to the CES? In our case, we export a container and had to undergo an A-TCET exam for which we were charged $2000 in total costs and fees.

  • Shapiro

    Good Afternoon Monika,

    Great question. Customs states “The importer shall bear any expense involved in preparing the merchandise for CBP examination and in the closing of packages” (19 CFR 151.6)” Because the examination of your cargo was A-TCET Exam (Anti Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team), it falls into the CBP exams territory. Unfortunately, this is the risk of shipping, however, can be minimized through C-TPAT certification. The certification has benefits such as reduced number of exams and preferential treatment. More information can be found here, http://bit.ly/1pVYEmS.

    If you find that you are receiving examinations often, you should consult with your broker and potentially ask for a compliance review to make sure all of your information is being filed correctly.
    We are also able to assist with this in our new compliance appraisal service, http://bit.ly/1jMDioc.

    We sincerely hope this helps and thank you for the comment!

  • Jason

    Hi I am importing one pallet of personal effects, the container it was in was flagged to CET exam, my charge is $319 for one pallet is this a normal ammount, the cargo was shipped from the UK to US, thru New York onto LA.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Jason,

    The answer to your question is unfortunately, yes. Since your shipment was consolidated in a full container, all the cargo in that box would have been flagged for examination. The extent of the examination most likely included a preliminary X-ray exam, drayage by a bonded carrier to a CES, unloading and examination, any terminal fees if the container was kept beyond the allotted time, and upon release, drayage to the warehouse where it was de-consolidated.

    As you can see, CBP examination is no simple matter and can incur high costs. Customs does not release the reason, or rather “who to blame,” for any particular exam and splits the costs amongst the cargo owners, for security purposes. Keep in mind it could have been your freight that triggered the examination. Could you imagine having to pay all those costs yourself?
    I hope this helping in answering any questions you may have. Thank you for reading and contributing to our discussion!

  • Fred

    Hi, my question is this, I ordered a machine from Hong Kong by way of dhl and they say it is being examined, I would like to know who will notify me when the examine is over for the cost of the examine? Also on a rough estimate how long will the examine take? They had it sense the 25 of March.

  • Shapiro

    Hello Fred!

    Unfortunately, when dealing with couriers, there isn’t a great deal of communication. If your shipment was consolidated in a container with other freight, depending on the type of examination, it would not be released until Customs received the information they are looking for and are satisfied with the safety of the entire shipment.

    In your position, I would be active in contacting DHL to make sure that they have all the documentation needed from your end, asking for the specific status of the shipment and the type of examination it is receiving. You should also inquire when examination payments need to be made to DHL per their policies. You may find that they are waiting for information or payment from you before proceeding with the final delivery. When dealing with couriers, you must be the active party soliciting information requests. They simply have too many shipments going through to personally call you and update you daily.

    We hope this information is helpful with your shipment!

  • Huzaifa


    I would personally not like to disclose my information, but I am looking for help. I am an importer in Canada, I use the USA as an transit hub to get my products to Canada. Approximately at least 50 plus containers per year, the problem I have is, approximately 1 out of every 3 shipments is held by customs, checking my competition they aren’t held at all. Now each time they hold my container they do the pop and tap, vacis, and cet, they have inspected so many containers over the last two years, demurrage and exam fees have costed me approximately 60,000 USD. I am looking for help, what should I do and how can I find out why I am being targeted, is it someone is reporting me etc. Any help is good help

  • Shapiro

    Hello Huzaifa,

    We are sorry to hear that you are having so many issues. Know that you are not alone. As stated in the article, Customs does not disclose the exact nature of why you are being flagged for examination, especially so frequently. With little information on your product/business, we think you should consider some inquiry steps. Have you asked your Customs broker to push for information, as in, talk to the CES and customs? Comparing yourself to your competitors may be a litmus test, however, know that their supply chain varies from yours, so be sure to compare apples-to-apples. Have your containers ever included contraband? If so, this is a primary reason for increased examinations, at least until Customs feels satisfied.

    Ask your Customs broker for a review of your compliance program. If they do not provide this service, Shapiro offers a full compliance audit.

    If you would prefer to discuss you matter in a more private setting, please do send us an email through our Contact Us portal in the top header on every page.

  • Michael Capezza

    Very informative Article and some informative responses. All excellent information for a supply chain manager.

  • John Wenlock-Smith

    Excellent article and very useful for those around supply chain who little or no grasp of the rules, roles and use of customs examinations of inbound cargoes – we do apply similar rules and conditions on imports into the EU too ..
    now a story for you – many years ago (about 20 years back now) i worked in the meat trade and we used to export UK Intervention beef to “third countries” (Non EU ones)
    we were always having containers stopped at the point of export (as there was a refund claimable) for full examination and sampling
    we took us this up with UK Customs via a local Member of Parliament and we discovered that what was happening is that the sample that customs were taking to verify eligibility for refund was not a representative sample (beef came in 25 kg boxes and they would open a box randomly and select the smallest piece they could find and base the whole 23000 Kgs on possible a 100 gramme sample which could have been an offcut a packer put in to make the box 25 kg weight)
    we did resolve this eventually but it shows the potential risks to shippers and importers

  • Kathleen

    Great article to help explain the issue to colleagues.
    You stated: “If you find that you are receiving examinations often, you should consult with your broker and potentially ask for a compliance review”. Could you clarify what would be considered frequent? We have experienced three sequential (CBP) exams this spring (1 every week for 3 weeks) on our LTL shipments and similar patterns last year – three in a row during spring, and autumn.
    It could be the other products in the LTL, but a pattern makes us pause. What should the compliance review be sure to include besides origin and classification?

  • Shapiro

    Hello John,

    That is a very interesting tale. Your story echoes why it is important to have your broker / freight forwarder vested in your company and operations. Some tend to forget that customer success is their success when mired down in the day-to-day operations and we are all now painfully aware how detrimental issues like persistent exams can be.

    If you would like to check out some more publications, we have some great free whitepapers available: http://www.shapiro.com/shapiro-u/whitepapers/

    Thanks again for commenting!

  • Shapiro

    Hello Kathleen,

    Glad you enjoyed the information! There are a number of factors that would need to be considered before answering your concern fully, for example, if you are importing vs. exporting, your commodity, frequency of shipments, etc. Certainly the fact that it is an LTL shipment plays a role in the examination process.

    There is no certain way to drill down find out how or why Customs examines certain freight over others. As mentioned in the article, it is for national security purposes that the logic is not released, however, steps can be taken to try and mitigate your chances. Whether that be C-TPAT certification (http://www.shapiro.com/assets/What-You-Need-to-Know-About-Customs-Trade-Partnership-Against-Terrorism-C-TPAT.pdf) or a compliance review/appraisal (http://www.shapiro.com/consulting/import-compliance/compliance-appraisal/) it is about being as compliant as possible with trade rules.

    We would be more than happy to take this conversation offline into a more private consulting discussion. Simply send us an email through our Contact Us portal in the top header on every page. Thank you for commenting, we hope this information was helpful!

  • Emeka

    How does this Customs examinations affect containers for export out of US? I have a container loaded with 3 SUVs headed to Africa (consists of 1 of 2014 Range Rover and 2 other (about 6 years old) SUVs, but it has been with held by US Customs and yet to be released since about 3 weeks. Is there anything I am expected to do to get this moving?

  • Shapiro

    Hello Emika!

    Export exams can be equally as challenging as import ones. Many situations could be responsible for export delays. Did you know that if an exam station is running behind schedule, your freight must wait until it is released? A few other cautionary circumstances are if the AES (Automated Export System) entry wasn’t filed or was filed improperly, or the proof of ownership documents are not in order. The initial steps would be to call your freight forwarder and ask if the all the necessary documentation is in place and filed correctly.

    The good news is Customs spells out requirements for motor vehicles exporting on their website (http://www.cbp.gov/trade/basic-import-export/export-docs/motor-vehicle) in fairly basic terms and has a similarly basic FAQ section on exporting (http://www.cbp.gov/trade/aes/general-faq).

    We hope this information was helpful and thank you for reaching out!

  • Celso Paganini

    Very good analysis. Thank you. I am missing the handling of fresh produce containers subject to USDA Cold Treatment procedures, which is partially handled differently than other commodities. In these cases the steamship line decides to which CES the containers will be moved for the so-called CBP Agrigultural Inspection, a phytosanitary inspection that checks that there are no insects alive, practically the last step on the USDA Cold Treatment procedure. The steamship line determines the drayage company in charge for this port-internal move to the CES. The importer has absolutely no control over this process, but might be charged detention charges for delays on this port-internal move, even if the drayage company delays this process beyond the 1 or 2 days necessary to do so. How can the importer be hold responsible for detention if not in possession/control of the equipment??

  • Shapiro

    Good Morning Celso,

    Thank you for the great question! USDA and fresh produce/cold treatment procedures are most definitely a difficult beast. The treatment manual alone is 916 pages long (http://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_export/plants/manuals/ports/downloads/treatment.pdf)!

    The Container Examination Stations (CES) are pre-designated depending on their capabilities, for cold storage, they must have the equipment necessary to keep your goods fresh. You should be able to determine the drayage carrier as long as they are a bonded. After all, your freight has not yet been released for public consumption and therefore only these trucking companies are able to handle it. You could try to speak with your broker/forwarder to advocate depending on the trucking company you would like to use. Your broker should also be trying to get your freight moved as quickly as possible. It is no secret that C-TPAT (Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism) certification is known to get your freight preferential treatment during examination as an incentive of proving the security of your supply chain. You can read more about it in the Resources section of our website under the Shapiro U header or download this PDF http://www.shapiro.com/assets/What-You-Need-to-Know-About-Customs-Trade-Partnership-Against-Terrorism-C-TPAT.pdf. We are more than able to assist you through the C-TPAT certification process should you require help. Keep in mind, however, this will not reduce the number of examinations, simply assist with moving you higher up in line. And, the faster you get out of the CES, the less detention you should receive.

    Bottom line, with a sensitive commodity, you should be have a broker/forwarder that is assisting and advocating you through this process. Although the government holds the importer responsible financially as well as legally to bear the costs of importing product subject to examinations, if you feel that more could be done, you should look for a higher quality of customer service.

    If you would like to speak with the USDA contact for cold treatment directly:
    Treatment Quality Assurance Unit
    1730 Varsity Drive, Suite 400
    Raleigh, NC 27606
    Phone: (919) 855-7400
    Fax: (919) 855-7493
    Contact: Scott Wood

    Thank you for reaching and please feel free to contact us should you require any assistance.

  • Aldo

    I am exasperated. My 20 year old furniture and clothes (which is the same I shipped to Hong Kong in 2005) was held for Vacis, CET and USDA hold. I used a relocation company who’s USA agent had misplaced the export declaration. That and the fact that the agent’s person in charge was in and out on maternity leave during this process may have prompted this search. It has been two weeks and no one has told me how much I need to pay. The agent’s paperwork says that it may cost me $2,500 for a 20-ft container. I don’t have a job and already paid about $10,000 to move or old stuff. What do I do??

  • Shapiro

    Good Afternoon Aldo,

    We are very sorry to hear about your relocation problems. Although Shapiro no longer handles personal shipments, we’d be happy to give you a few steps that hopefully resolve this issue.

    Firstly, examinations for personal freight shipments are not uncommon and should not be pinned down to an employee being on maternity leave. They are full of self loaded cargo that was not manufactured from a secure location such as with commercial shipments. The U.S. agent should be in communication with the status of your freight at all times. In terms of the import documentation, please make sure you have provided the U.S. agent with a full inventory of what is inside the container.
    You should be calling this broker daily if they are not giving you answers and elevating the situation to the managers. The cost you mentioned is pretty typical when adding up examination fees, bonded drayage, and detention/demurrage, and chassis.

    Should the situation call for it, below are the USDA and CBP websites. To find contact information, simply put the city your shipment arrived into for specific office contacts at the port:

    USDA: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome
    CBP: http://www.cbp.gov/

    We wish you the best of luck in this situation.

  • Jones

    I recently had a container of items stopped for the intense exam. I unfortunately had a small amount of non US conforming contraband that I was unaware didn’t conform. Does this mean they will search my next container. My problem is that I loaded and shipped another container before O was aware of the non conforming contraband. In this situation what should I do?

  • Shapiro

    Hello Jones,

    Seems like you have quite a dilemma. Unfortunately, because violations of contraband were found on your shipment, it is highly likely that your next container will also receive an examination. It would be wise to advise your customs broker of the content in your next shipment so they can act proactively when/if it is pulled for examination. In the future, it is best to keep in mind that just because a particular item can be shipped, that does not make it legal for consumption in the United States. It would be best to confirm your product follows the required U.S. laws and regulations with the appropriate government agencies.

    We hope this information was useful and best of luck in your shipment.

  • April

    I have a question about a shipment that was held up in customs over an inside label being incorrect, at first i thought it was weird that they were opening the package all together but now from reading i see that it is normal but the label was not customs required & had no bearing on what the invoice & packing slip said , it was just human error, is it normal that they hold it for something so insignificant like this?

  • Shapiro

    Good Afternoon April,

    Thank you for reaching out to us. It is true that customs has basic labeling requirements which may detain a shipment. Depending on what your specifically imported product was, it may have fallen under CBP jurisdiction. Country of origin marking, for example, must always be shown correctly. When a labeling violation has occurred, CBP will require the importer to have the product relabeled before releasing it into US commerce.

    This link will take you to a search of the CBP website in regards to label requirements:

    You should reach out to your broker and request detailed information about the particular labeling requirement feedback and enforce it for future shipments.

    We hope this information was helpful. We would be more than happy to take this conversation offline into a more private consulting discussion. Simply send us an email through our Contact Us portal in the top header on every page.

  • Tim

    I recently had a container being held. When customs finally finished there exam a couple weeks later and it was ready for release, I was told my bill was $6800! This is an outrageous amount of money. Can this be correct? I thought this was a standard inspection. Do they all cost about this much? Thanks

  • Shapiro

    Good Morning Tim,

    Wow, $6,800… That’s quite a pill to swallow. In truth, for one container, it is not typical for CBP examinations to cost quite this much. More information would be needed to get specific details such as your product, the exams was subject to, etc.

    I would ask your broker for an invoice detailing all examination related charges associated with your container. Since the examination took several weeks, this could be a combination of demurrage, detention, bonded drayage with chassis charges, and exam fees.

    To explain a few of these terms, demurrage are charges for not picking up your shipment at the final port within the typical 3-4 days upon arrival and discharge, while detention is a charge is for not returning the container within the carriers’ time limit, most times 10-days.

    Be sure to ask your broker for all entry release notes and records to double check that freight was being moved along through the inspection in a timely manner.

    We wish you good luck in your shipments!

  • April

    I understand & thank you for getting back to me. The label i was referring to in my shipment was just an internal label for my company, doesnt even have to be on the package at all & they held it for that but then allowed our customer to come in & remove it so that he could take it home…

  • Shapiro

    Good Afternoon April,

    Yes, it is common for customs to allow the manual removal of a label before releasing to make it compliant within US labeling requirements.

    We would still recommend requesting detailed information about the particular labeling requirement and what regulation the removal was based on. Keep in mind, customs must base its review on the packaging the shipment arrives in and the regulations they are required to enforce.

    Best of luck in your shipment!

  • Mike


    Thank you for posting this very informative article!

    I am shipping a 14 QM LCL load from China to the West coast. Today my import coordinator told me that the container is going to be scanned by customs and then inspected and to expect to pay about $700+ for this along with other fees. I asked if we can get any records of these fees after customs is finished and we pick up the goods, and he told me that customs does not issue any paperwork. Is this normal? As this is my first time importing, I’m concerned about being left in the dark. Thanks!

  • Shapiro

    Good Afternoon Mike,

    First we want to say, welcome to importing! Although it may seem a bit harsh your first time, with the right guidance and compliance, we hope it will get much easier.

    Now, to assist with your dilemma. Although your broker is correct that there is not much paperwork to go with customs inspection, you should be able to receive the invoice from the terminal and/or bonded warehouse that completes the examination along with trucking charges from your broker. You can also request proof of exam completion dates with times from your broker via their Automated Broker Interface (ABI) notes, or, if they are more the old fashioned, hand stamped releases from CBP or Other Government Agency that are examining your freight.

    We hope this is able to answer your inquiry. If you are interested, we also provide a Compliance Appraisal to review you import program that includes some great information.


  • Keith Batley

    I shipped a motorcycle from the UK to the US in a shared contained. The container was selected for detailed inspection by US Customs. My agent is telling be MY portion of the incurred cost is $3760.00, which is more than the motorcycle is worth. Is this charge realistic?

  • Shapiro

    Hello Keith!

    Sorry to hear that you are having a rough time. Personal and especially vehicle shipments are known to be flagged for examinations often, however the price you are reporting is quite a sum.

    Are you sure that your agent isn’t giving you the total for the shipment including brokerage, transport, and delivery fees along with the exam charges? In any case, you should be able to view the invoice from the terminal and/or bonded warehouse that completed the examination along with trucking charges from your broker for the exam. You can also request proof of exam completion dates with times from your broker via their Automated Broker Interface (ABI) notes, or, if they are a bit more old fashioned, hand stamped releases from CBP or Other Government Agency that are examining your freight to make sure everything is being charged correctly.

    We wish you good luck and thank you for commenting!

  • Lisa

    I have an export order, shipping terms FOB with the customer. Our warehouse in china had sent the FCL container to customers forwarder . However it did not make the vessel that was booked as it is being held up in china customs. Apparently it was randomly checked and detained It has now been 2 weeks since it was suppose to have set sail, however it is still bring detained by customs. Our warehouse have been in contact with customs but they are not providing much detail as to why it is still being detained. As shipping terms are fob, I assume it is still our responsibility to handle with customs (even though we already handed cargo to forwarders)? Also how long do china customs usually detain containers? Our customer said that it may be detained due to issue with hs code. However our warehouse assure me it is the correct code for goods as they have been using it for the past years on all shipments of same content. My customer is getting angry at us as to why it is still be detained but I cannot provide them with any answer as our china warehouse is getting nothing from customs. How long does it usually take?

  • Shapiro

    Hello Lisa,

    According to Incoterms 2010, if terms of sale are Free on Board (FOB), the seller is responsible for everything up to and including loading onto the main carrier for shipping. This means export clearance responsibility is indeed the seller’s responsibility. A detailed description of Incoterms can be found free in our Resources page:


    Our suggestion is to get in contact with your customer’s freight forwarder as soon as possible to assist with the HS code discrepancy. Unfortunately, there is not much else we can recommend as we are not the forwarder, know more details as to what your commodity is, or reason of detention.

    Please feel free to advise your customer to contact Shapiro for future shipments.

  • GoingCoastal

    I’ve just moved to BC, Canada, from the UK. My sole use container of used household goods is currently on a ship that has sailed through Panama and is off the coast of Mexico.
    Initially it was due in Vancouver on the 26th of September but I’ve now been told it’s got a 7H NII hold on it and will be taken off in LA.
    As I’m not actually importing to the States, this sounds very strange.

  • Shapiro

    Good Morning Going Coastal,

    Seems like you’ve hit a bit of a snag while relocating. Although Shapiro no longer handles personal affects shipments, we may be able to explain a bit of what is going to happen.

    We would advise checking with your freight forwarder to see how your cargo is truly being routed. Perhaps your shipment is moving in-bond through the U.S. and will discharge in Los Angeles? There are many ways to move cargo that aren’t direct ocean. 7H hold is the equivalent of a Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII.) You can read a more detailed explanation in the above article. This examination is essentially a large scale X-ray and will not break the seal of your contents. It is fairly typical for personal affects cargo to be inspected because of the many varied contents.

    We hope this information was able to assist a bit with your move. We wish you the best of luck in your new home!

  • Richard

    In curling, we are sometimes asked to do the same shot…. Usually stated as (Same, same but different). This may indicate a little to the left or a little more weight.
    We’ve had many containers inspected…. some cost as little as $600 and others upwards of $5,500. Most come back in reasonable shape, but a few have been so improperly packed, damages exceeded 25% of the cost of the container. With this last container, A letter was sent
    to Customs and the bonded warehouse who will be un-packing the container, stating exactly what must be done when re-packing and the liability involved. They replied they will take lots of pictures.
    I agree with customs inspections…. what I do not agree with is the delays when inspecting and the massive damage done when re-packing.
    Custom says ” we are short staff, or you have to get in queue, the bonded warehouse is full”. Really!!! I can unload my containers in 8 Hours or less…. so why does it take a week to get the job done at the suffrage warehouse??? And if taking so long, why does so much stuff get damaged

    I have a solution… Hire more inspectors and inspect on location. If customs ran an advertisement “HIRING 20 CUSTOMS AGENT” in my city, I am sure they would have at least 2000 applicants. Who wouldn’t apply for a guaranteed gov’t job … starting at a salary of $9,000/M. Regardless, I’d be very happy to see that agent my property, I’d GLADLY pay double his salary or $1,000 per inspection day.
    There’s a lot advantages for Customs with this method. If you are looking for criminals, going on locations would be the place to be…. you’d think????? Not behind the safety of a desk in an air conditioned office. Of course, Customs would say “We are concerned about the safety of our Employees” They use this line as just cause for not entering a container or when doing x-rays. I guess Customs must be very special employees when compared to Police Officer, and Fire Fighters. Imagine a Police Officer saying “I can’t go in there, I’m scared” or a Fire Fighter saying “I can go in there, it’s to hot”
    I am assuming this container will come with a fair amount of damage. I think it’s time we test the theory of “Who is responsible for Damaged Goods”. I firmly believe, it’s not up to customs to say what is right or wrong, but a judge that makes that determination. Does Customs have the right to destroy property, do they have the right to keep property indefinitely? Does customs have a responsibility to the owner of the container and it’s contents? What are the answer? I guess we will test those in the Court House.

    In front of a Judge the decisions maybe be “Same, Same, but a different conclusion…. ” you (Customs) are responsible, you hired the warehouse, you sent out the bill to the owner….., those items where under your care, you needed to protect them, not destroy them”

  • Richard

    I wanted to add this to my previous comment….

    So you think these inspections charges do not affect you? What do you think I do once I get the bill from Customs. I mark up all the Items in that container by the appropriate amount. YOU, the consumer pays for that inspections, and all the other inspections in this country. YOU have no say in it, no voice, just a lower standard of living.
    Should there be a commerce law dealing with Customs… absolutely. Where does it start? YOUR VOICE! RIGHT HERE!

  • Jack

    All this information is very abstract, i think this charge of $481 per container for pop and tap exam is abusive, and should be paid by the government, not by the importer.
    The final client does not care if we importers are paying more or less , they want the product delivered at price agreed, I think who should pay for this charge is the government or tax payers , why charge only the importer if the entire nation is the beneficiary.

  • judy

    Is there something we can print on the side of the case of product to prevent losing product to damages incurred when the side of the case is sliced open for examination? Cant they merely open the top of the case of goods to inspect?

  • Shapiro

    First, I would like to thank everyone for commenting. An open forum dialogue is exactly what we hoped to inspire.

    The past few comments have voiced concerns about damage acquired during a customs inspection. There are two factor related to this discussion I would like to note; 19 CFR 113.62 (g) and insurance coverage.

    Don’t shoot the messenger, but, under the 19 CFR 113.62 (g) bond condition, the importer agrees to ‘exonerate the United States and its officers from any risk, loss, or expense arising out of principal’s importation, entry, or withdrawal of merchandise.’ For a full and detailed breakdown and importing responsibilities, please visit the following link to the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=8f1755856d93d8b7e58681c3383def9b&node=se19.1.113_162&rgn=div8

    If you find that damage to your freight is frequent and disruptive, there are a few things you could consider. If high volume or inadequate handling consistently causes damage to your goods, you should consider switching your insurance to an all-risk door-to-door plan that will ensure you get reimbursed. Be careful here, standard maritime insurance or limited liability DOES NOT cover this damage. You may think you’re covered until you realize you’re not. Check with your maritime insurance carrier to confirm.

    There is also that great old saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” When communicating with the CES or CBP, do so closer to when your shipment is next in line for examination with specific (and, yes, redundant) instructions. Once your shipment arrives at the CES, most warehouses have online tracking to advise where your shipment is in line for examination. Although this may seem like an exaggerated step, consider that less/undamaged goods are better to receive. One of the great benefits of having a long-term customs broker that provides great customer service, is that they care about your freight as much as you do and are willing to go the extra mile to communicate consistent problems with Customs*cough Shapiro cough*.

    Although these answers may not be what you were looking for, we hope they were able to provide some small form of strategy to assist you.

    Thank you everyone!

  • Steve


    Currently my shipment is inbond in nyc. It hasn’t been flagged yet, but apparently the shipping warehouse sent a mold machine instead of a laser cutting machine. My bill of lading/isf all list a laser cutter. It will be a similar machine in a similar crate size, but I’m guessing it will still get flagged. The problem is i’m not even sure the shipper knows exactly what machine was sent. If I do find this information out how can this be rectified?

  • Shapiro

    Good Morning Steve,

    Thank you for writing in. It seems like you have quite an issue.

    The first step is to get concrete confirmation from the shipper the type of machinery that has been shipped. If the machine is not the one stated on the paperwork, you need to contact your forwarder and Customhouse broker to update your manifest as soon as possible. You will need to make sure your bill of lading, ISF, and customs entry all declare the correct information. To file the customs entry, you will need a revised commercial invoice from your shipper to reflect the correct machinery and price.

    Our Reasonable Care – A Checklist for Compliance resource gives a great breakdown about what is required under the Customs Modernization Act

    If your cargo gets flagged for examination, you may be rejected, requested to update information and accrue demurrage/detention, and/or fined.

    For more information about demurrage/detention, visit our latest Shap Blog: Demurrage, Detention, Per Diem… Oh My! 6 Tips to Avoid Additional Charges.

    We hope this information was helpful!

  • Antonio

    Hi thanks for the info, i have a export container in hold in lax port, for how long can be take by customs, its been 3 weeks and no answer. My freight forwarder sayed there is nothing we can do, i ask for remove the container from the port for air shipping, but he sayed this is a red flag for custom including a lot of charges. Since this my container will not make it on time. Thanks for any advice.

  • Arnold

    Boy this is good information that I have read. I was subject to a VACIS exam and CET which is frustrating since they take so long to do and you have money invested just sitting there. But I am not familiar with this POP & TAP EXAM…I tried to google it but No luck can you please advise to what this exactly is ??

  • Shapiro


    Thank you for leaving a comment. We are going to try and answer some more inquiries that you have asked about.

    Antonio – Due to the horrendous backlogs from the ILWU/PMA labor issues, there is no controlling movement at the port of LA at the moment. We are constantly updating the story with information that is being released. To read more on the West Coast congestion issues, check out http://www.shapiro.com/search/ILWU

    Arnold- So glad our information was helpful to you! To answer your question, a Pop & Tap exam is when they have the trucker pull over inside the terminal and open the back of the container to do a spot check. These are usually quick and don’t delay the shipment unless something identifies the shipment to be sent for further examination.

    Thank you everyone!

  • Claire

    I am so glad I found this site. Thank you. My car was shipped from the UK to New Jersey. The cubic foot was originally listed as 1027 and now I am being asked to pay my portion of the inspection fees at $902. It is calculated at container size 2461 cu ft, my portion 1027 at 83 cents per cu ft = $902 incl $50 admin fee. HOWEVER, I now know my shipment was only 442 cu ft so my potion of the fees should be significantly lower. The UK shippers are arguing that I must pay fees based on the entire portion of the container including all the “dead space” around my car. The USA clearance company are saying the above calculation, which doesn’t seem to include any additional cu footage over and above what they THOUGHT my car was. How do I get the fees reduced to the accurate amount reflecting my actual 442 cu ft shipment?

  • Shapiro

    Hello Claire,

    We are equally glad you found our site and sorry to hear about your cargo complications.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have the best of news for you. Per Customs, the shipper is responsible for all exam charges associated with an FCL (full container load). In your case, since the vehicle was the only cargo in the container, you are responsible for the sum of fees. Customs does not reduce charges on “dead” container space. The only instance in which cubic measurements are used to divide exam fees is when multiple shippers share space in a container, known as LCL (less than a container load).

    We wish you the best of luck!

  • Claire

    Thank you for responding. I didn’t make myself clear – I apologize. My car wasn’t the only thing in the container, there were things from other customers too. My bit was 442 not 1027 as the shippers said. The receiving company here in he US who cleared the container said they will adjust the fees IF the shipper acknowledges my car was 442 and not 1027. This is the current battle! I have asked them to tell me what else it was they shipped of mine that made up the 1027 since we can demonstrate the car is 442. We’ll see what happens I guess.

  • Shapiro

    Thank you for the clarification, Claire!

    There are a few variables to consider in this situation, such as whether or not the “dead space” 1027 cubic feet you are being charged with is based on packaging, and how the shipment was quoted. We hope your shipper acknowledges the correct dimensions and wish you the best of luck!

  • Claire

    The inspections done were BACIS and AQI (?). The clearance company in the USA are saying the fees are charged on item volume per client in the container. The shippers are saying my item volume is my car plus the ‘dead space’ around it in the container. The shipper will not provide the clearance firm with the confirmation that my actual car is only 442, even though they acknowledge to me that it is only that size. Can you tell me if those two fee types are charged on item volume or space taken up in a shared container. I cant believe that customs would inspect dead space.

  • Shapiro

    Hello Claire,

    Sorry to hear that you are still having issues with the exam fees! It is unfortunate that your shipper will not certify the space used by your product in the container to have your fees reduced.

    It is possible that if cargo is oddly (not square/rectangular) shaped, they may claim the dead space since the shipper was not able to put more cargo on or around your vehicle. Keep in mind, the US agent is simply trying to pay the exam fees as that are assigned by the government agencies. Unless they have a coordination charge, the amount is dictated by CBP/USDA (in this case).

    The two exams your shipment received were:
    Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System (VACIS)
    Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI)

    Hope this was able to answer some of your questions.

  • Claire

    Thanks for the reply. I’ve decided to bite the bullet and pay the fees. I need to get my car and possessions to Indiana. It was Jan 2 when I dropped them off at the United Kingdom end of the shipping process.
    I will lodge a query with the two companies involved though as the USA one is adamant I should only be charged fees on the volume of my car, not the space assigned to it in the container.
    Thanks again,

  • JS

    How can I get more information from the fright forwarder regarding the AES or proof of ownership documents? Is there any way to verify their work?

    “A few other cautionary circumstances are if the AES (Automated Export System) entry wasn’t filed or was filed improperly, or the proof of ownership documents are not in order. The initial steps would be to call your freight forwarder and ask if the all the necessary documentation is in place and filed correctly.”

  • Shapiro

    Hello JS,

    Once the forwarder files the electronic export information (EEI), and it is accepted by AES, an internal transaction number (ITN) will be created. This number is a proof of filing and will need to be posted on the commercial documents prior to the goods being exported.

    If you would like to see the manifest information, request a copy of the house bill of lading which contains the ITN number once the EEI is accepted.

    For more information on AES, please check out this link: http://www.cbp.gov/trade/trade-community/automated/aes/about

  • Hamawi TEch

    I have problem right now with customs. My package was cleared first then before it was deleivered to my address. The DHL guy indicated that they came and took some of the packages and it happened to be my package . Now i been calling back and forth to know why and the only answer i hear more inspection . the package contain media players. And its not the first time , i always get the same item and its from Hong Kong . Any idea of whats going on
    Please someone help because i been hearing bad stuff will happen to me and the package ,,
    And should i hire custom broker to see what is going on

    Thank you

  • Shapiro


    We are sorry to hear about your inspection issues. Since your product is technological, we would advise you to contact DHL and confirm if there is any additional information that is needed to expedite the exam. An FCC form may be required, however, if CBP requires you to file a formal entry, you will need to find a Customhouse broker.

    Local brokers can be found in the CBP directory of the port your goods are clearing in. We recommend getting in contact with DHL first to get more information.

    Thank you for commenting!

  • Rawan Haddadin

    I don’t know if you can help me but I have a question. I am buying an indoor play ground from china and they claim that they meet USA standards for the indoor playground . my question is how can I be sure that the company is honest , and will the customs be checking for USA standards on my shipment or what exactly they will be examining for ?

  • Shapiro

    Hello Rawan,

    Thanks for reaching out!

    There is no way to ensure the quality assurance of a product until you physically see the equipment prior to purchase, however, verifying the supplier’s ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certifications is a great place to start.

    Customs will verify any certificates that are required for clearance of the equipment, but if they examine the shipment, it will be to confirm the documents reflect what is being imported.

    We also recommend researching the supplier and to find any reviews.

    Good luck!

  • Joan

    My husband shipped his items in a container from the UK to Virginia. It has landed in port in NY and has been flagged for inspection by customs. My husband recently passed away during this time. If there is a huge charge for the inspection and fees can I just refuse to accept the shipment as my name is not on the forms or contract,

  • Shapiro

    Hi Joan,

    Thank you for reaching out.

    You have the right to abandon the shipment entirely and not accept the goods. You will need to contact the broker that is clearing the freight and advise them of the situation so they can set the process in motion.

    We are very sorry for your loss and wish you the best of luck moving forward.

  • Joan

    Can I wait to see what the charges would be and then decide then. It was flagged on the 21st of May and I haven’t heard anything yet so I would expect big storage fees on top of the inspection fees. But if the charges were reasonable there are some things we bought together on our honeymoon that I would like to have.

  • Joan

    I have decided not to take the risk of being charged very high charges by customs, especially since it was moved to another location and it has been since the 21st of May. I informed the Broker that my husband had passed and she said she will check what needs to be done and get back to me. If need be, I will fax them any proof they need so this can get cleared up and is one less worry right now. Thank you so much for your kind words and helpful information.

  • faruk

    How do I send my international illegal package or cargo. tahank you man

  • Shapiro

    Hello Faruk,

    That’s an easy answer! We would NEVER recommend shipping ANY illegal package or cargo.

    Quite welcome!

  • Rennie

    I’m really glad I found this article and have read all the questions and answers but haven’t found one that is a good match to my situation.

    In April I made a purchase from an Etsy seller in Nottingham, England. I live in New Jersey. The shipment contains a set of antique theater seats that were refurbished by the seller. He found what he thought was the best shipping option with reasonable charges. I had asked the seller to hold on to the shipment so that it would not arrive in the US before June 1st because I would be traveling and unavailable to receive the shipment.

    The shipper he used apparently put the crate in a container with other items being exported. I have no idea what else is in the container. The shipper also passed the container along to another shipper for import here. Neither the seller not I knew that a different importer was to be used for the shipment. I assume that it’s in port in New York which I believe is JFK airport.

    According to the import shipping company, the container with my item arrived on May 30th. When I got back on June 1st I discovered three emails that were escalating in urgency, with the third one becoming threatening, with attached PDFs of forms for me to fill out and get notarized. The importer also informed me that them not having received the paperwork in advance was a HUGE problem and the woman I spoke with was extremely rude and threatened me over the phone with costly additional charges .

    Once they received everything, I received an email informing me that the shipment was DAP and a list of more charges I would have to pay. I called them and informed them that the shipment was DDP and that I had paid all those charges to the seller. I immediately received an email stating that they had made a mistake and yes, the shipment was DDP.

    Today I received an email that the container with my item was selected for an exam. I inquired as to what kind, how long it would take and whether or not my item would be damaged. I was told that it was an intensive exam because the ISF papers weren’t filed on time and that they didn’t know the answers to my questions.

    I do see in the comments above that containers with personal items are frequently selected for exam and the item was wood-crated by a really small business that probably knows nothing about wood inspection in the US although I did fill out the Lacey Act paperwork with the info provided by the seller. I did some Google research on this import company and they are apparently a large, legitimate company with offices all over the world but at this point it just seems like this importer is trying to get me to pay more for my shipment. Seriously, do they get a percentage kicked back from Customs?

    Do you have any idea what kind of exam is probably being conducted, who I can contact about it and what problems and costs I may be facing here?

    Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Rennie,

    We are glad this article was informative to you. Let’s talk through some of the information in your comment.

    Your goods were consolidated with other LCL (less than container) cargoes to lower the overall shipping cost. This is fairly common practice and nothing to be alarmed about, however, does come with some strings attached. Consolidated loads are more likely to receive examinations. When an exam is necessary for consolidations all individual shipments will be delayed. The broker was also correct in stating that lack of ISF filing can flag a container for examination, however, this would be the importer (on the paperwork) and the supplier’s/shipper’s combined information for DDP shipments. We would advise pointing that out to the broker with threatening messages.

    The forwarder informed that the shipment went under an intensive exam, Customs will essentially remove everything from the container to make sure there is no contraband or unreported goods. The process can take quite some time depending on the amount and type of cargo in the container.

    Because the goods were shipped DDP, the shipper should be responsible for the charges that were incurred due to the exam. We recommend that you contact the customs broker that is clearing the shipment and advise them that the shipper should be responsible. In addition, the charges should reflect the space your shipment took in the container, NOT for the full price of a whole container examination. As mentioned in this article, exam charges will be split between all of the cargo owner in the box.

    We hope this additional information was helpful and please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you.

  • Jamil Rishad

    Thanks,after reading your article I felt relieved,otherwise I was cursing my agent.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Jamil,

    We are glad that the information was beneficial for you!

    Good Luck!

  • Martin Taker

    Hello all,
    Thanks for the information Olga. I will admit that I am very frustrated as at this moment. My container which was export bound was released when I checked it in only for Customs to place it back on hold just a day to departure. It has been over 10 days and each time I call they tell me it has not be scanned for exams yet. How best do i solve this problem?

  • Shapiro

    Hi Martin,

    Customs exams are a necessary but also frustrating aspect of shipping. Once a shipment has been pulled for exam, there is little that can be done to expedite the process. You should reach out to your forwarder and ask them to appeal on your behalf, however in most cases CBP will take as long as required to examine the shipment. Remember that your forwarder can be your biggest advocate when communicating with government agencies.

    We’re glad you found the article to be informative and wish you luck with your shipment.

  • rob

    I’ve just had my first shipment flagged for an intensive exam, a 20′ container.

    After reading this I’m pretty appalled and the costs some folk here have had to pay, not to mention the loss of earnings while my goods are sitting there, and the fact that they seem to damage your items.

    I understand customs exams are necessary, but paying up to $6000 for it!

    Should our insurance not cover this cost?

  • Shapiro

    Hi Rob,

    We’re sorry to hear your container was flagged for an intensive exam, $6000 does seem excessive. We recommend that you verify all of the charges with your broker to ensure there were no mistakes.

    Although customs exams can be quite costly, many factors play into the final cost you will have to pay. Depending on the type of exam and the length of time the container is held during the process, the charges can vary greatly.

    Unfortunately, the intensive exam is the most labor intensive since customs will remove all of the cargo to ensure that there is no contraband or undeclared items. Insurance does not cover the charges that are incurred during the process and the importer of record is always responsible for the costs of the exam.

    We wish you the best of luck.

  • rob

    Hi Shapiro, sorry, I haven’t been charged yet… I was just noting another another poor small business owner who’s inventory examined.

    You mention $500 – $1000 for an intensive exam in your article, and about $350 for x-ray, so I’m hoping the fee is under $2,000, they don’t take too long and don’t damage my goods.

    I’ve been importing over a year and never had this happen, it’s possible that it’s because it’s my first full container load.

    It’s extra painful as this is peak season for my product, which is sold out, so I’m loosing thousands a day in lost revenue.

    There’s bitter pills to swallow, but this one’s pretty bad all round.

    I’m wondering, after the exam passes, are you less likely to be targeted in the future… this sort of carry on can really cripple a small business owner.

  • Shapiro

    Good Afternoon Rob,

    We agree and understand the cost of importing and the examination process can be daunting. Additionally so when Customs does not release their targeting practices for national security reasons.

    When gathering information from other importers, the exam fee they advise may more accurately reflect an emotional and overall impact to their business. The numbers reflected in this article are closer to the port rates realities we see on billing notices. The size of your shipment does not necessarily qualify your freight in being targeted. Do you hold a continuous customs bond? If not, you should consider purchasing one. It signifies to Customs that you take importing consistently and compliantly.

    We hope your freight received a timely release!

  • Trisha

    Do examinations become public record. Would I be able to know if my competitors importing the same materials are getting pulled as much as I am?

  • Margaret

    I have a dilemma.
    After picking up our 20′ container from the port, our trucker was fined for overweight fees. After some research, we found that it had been examined by customs at origin. They unloaded the cargo and re-loaded incorrectly, causing the container to be overweight on one of the axles.
    Who would be responsible for the fine? This was shipped FOB at port of origin.
    1. Customs broker said he was with the customs agent after it was unloaded and did not see how it was re-loaded.
    2. Seller
    3. Shipper
    4. Buyer

    Thank you.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Trisha,

    No, Customs examinations do not become public record. An importer’s examination records is held strictly confidential and cannot be shared publically, but you can analyze your own statistical information with reports through the ACE Portal.

    We hope this information was helpful.

  • Yvonne

    Hi, we are acting on behalf of oversea customer buying EXW term with a USA supplier. Our container was held by the USA customs for examination while we deliver it to port for export. So far, charges had already incurred to roll the shipment and transfer the container to designation area pending for examination.
    May I ask based on INCOTERM if our client buying it at EXW, which party should bear all the charges incurred resulting from this custom examination ? The shipper or consignee ?
    Are we able to pin point what caused this container to be held by the USA Seaport Outbound Enforcement Team ? Or is it purely random ?

    Thank you.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Yvonne,

    Thank you for reaching out!

    Customs exams are completely random and there is no way to pin point why the container was pulled. Sometimes, it is related to improper documentation, previous issues with an importer or shipper, but in most cases, it is a random selection process.

    Since the terms for this shipment were Ex- Works, the consignee would be responsible for all charges since they took responsibility for the cargo once it left the shipper’s facility overseas.

    For more clarification on who is responsible for a shipment based on the Incoterm used, please take a look at our Incoterms resource : http://www.shapiro.com/resource-center/resources/incoterms-2010/

    We hope this information helps!

  • Shapiro

    Hi Margaret,

    We’re sorry to hear that you have run into this issue with your shipment.

    Since the terms are FOB, the shipper is responsible for risk and cost up to loading the container on the vessel. However, this situation is tricky because the fine happened in the U.S. while the claim of cause occurred at origin. It will be difficult to make your shipper pay the charges with no way to prove the unbalanced load happened before the container was loaded or during the examination process at origin.

    We suggest you contact the shipper to see if they are willing to cover this cost, however, we advise anticipating push back.

  • Francisco


    Your article has been EXTREMELY helpful and well articulated. One question (since my shipment is under CET at the moment), does the CPB charge on cubic foot of the container?

    Francisco Ortiz

  • Shapiro

    Hi Francisco,

    Customs does not charge for cargo examinations, however, there may still be costs involved for the importer. In accordance with 19 CFR 118.4-5, the Centralized Examination Station (CES) will assess service fees as outlined in the fee schedule included in the approved application to customs. The CES operator remains bound by the existing fee schedule and cannot implement any fee schedule change without written approval from the District Director.

    You will need to check with the CES operator handling the shipment for a current fee schedule.

    Hope this information helps!

  • Niko

    Hi, i have a question, i just move to USA and the broker ask me 6500 for demurrage in oakland, this seem insane to me
    Container had x ray and intensive check but why is it up to me to pay everything?
    You were not the company in charge, but i suspect the other one to try to steal me some money, any advice will be appreciate!

  • Kim

    I ordered a vitamin d protein from France and both times it says it was destroyed by the Dept of Argiculture. Then UPS mails the metal container it was shipped in to keep it cold. Does this sound right destroyed and still shipped twice?

  • Shapiro

    Hi Niko,

    We are sorry to hear about the issues with your shipment.

    Depending on how many days of demurrage were incurred, it could be possible that the charges are that high. You will be responsible for the charges depending on the Incoterms that were used for the shipment. It would be beneficial to check the Incoterms on the shipment to see if the responsibility falls on you or your shipper.

    We recommend that you request proof of charges from your broker since they shouldn’t be making profit off any exams or demurrage charges.

    Please let us know if we can assist in any other way!

  • Leslie Nation

    Thank you for the very detailed and informative article. I found it while searching on the internet to get to the bottom of WHY I HAVE TO PAY for the delay, not to mention the risk of loss or breakage of my personal effects, to be physically inspected! After 3 years of living in China, I moved my belongings to the US (at my own expense) 3 months ago. Unfortunately, I have not yet received my shipment because the entire container it was on was flagged for an Xray inspection and subsequently, a physical inspection. I am now being asked to pay $750 to “release” it so it may travel to my location in the US. To have to pay for an extensive delay is mildly irritating, to say the least.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Leslie,

    We’re happy to hear you enjoyed the article, and we also know how frustrating the exam process can be for importers.

    Personal effects shipments tend to have a higher inspection rate than commercial cargo due to the contents’ nature. While commercial shippers have established compliant import programs, personal shipments are usually seen only once and the tendency to find contraband is higher. While it is unfortunate that your freight is being inspected, it is pretty common with personal effects.

    If your shipment has been on hold in the U.S. for the three months that seems excessive. I would inquire with your customs broker for correspondence with CBP as to what is taking so long to inspect. You should make sure your cargo is not accruing any additional storage while it is on hold for exam.

    We are so glad the information in this article helpful and we hope you get your shipment soon!

  • Laura

    Have just been charged $4000 for inspection fee of household goods shipped over to US. According to the freight handler, this outrageous fee is only happening in Atlanta, not other areas where they receive goods and where customs inspect them. This charge is for the goods to be sent to a third party who unpacks all the boxes so that Customs can come in and take a look. Once Customs is done, the third party packs it all back up to be sent to us. As a private party who already paid a fortune to get our household goods here, these charges are incredibly high. It is also strange that it is only occurring in Atlanta. Highly suspicious if you ask me.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Laura,

    We’re sorry to hear that you’re having issues with your shipment.

    We recommend contacting your broker immediately for a prorated invoice of the charges with backup. Intensive exam charges can vary from port-to-port, but your broker may be able to shed some light on what is causing the fees to be so high. Remember, charges could also inclusive of bonded trucking, equipment usage, and storage fees.

    We hope you are able to mitigate or receive an explanation to resolve your issues!

  • Ali Javed

    My shipment is hold for exam since two weeks because there are some other shipment in the container who got flag for the exam. Unfortunately , i have to deliver this shipment for a tournment which is first week of October. Should i contact the U.S custom and provide them documents to request the release of my shipment? what should i do in this condition?

  • Shapiro

    Hi Ali,

    We’re sorry to hear that you have run into this issue with your shipment.

    Unfortunately, you will not be able to contact customs directly to expedite the process, but we would recommend that you reach out to your customs broker and ask if they can confirm that all other freight paperwork has been provided to customs for the examination. This is one of the risks that importers face when shipping their goods LCL (less than a container load), and if you plan to ship goods LCL in the future, you should consider transit and exam lead times to assist with planning for delivery in case there are any issues with customs.

    Good luck and we hope your shipment will be released in time for the tournament!

  • sue

    Hi – I’m even more confused after reading your article and the questions raised by other people! I have recently left the US to live in Portugal. I had a shipping company come in, pack my household effects, complete all the necessary paperwork, take to docks for onward shipment to Lisbon…….after 3 weeks its still in LA. Customs have inpounded it for checking – leaving the country??? It has been moved somewhere and the only information I can get from my Agents is that they have never heard of this in 10 years working for shipping company.

    Are you able to throw any light on this? They tell me that I will be expected to pay moving and inspection fees.

  • thulasidas

    Hi Olga,

    We had Exported 2 Shipments to USA from India and our CHB Informed us that port storage/demurrage has incurred for this shipment and they had billed us the charges as the shipments went for USDA and Customs Inspection
    When we requested them to provide the supporting for the same they informed that Ports America does not issue any invoices but payment has be made online through credit card.
    Could you pls clafiry whether Demmrage will be applicable if Containers are taken for USDA Examination and whether the Port authority will provide any supporting for the detention..



  • nikan

    Hi, could you help me, I am charged 730 dollars to pay to importer and exporter of Canada and my goods are are on hold until I pay via Western union, so I have a question, what would happen if I don’t pay at all and if I want to forget about my goods, please please tell me ASAP, thank you

  • Shapiro

    Hi Nikan,

    Sorry for the issues you are facing with this shipment.

    Is this an import into the U.S.?

    If so, and you elect to not pay the charges, Customs will confiscate the goods and they will be sent to auction or destroyed. If however, this is an export to Canada, you would need to contact your Canadian broker to determine the repercussions for not paying the fines.

    Please let us know if you have any other questions.

  • Miguel

    It is good. But it’s lame if it goes to costumes when it leaves and when it arrives it cost a lot of $$, in addition the time they hold it and if someone is in rush can be really upsetting .

  • Judy

    I had 1300 hardcover books printed and bound in China, and shipped to me in NY. The contract with the book broker (who is in Hawaii) states “DDP Shipping”. The shipment arrived in NY and was subjected to a VACIS exam and then flagged for a more intensive exam. The book broker just now emailed me saying I needed to pay $403 for the exams. You mentioned above that DDP Shipping means the seller pays the customs exam fees. Can you confirm that this is indeed true, and perhaps point me to another online source that also states this so I can argue my point to the book broker? And what do I do if the broker refuses to pay the exam fees?
    Thank you for your very informative site!

  • Shapiro

    Hi Judy,

    Sorry to hear about the issues with your shipment.

    If the terms are indeed DDP, the shipper should be responsible for all charges incurred during the shipment process.

    We recommend that you contact the shipper immediately to have them handle the charges so the shipment is not held up any further.

    Also, take a look at our Inco Terms resource that highlights the responsible party depending on which term is used for the shipment. http://www.shapiro.com/resource-center/resources/incoterms-2010/

    Please let us know if you have any other questions.

  • Steve

    Now that I’ve read your wonderful article and all the comments I will do my best to NEVER need to import or export anything myself EVER! >:-)

  • Shapiro

    Hi Steve,

    We’re so glad you like the blog post!

    Importing, especially for the first time, can be a little nerve racking, but having guidance from a qualified logistics provider and customs broker is a great way to go through the process. Although, there is never a guarantee that a shipment will go smoothly, it always helps have someone watching your back and taking the necessary steps to ensure things go as well as possible.

    Please let us know if there is anything we can do for you.

  • Eric

    Got a question.
    My freight (6 pallets of goods) was released and pick up by shipping company from port wear house in LA and is on the way to Chicago via rail. Next day we get an email stating that release was removed by U.S. custom officer and is now on MET exam hold.
    What should happened now?
    Freight just arrived to Chicago am I now responsible to shipped it back to LA to the address of the facility they provide?

    Thanks in advance

  • Lisa Toure

    Is there a timely process when my container is selected for random search? Iam exporting used household goods to West Africa.

  • Lisa Toure

    How long does it usually take to examine my container …what are my rights for a timely process of the inspection?

  • Shapiro

    Hi Lisa,

    We’re sorry to hear that you are dealing with a customs inspection of your container.

    Unfortunately, there is no standard timeline for how long it will take customs to examine your cargo. Even though your cargo was randomly selected, it all really depends on how backlogged customs is and what type of exam is being performed.

    Good luck and we hope your goods are released soon!

  • Maya

    Please, could you explain what is Initial exam – $350.00 USD and Partial exam – $542.00 USD. Could it be in same time? I have to pay this sum for export cargo. Thanks

  • Shapiro

    Hi Maya,

    We’re sorry to hear about the issues you are facing with this shipment.

    To better answer your question, can you clarify a couple points for us?

    Did the exam occur in the U.S. or at the port of destination?

    What type of exams were you told were being performed?

    Looking forward to hearing from you!

  • Gonzalo

    Hi Shapiro,

    I am being relocated to the US and brought a 40 foot container in Malaysia. I have just been told by the agent that the shipment has been selected for an exam (did not specify which exam).

    I’m moving a large amount of belongings and furniture as wood stuff is very good in SE Asia. That may have been the reason for triggering an exam.

    My concern now is that in two boxes I had movies which I bought in a popular market for a super cheap price (obviously not original), I did not have chance to select them out and leave them in Malaysia as I was not at home when they packed those. But I know they are there. Is that something they are looking for? Will I get in troubles if they verify this?

    thanks for your advice

  • Alex

    Is it typical for customs to come out to your facility for an inspection due to a marking of origin issue?

  • Shapiro

    Hi Gonzalo,

    We’re sorry to hear about your personal shipment being pulled for exam.

    Unfortunately, personal shipments have a higher likelihood of being selected for examination due to the fact that in most cases, there is a large variety of goods in each container and customs wants to make sure there is no contraband or illegal items. We recommend that you contact your broker immediately for more information regarding the exam and the contents of your shipment.

    We hope your container is released quickly and good luck!

  • Shapiro

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for reaching out to us!

    Typically, they inspect the goods at the port or the CFS, but it can be common for customs to visit your facility to ensure the markings are correct. It may be to confirm that the shipment involved in the “marking issue” was marked correctly or to check previously imported merchandise to confirm they were marked correctly.

    We recommend that you cooperate fully to ensure the process is handled and finalized more quickly.

  • Sheri

    We have been having issues with containers being rejected by CBP for noxious seeds. The containers are filled with aluminum parts being sent from Vietnam to various locations in the US. Only the containers going through one inspection point are being stopped. All that are stopped there are rejected. We have been provided with a picture of the type of seed, but no additional evidence that they found seeds on our containers. In one instance we were told that seeds were found on other containers not belonging to us that were able to be wiped down but there were too many seeds on our container to be cleaned. However, upon return to Vietnam there were no seeds of any kind found inside the containers. The containers were opened on video and examined by an ag expert at that time. We have spent close to $40,000 on fees for these rejected containers between all the various expenses that come with this scenario.

    How common is it to have a container that does not contain produce to be examined for an ag product and what is the likelihood that this will continue to happen to our containers going through this entry point? Is there any chance of examining our own containers before they are sent back to the port to be returned to the shipper? What are our options for review when we doubt the finding of a CBP agent?

  • Shapiro

    Hi Sheri,

    We will be contacting you directly about this inquiry.

    Look forward to speaking with you soon!

  • Stuart O

    Firstly, great article! One question, I have some personal belongings coming over from the UK . my agent in the US sent a generic email warning it may be inspected by customs etc. The day the ship docked in New York I received the email saying it has indeed been flagged for inspection. Can I ask for some proof that this is indeed happening otherwise surely this could be an easy money maker for the agent??? I hope that makes sense.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Stuart,

    We’re sorry to hear about your shipment being pulled for exam.

    Unfortunately, personal shipments have a higher likelihood of being selected for examination due to the fact that in most cases, there is a large variety of goods in each container and customs wants to make sure there is no contraband or illegal items. We recommend that you contact your broker immediately for more information regarding the exam and the contents of your shipment. Your broker should also be able to provide proof of the exam charges so you can know that your goods were indeed examined.

    We hope your shipment is released quickly and good luck!

  • Fawn

    The company I work for has been an importer for many years. I understand CFR and the importers responsibilities, but I am looking for a specific section to explain my most current situation. We had two containers travel on the same Master Bill. They were stopped for IBET exam and the upgraded to intensive. They opened both containers and one container was found to have seeds (even though we can’t get proof of the seeds existence) the other container was clean. We are still be told we have to have both containers cleaned? Where is this policy in CFR?

  • Kyle


    My container was flagged for intensive exam. Luckily, they only held the container for about a week. Although the cost is over $3000. Does that sound correct?

  • Shapiro

    Hi Kyle,

    We’re sorry to hear about your container being pulled for an intensive exam.

    The total cost for an intensive exam can vary greatly depending on the port where the container was flagged and the length of time it took to examine the cargo. Your broker should be able to provide you detailed information regarding the costs associated with the exam process, so we recommend you contact them immediately for confirmation of the charges.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Fawn,

    We’re sorry to hear about the issues with your two containers being pulled for exam.

    Since both containers were on the same master bill, Customs reserves the right to hold both containers, perform any exam they deem necessary, and take any steps they see fit to ensure the goods are safe for entry into the U.S. market. Because seeds were found in one of the containers, Customs can mandate that both of the containers be cleaned since they were on the same master bill and possibly even came from the same supplier.

    Your broker can request proof of what prompted the exam/cleaning from CBP, so we definitely recommend you push your them to obtain this information. Based on the CFR terms, you are responsible for all charges related to the entry/clearance and exam fees for the goods.

    Good luck obtaining more information regarding the exam from your broker.

  • Bob


    My 40′ container from China was flagged for intensive exam. Unfortunately one piece (around 20 lbs. of non-compliant wood was found in the container (all the pallets were plywood and therefore complaint). The piece in question seems to have been used as bracing material. The goods themselves are all stainless steel. I am being charged USD 4,000 for the customs inspection (I presume for the unloading and loading of the 20 pallets), and nearly USD 2,000 for the haulage to and from the inspection site by the shipping forwarder . This in addition to around USD 4,000 for having been denied entry of the goods into the USA. Have already been warned that there may be additional expenses besides the transportation back to China.Does this sound reasonable?

  • Shapiro

    Hi Bob,

    We’re very sorry to hear about all of the charges related to the examination of your cargo.

    Since one of the wooden pieces was not compliant with International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM) 15, there are typically two outcomes that CBP can enforce: Customs will either allow the container to be reloaded with the proper packaging material (the non-compliant wood will be destroyed/removed) or Customs will deem the cargo unsafe for entry into the U.S. market and the goods must be destroyed or exported back to the country of origin.

    We recommend visiting our resource page for more Wood Packaging Material (WPM) Information:

    While the charges you mentioned seem a little high, it is possible that the charges are indeed accurate. Your broker should be able to supply a prorated proof of the charges related to the transportation to the exam site as well as any fees accrued at the time of the exam. We recommend that you contact your broker immediately to obtain information related to the exam and whether or not the shipment will need to be exported back to China. You also have the option of requesting to speak with the USDA office directly at the port and advocate of removal of the unsafe materials to see if they would allow the remaining product to continue to market, depending on the situation behind the rejection.

    We wish you the best of luck with your shipment!

  • Kurt

    We are exporters of used shoes to East Africa (Tanzania) and have been shipping the same product since 1997 . One of my outbound shipments got picked out for inspection in February. They off loaded all 900 bags but were able to only load 770 back. I had to send a truck to pick up the bags and adjust all involved paperwork. Last week I received a notice that one of my containers, shipped 4 weeks ago will be offloaded in Oman and will be shipped back to USA for customs inspection. This is costing me a fortune. Keep in mind that all these containers are inspected by SGS and each one has a certificate of conformity. Our business is getting hurt by the strong US$ and a couple inspections like these two can put the nail in my business coffin.
    Why would they recall a container that is already 30 days on the water and 7 days away from its destination?

  • Shapiro

    Hi Kurt,

    Thanks for checking out our blog! We’re sorry to hear about the costly exams you are facing.

    Per the customs regulation cited below, CBP can request that a shipment be recalled to the U.S. if they feel it was not properly cleared. Customs can recall a shipment for various reason such as suspicion of terrorism, drugs, smuggling, improperly manifested, the parties to the transactions, value, money laundering, etc. We recommend that you contact your forwarder to see if all of the documentation was in order and to also have them contact CBP to get more information about why the shipment was recalled.


    §758.7 (9) Ordering the return of items. If, after notice that an inspection of a shipment is to be made, a carrier departs without affording the U.S. Customs Service, Office of Export Enforcement, or BIS personnel an adequate opportunity to examine the shipment, the owner or operator of the exporting carrier and the exporting carrier’s agent(s) may be ordered to return items exported on such exporting carrier and make them available for inspection.

    Good luck in obtaining more information related to the examination of your shipment and we hope the situation will be resolved quickly!

  • Paul

    We are exporting some light machinery. One container. We were hold for exam by the Customs for 23 days. After that the broker sent to me this fees from the carrier.
    Exam fee: $225
    Shifting fee: $200
    Storage fee (18 days): $3100
    Drayage to exam site: $500
    Total additional cost: $4025
    Are these fees normal? Specially for storage after 5 free days. Is there any way to reduce this bill?The port is NY if it makes any difference. Thank you

  • Shapiro

    Hi Paul,

    We’re sorry to hear about the costly exam of your shipment.

    Exam fees vary depending on the port and can differ based on the carrier used for the ocean transportation. You can request proof of the charges from your broker if you suspect something is not correct, but it is very possible that a container on hold for 23 days could result in the fees you listed. Your broker will be able to advise if the fees can be reduced, but normally, charges from customs and the carrier will not be dropped.

    Good luck in getting more information about the validity of the charges!

  • Kent

    i just had 5 containers of truck tires pulled for exam in Houston. Total cost over 10K. One exam station charged $2,400.00 each for 3 containers the other $1,135.00 each for 2. We were given no choice as to where to send the containers and the location that charged the most said they do not have a rate sheet. Do I have any recourse in challenging the charges from the first location as I don’t believe they are fair. I can’t believe CBP doesn’t have base charges these exam stations must follow.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Kent,

    We’re very sorry to hear about the costly exams of your containers.

    Some factors that result in the charges being different for the two exam sites could be the type of exam that was conducted or the length of time for the exam process. Contact your broker to determine which exams were required by Customs, request proof of the exam charges, and inquire as to why the containers were sent to separate exam sites. They should be able to shed more light on the situation during the clearance process.

    Good luck in obtaining more information and we hope you can get some of the charges reduced.

  • Alis

    I have been contact by a company claiming to be my import agent, andnotified that my household effects will have a VACIC exam. How do i know this is true? They might send everyone that email, and claim exam fees from everyone? Is there an official government place I can check this claim that an exam will be required?
    thank you in advance,

  • Shapiro

    Hi Alis,

    We’re sorry to hear about the exam of your shipment.

    Before paying any fees, we recommend that you contact the company you used for the transportation of your goods to the U.S. to determine which customs broker is clearing the shipment. That is the only way to be sure you need to pay the fees for the VACIS exam.

    Good luck and please let us know if you need any other information.

  • Dusty

    So, we have a problem with communication between our chosen freight forwarder, their customs broker, the shipping company, and the 2 airports in question…as well as the storage company, apparently. Who do I file a complaint with, or am I just screwed? The backstory:

    We had a small volume (about 2 CBM) of cargo imported via air freight from China (600 board games we had manufactured there). Plane landed at Houston. Customs broker submitted the paperwork for the clearance at that airport.

    BUT, the shipping company trucked it up to the Dallas airport before customs clearance. Turns out that Customs put a Manifest Hold on the cargo, in Houston (we are first-time importers of a one-time cargo, which I guess makes a hold more likely?), but now that the cargo is in Dallas, it’s caused a mighty issue.

    We’ve already paid 3 days of storage fees (at $250 PER DAY[!!] for this very small cargo), and no one is taking responsibility for this issue. We are about to head into Memorial Day weekend, which is another 3 days minimum of storage fees, plus whatever costs Customs decides to charge if they do an exam after all this mess.

    Could you tell me who is actually at fault here? Is there any way to complain / get some compensation from the at-fault parties?? Was I too trusting of my chosen freight forwarder???

    So annoyed!!!

  • Shapiro

    Hi Dusty,

    We’re sorry to hear about the mishaps with your shipment.

    In this situation, we would recommend that you contact your broker to see if the shipment can be inspected and cleared in Dallas instead of Houston. This would require that the original entry be cancelled and refiled in Dallas.

    As far as who is to blame, it could be mistakes by the multiple parties involved. Your customs broker should have been notified that the shipment was pulled for exam, but the fact that it was transported to Dallas prior to exam falls on the company that facilitated the trucking from Houston to Dallas since the shipment should not have been transported prior to the exam.

    We will contact you directly to see if there is any other assistance we can provide.

  • David


    I have been importing car shells from Japan for parts, with no motors in them 4 at the time, always declared the same way. I have two containers that came in back to back pulled in for CET exam right after X-ray. Why now and not before? Also I know lots of companies that are in the same business as me that bring the cars for parts the same way. I know if they devan the container they won’t be able to put them back the same way because they are basically sitting in wooden racks that have to be cut off what then? Any input will be extremely appreciated.

  • Shapiro

    Hi David,

    We’re sorry to hear about the exams you are facing with your shipments.

    Customs has the right to examine any cargo that is imported into the U.S., and even if you have been importing for 20 years with no prior exams, your cargo can still be pulled for examination. It sounds as if Customs found something during the X-ray process which prompted the intensive exam.

    We recommend that you contact your broker immediately to see what caused the intensive exam after the X-ray. In regards to the re-loading of the container, if your broker has a good relationship with CES (container examination station), they should be able to coordinate with CBP to ensure the goods are loaded properly.

    Good luck and we hope you gain some insight into situation after contacting your broker.

  • David

    Thank you for you’re fast response, I just found out that my last containers that where subject to CET exam my freight forwarders are different from my passed ones, can this be the reason why it was flagged? Thank you!

  • Shapiro

    Hi David,

    Using a different forwarder should not have caused the shipment to be flagged. In most cases, Customs pulls containers for examination at random, but your customs broker may be able to advise as to why they were pulled for exam.

    Let us know if we can answer any other questions.


  • David

    Thank you for the response! Today I word that now it went to MET exam, what should I expect out of this? What’s it’s declared its what it is. Thank you

  • Queenie Nil

    Hi. I’m a college student, BSMT. We’re working on a thesis entitled, “Level of Compliance in Inspection Procedure”. Is it okay ask you a question regarding on it because i don’t have any knowledge regarding on our thesis since I had not been onboard.
    “What is/are the process or procedure in inspecting cargoes?” “Who is reliable in not complying the inspection procedure?”
    Thank you very much for your future response and help.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Queenie,

    The importer of record is always responsible for complying with all regulations related to the products they are importing into the U.S.

    I have included a link below to one of our resources that covers the Reasonable Care Checklist used by importers for complying with customs:


    As for the exam procedure, please read through this blog post as well as the second part we recently released. I’ve included links to both blogs, but feel free to reach out with any other questions.


    Good luck on your thesis!

  • Corina

    I am bringing household effect & personal effects in a full container as a return resident. My carrier just informed me that NII Exam and tailgate exam ordered. I checked on a website and I saw NII exam ordered only and I do not see anything related to Tailgate Exam except what the carrier told me. Can the custom order 2 exams at the same time? I thought I would do the X-ray first if they find any suspicious then move onto Tailgate or more intensive exam. Thank you.

  • Joseph

    Very informative article, thank you. Per an agreement with the receiver in the U.S., I recently shipped some small items (maybe 3 meters cubed). Per the agreement, I agreed to pay all shipping costs (and have done so). The container holding the shipped items was flagged by customs for a full VACIS exam. We will receive the precise cost today; I estimate the importers/receivers share to be between $500-$1,000.

    The importer/receiver knows that they must pay the fee before the goods can be released. However,they want me to reimburse them, because, as per the written agreement, I agreed to pay “all shipping expenses.”

    Am I legally obliged to reimburse the receiver? Are customs fees considered part of the “shipping expenses”, or are they in a category of their own?

    I thank you in advance for your response.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Corina,

    We’re sorry about the exam issues you are facing with this container.

    Yes, customs can order two exams on the container if they see fit. If you don’t believe that both exams took place, you can request proof of the exam and charges from your broker. Many factors play into how and why customs would require two exams for your shipment, but they reserve the right to inspect all goods imported into the U.S.

    We recommend that you contact the customs broker that is clearing the shipment since they may be able to give you some insight as to why two exams were required and they can provide proof that the exams took place.

    Please let us know if you have any other questions.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Joseph,

    The party responsible for paying the exam fees is directly related to which Incoterm was used for the shipment. For instance, if the term was DDP (Delivered Duty Paid), the seller has to bear all the costs and risks involved in bringing the goods thereto including, where applicable, any “duty” (which term includes the responsibility for the risk of the carrying out of customs formalities and the payment of formalities, Customs duties, taxes and other charges) for import in the country of destination.

    I’ve posted a link to our Incoterms resource below which may help to clear up who is actually responsible for the charges.


  • alan

    What about if a USDA seal is broken during an export process? Let’s say that a container arrives in Los Angeles from Indiana and it needs to be exported to Japan. USDA seal is broken because of customs inspection. What happens with the new seal? What happens to the Certificate?

  • Kelvin Tan

    Greetings. It’s really a blessing to come across your site. I have a LCL shipment right now at LAX port where the container is being held as we speak since the 13th and no examination has been done. I’m facing a huge challenge as 6 of my palettes are due to my buyer by the 1st of August or I’ll be facing a very hefty penalty. Is there anything I could do to have them inspect 6 of my palettes as soon as today and have it airfreight to my client in NJ. Due to this situation , my initial plan to truck it from LA to NJ is no longer an option. I would greatly appreciate any advice? Is there anyone else that I can hire to expedite the process?

  • Shapiro

    Hi Kelvin,

    We’re glad to hear you like the blog and know how frustrating the exam process can be for importers.

    Since your cargo was shipped LCL, there is a possibility that another importer’s cargo caused the container to be pulled and held for examination. There could also be a backlog at the Customs exam site or they may be performing an intensive exam. In either case, unfortunately nothing that can be done to expedite the process.

    We recommend that you contact your Customs broker immediately to find out which exam is being conducted and they may be able to gain some information as to why it is taking so long.

    Good luck with your shipment and we hope it is released in time to make the delivery to your customer!

  • Susan Pryde

    Received a bill for close to $500.00 for an exam fee. I ordered online a few car parts..transmission etc….from Classic Industries in the U.S.A. Received my items (I live in SK Canada) over 3 months ago Paid in full, paid for a broker and so forth.
    I got this bill a couple of days ago. Who is responsible for this bill? I asked UPS for copy of exam fee because my bill didn’t have one.
    Can you help?
    Thank you

  • Shapiro

    Hi Susan,

    We’re sorry to hear about the exam of your shipment.

    We recommend that you contact the customs broker that cleared your shipment and request proof of the exam and what type of exam was performed. Since it was an LCL shipment, your goods may have not caused the exam to take place, but you may be required to pay due to the fact that all cargo owners in a consolidated container are responsible for any exam charges that are incurred.

    Good luck in obtaining more information and please let us know if you need any other assistance.

  • Dusty

    Very comprehensive explanations and descriptions of each procedure–KUDOS!!!
    One thing I must point out is that the Contraband Enforcement Team (CET) Exam/Intensive Exam is actually called the A-TCET (Anti Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team) intensive exam.
    That said and in relation to this blog’s topic: A Behind the Scenes Look at Customs Inspections, let me describe a scenario that actually happened 13 months ago. If you can, please shed some light on this or at least provide any useful speculation.
    A family of three decides to move overseas from Houston, TX to Manila, Philippines and ship only a minimum of “HOUSEHOLD GOODS.” A reputable freight forwarder was contracted to handle the job of transporting the freight, forwarding all documentation and acting as the point of contact between the shipper and any?every entity involved. Most of those “HOUSEHOLD GOODS” were furniture that required no packing: couch, loveseat, two tables, king-sized bed suite, coffee and end tables and a large detachable entertainment center. The other items that required packing were done so by the family. Those items included: books, Blu-rays, surround receiver, Blu-ray player, surround speakers, X-Box, Playstation, Nintendo Wii, video games, a fairly large comic book collection, numerous vintage Star Wars toys, clothes, kitchen utensils, paintings, various collectibles from 20 years worth of world traveling, cookware and approximately $50K worth of guitars, amplifiers, effects, recording equipment and live sound equipment. Every item was listed on the bill of lading as well as written on each box–all electronics and music gear were even listed with make/model/serial number on both the boxes and bill of lading. Once the family had finished loading the 20-foot cargo container, the freight forwarder sent a truck to pick it up and double-check the cargo manifest/bill of lading. There were no issues.In fact, the freight forwarder even commented on the precision packing and was impressed by the highly detailed bill of lading.
    Now fast forward about three weeks. The family receives a call from the freight forwarder notifying them that their shipping container is “on hold” at the port. When asked the typical questions of by who and why, the freight forwarder only states, “It was held by CBP, but we don’t know why. You can call the port to ask them.” The husband calls the Houston port for answers and is directed to call the Houston CBP at the port. He calls CBP at the Houston port and is informed that his freight is not at the facility on hold. Another call to the freight forwarder with this new info yields nothing–they have no clue. After a few days of diligent research and digging, the husband finds out that his cargo is actually on hold at a Los Angeles, CA port. Upon calling the Los Angeles port CBP office, he is told nothing more than, “Your container is here, was put on hold, sent to Price Transfer to handle processing and you need to contact them.” While researching the Price-Transfer website for contact info and then calling them, the husband pressed 1 for English, was put on hold, stayed on hold for over an hour and never got to speak with anyone. Later that day, the freight forwarder called the husband and informed him what he had already discovered–cargo was being “processed” by Price-Transfer in Los Angeles. The freight forwarder also stated that the husband was responsible for all fees associated with said processing. After 48 hours and several unanswered calls to Price-Transfer, the husband received a forwarded message from Price-Transfer via his Freight Forwarder. That message only stated that a further exam was required, all cargo was removed from the container, there were broken items and he needed to immediately pay $3400.00 in fees to get the container released to the shipping vessel on time. Another 24 hours pass with several more unanswered calls to Price-Transfer. The husband goes to their website to remit the $3400.00 payment of fees in order to release container to vessel. 48 hours later, husband receives notification of cleared payment and that cargo was loaded onto shipping vessel, yet no further info was provided. Husband goes back to Price-Transfer website to scour any/all relevant info. He discovers that by creating an account, logging in and providing the freight number, he is able to get that one nugget of info needed–YES, “Why was his outbound “HOUSEHOLD GOODS” shipment held, unloaded and inspected item-by-item.” To the right of his name, it simply read A-TCET. Now, let’s refresh memories on exactly why an A-TCET intensive exam is performed:

    (A-TCET): Anti Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team
    CBP is looking for illegal cargo, smuggling, weapons of mass destruction, and other
    contraband. An (A-TCET) Intensive Examination requires complete unloading and
    staging of the shipment for piece by piece examination of the cargo.

    Now, let us take a really good look at this statement directly from CBP in regards to their operating procedures under title 19, section 1467 of the U.S. Code:

    The CBP’s mission is to protect our borders and ports of entry from terrorism,
    smuggling, illegal immigration and agricultural pests, while facilitating the
    movement of legitimate travel and trade.

    Did you catch that? “… protect our borders and ports of entry…” Again, this was a small “HOUSEHOLD GOODS” shipment that was LEAVING the country. Now, go look up how they “target” shipments for these inspections. Very interesting indeed! The husband, wife and 13-year old daughter were NEVER arrested, involved in ANY criminal activities, on the do not fly list, etc. In fact, the husband is a 23-year USAF retiree, has a VA disability rating of 100% and was already in several government databases for GOOD things. These departments just happened to include the two entities in the chain above CBP: DHS and the Department of State.
    And on a side but relevant note, the husband had never even owned a firearm!
    The most interesting part of this whole story is that the family NEVER received their cargo shipment in the Philippines. The freight forwarder stated that arrived at the Manila port on approximately Sep 17, 2015 yet calls to the port were futile. They claim that the shipment is not there and they have no further info.
    So, the family paid about $12K for shipping their stuff, got screwed out of another $3400.00 in “fees” and is now out of around $$75K worth of their goods! Also, some of those goods can never be replaced.
    I now implore, no–I challenge anyone to provide any possible insight into this mess. Regardless of what the Supreme Court ruled on violations of 4th Amendment rights, they cannot overrule the US Constitution, there is much more at play here. Consider this……if a person’s outbound “HOUSEHOLD GOODS” were targeted for inspection based upon suspicion of terrorist acts, then why was the person even allowed to travel outside the US??? Yep, go research that one, too!

    Thanks a bunch for taking the time to read through this long story and also a big THANKS in advance for any relevant info and/or speculation anyone can share.


  • Shapiro

    Hi Dusty,

    We’re glad you liked the blog post and thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed message!

    We agree it is imperative to choose the right freight forwarder that shares your values and expectations of customer service. Unfortunately, Shapiro doesn’t handle household goods anymore, and in our experience, they are generally at higher risk for examination.

    Since you never received your freight, here are some tips we’ve put together for you:
    – If you booked this shipment as a door-door shipment, the freight forwarder must provide you with information as to the status of the freight at destination.
    – Additionally, check your freight quote and see if destination customs clearance is included. If it is, contacting the freight forwarder immediately to track down the cargo is the top priority. The forwarder will have a local agent in the country that is able to communicate the procedures and most likely, have personal connections at the port, to ensure cargo is accounted for.

    We’ve also included some tips related to personal and household goods below.

    General tips for importing and exporting personal/household goods:
    1. Make sure you are getting a door-door quote.
    2. Confirm specifically that the quote includes customs clearance services.
    3. Get insurance! Goods are often bumped around in a container during transit, so it’s a good idea to protect your cargo.
    4. If you are using a forwarder, choose one that has the same customer service values you are looking for, and while these usually aren’t the cheapest, it sure beats this scenario.

    Let us know if you have any other questions.

  • Caltino

    thank you for your article and found it very useful. my company also have this exam and cleaning experiences from march 2016 until now. we have never known when it will end, just like waiting for the next episode of soap opera.
    over all these exam and charges incur, in regard to homeland security issue, agricultural issue, etc.. don’t you think at the end, we have to pay high cost of (import) product ?

  • Crag Roper

    After teaching in London for two years our son and daughter-in-law moved back and shipped their few household effects (about 1,000 lbs.) back through a British moving company landing in Long Beach. After being informed of a Customs hold two weeks ago, they were informed yesterday that they owed $700 for the cost of an Extensive Exam of the shared container. Totally blindsided…

  • david degen

    In April of 2016 a young girl was preparing to make a 10,000 mile journey across the globe to finally be united after a long wait to marry her fiancé in the U.S.
    She just received her fiancé k1 visa after a 12 month wait. They communicated with each other for a year and a half every single day over Skype. With her newly born excitement she quit her job, gave away some of her possessions and departed for the airport. There was not much to go back to as a new life would begin with the man she fell in love with in the U.S.
    Little did she know she would never arrive to her final destination as she would be turned away by the U.S. government Gestapo border squad called the CBP.

    Background of the CBP: Customs and Border Protection is the trial, Judge and jury of the U.S. Government policing our vulnerable border entry points.
    With more than 60,000 employees, CBP is one of the world’s largest law enforcement organizations and is charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons from entering the U.S. borders, while also validating travelers from committing travel fraud. The agency was granted its full power in 1996, when the U.S. Congress with President Clinton gave them the authority to remove any traveler or migrant they see fit from the United States and without the need for a hearing before an immigration judge.
    In addition to the removal they can also make an arrest.
    A criminal fraud statute provides for sanctions to those presenting false information to customs officers, with violators facing a maximum of 2 years imprisonment, or a $5,000 fine, or both, for each violation involving an importation or attempted importation.
    With millions passing through our borders it is their job to make sure terrorists, smugglers, & criminals don’t make it into our country.

    Our encounter with the CBP is an unfortunate event and not unique as countless others have experienced similar problems that have been reported and many more that have gone unreported by travelers.
    While traveling to the Philippines in January of 2015 I was lucky to have met the woman I would spend the rest of my life with. Returning home 30 days later, I immediately had her file an application for a tourist visa to come visit me in the U.S. But the process was taking too long and I proposed we marry instead. Within a few weeks I filed for the K1 Fiancé visa.
    This changed our status from friends to fiancé locking us into a marriage contract built by love. During the long waiting period I had returned 2 more times each visit for 30 days giving us more time to know each other better & develop a stronger relationship.
    As soon as she arrived at LAX airport the CBP brought her in for interrogation. It was unexpected since she already was meticulously examined and interviewed by the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
    Later they would hint something in her file made the CBP suspicious about her fiancé entry request.
    After the basic kindergarten questions a cold female CBP officer asked her if she could recognize a picture of my 1st ex-wife from 25 years ago. She couldn’t answer the question because I didn’t have any pictures of my ex-wife from 25yrs ago and didn’t discuss many details about that relationship. Later I would find out the picture they showed her was not my ex-wife but an unknown woman who was never identified.
    This made the CBP officer more suspicious and told her your fiancé is still married and living with his prior ex-wife. A fabricated lie from the officer because in reality this divorced ex-wife was not living in the USA and moved to Russia some time ago to live with her family.
    But since her mailing address was still registered with the DMV as my mailing address made the CBP officer more suspicious. Then the officer asked if she had a contract to come work for me as a domestic helper. When she told her no, the officer called out loud, “you’re lying”! And continued with her suspicions accusations to say you are coming to the U.S to find a job then divorce or leave your fiancé and bring your daughter here.
    When the CBP officer heard her state no it’s not true she yelled at her, “you’re a liar”.
    The overall aggressive behavior started to make this poor naïve girl worry these officers can hurt her, as in her country when the gov’t officials bring you in they can do as they please and a young girl will have no recourse.

    After more screaming and accusations to break her down the CBP officer stated you have committed fraud to enter the U.S. on a fiancé visa as we have found you’re arrival here for the intent of employment. As they prepared her paperwork to return her back to the Philippines they placed her in a locked room and prepared her removal paperwork. She would ask if she could call her fiancé, family, or embassy and was denied any communications. In their custody they held her cell phone where they could of observed all the hundreds of pictures of the 2 of us together, and the everyday Skype chats which could of also confirm our marriage bond. But they refused for some reason to see or report the truth. We also made a video of us together during my 2nd visit to the Philippines but this would never have a chance to help the situation.
    When they brought her back into the interrogation room it was basically over for her at this point. Now the CBP officers needed to wrap this case up & get their scorecard brightened up, maybe for their next promotion.

    The intimidating CBP officer in a threatening manner would tell her I can pick up the phone and put you in jail for 5yrs for lying & committing fraud. But the law actually states it’s a 2 year sentence and not 5. Perhaps the officer forgot to read her manual.
    She held a bunch of papers and said if you just want to go home I need you to sign these papers. Without explanation of what these papers were or allowing her anytime to review these papers the poor girl frightened by the officer & fearing she may never see her family again signed the pages blindly to end the torture.
    After she signed she realized a big mistake was made when the officer told her you cannot come back to the U.S. for the next 5yrs.
    To make the matter even worst, signed copies of the officer Sworn Statement and expedited removal forms where never placed inside a small yellow envelope she received from the airline upon landing in her home country.
    It seemed these papers were deliberately omitted by the officer to further hide her actions and deter any future complaints.

    It took over a month for me to finally obtain copies of these documents from the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA which included the questions and answers they wrote on her behalf. She tried to call from Philippines many times to the CBP office at LAX but was never connected to a supervisor to request the copies of the missing papers that we needed to review and understand why they returned her home.
    When I received the final copy with her initials and signatures I was shocked by the computer typed answers next to each question.

    Immediately after her deportation I was devastated by the news and immediately sought legal counsel as I changed my schedule to leave the U.S. and be with her during this tragic time.
    I searched on-line for answers and guidance where I found contact information for the CBP complaint dept in Washington D.C. When I phoned them I was relieved to speak with someone that was sympathetic to my situation.
    I was directed to complete certain complaint forms and obtain releases which I did and uploaded all the information to their investigative dept.
    There 1st reply to me requested I send them the officers statement which we did not have at the time and were not aware these forms were supposed to be provided. I replied she never received these forms and the CBP complaint dept told me they cannot do any investigation without this form. They also did not believe she was not provided copies of these forms at deportation and suspected her of concealing or lying about the forms. I could not understand how the head dept. of the CBP could not pull up these forms themselves.
    It took more than 30 days of persistent attempts to obtain these forms as the CBP refused to release them for unknown reasons.
    When I finally sent the CBP complaint dept. the obtained forms I felt relieved that action would finally take place.
    But in fact nothing would happen except lost time in waiting. I was told there was nothing they could do. They had sent my information to the CBP California branch but nothing would ever come of it.
    I was praying my hired attorney would be able to get better results from them. But they also ignored his letters and the letters from a local congresswoman as well. Only after about 4 months a response from the CBP was issued.
    It was a stock template letter that had gibberish in it regarding examples of how to provide economic ties to their place of residence. It stated what ties where, “”Ties” are the various aspects of a person’s life that bind him or her to his or her country or residence and are categorized by one’s possessions, employment, and social and family relationships.”
    This had absolutely nothing to do with our case and was further proof how the CBP did nothing to investigate the complaint and their arresting officer’s abusive actions.
    Now let me highlight some of the CBP officer’s action regarding her sworn statement form.
    Q. “Did you sign up for the website so you could find an American husband?”
    A. I signed up to find a husband not specifically and American husband.

    Q. Why did Mr. ______ list himself as your friend under your U.S contact on the B1/B2 visa application and not as your boyfriend?
    A. The application was filed before the Fiance visa petition began. The officer took this as part of her fraud suspicion to assume there was no intimate relationship.

    Q. Is it your intention to marry Mr. DEGEN only to bring your daughter so that you both can live in the u.s. legally?
    A: Yes. (The CBP officer interpreted this question as part of the sole purpose of her arrival. Strictly coming for the purpose of bringing her daughter to the U.S.)

    Q. Were you coming to the u.s to be a domestic employee for Mr. DEGEN and his ex-wife, who is living with him at this time?
    A. Yes, ma’am. (I freaked when I saw this, but she swore she never gave the Yes answer and it was the CBP officer who falsely wrote her own answer and not the one given)

    Q. How much money did Mr. ____ offer you?
    A: I don’t understand. I will work for him and for myself. (She replied “I don’t understand because she already told her “I am not coming to be a domestic employee. And if I don’t have enough money I can always get a job.” )

    Q: Were you going to work for free?
    A: No, he was going to pay me but I am not sure how much (My fiancé NEVER said No to this question & never said “he was going to pay me”, this statement is UNTRUE! This question was never asked and the answer was fabricated by the officer)

    Q: Did he give you details of when he was married and why he divorced his prior wife’s?
    A: No ma’am.( The officer did not say prior wife, officer said 1st wife from 25 yrs ago which she did not have the information. I assumed this question would further enforce the CBP’s suspicions of a fraudulent relationship)

    Before the interrogation began the CBP officer advise her the session will be recorded. But I was never able to obtain this recording and kept calling the complaint dept. asking them to review the recording with her actual given answers.
    I still do not understand the role of the CBP complaint dept. in Washington. If my complaint was dismissed then what is their purpose or role?
    Finally to get rid of my nagging they suggested I file a redress complaint with Homeland security.
    This is the only real help I received as I quickly learned the Dept. of Homeland Security investigates wrongful entry denial issues.
    After filing another complaint and sending them all the forms, notarized statements, and proof we were put on a waiting list for an investigation.
    This again is no quick process, after 100 day wait I was told they will start and come to a resolution within the next 30 days.

    The CBP is a large enforcement group with many good dedicated officers making sure our country remains protected from the bad people. It’s a shame there are some who do not follow the U.S. laws, procedures, and guidelines as we came into contact with one of their bad apples.
    It’s a further shame the bureaucracy and incompetence of the CBP to enforce and follow through complaints is discarded into the unknown.

    We have waited so long to be together and now precious time we could use is being lost that we will never recover.
    This has caused an emotional & financial strain on my life with unexpected, legal & travel expenses, loss of work, and loss of health. To date my fiancé is unable to be re-employed after quitting her job.
    A situation such as this should never have to happen for anyone abiding honestly by the immigration laws.

    I would advise everyone to stay away at all costs from CBP officer’s Lorraine Tapia and officer Lau stationed at LAX airport. You should avoid confrontation with them if possible.

    Finally after a long 5 month wait I received a response from DHS redress dept. My hopes for a proper investigative resolution were shattered upon the receipt of the letter. This was another boiler plate response with an added paragraph stating the CBP would also send me a letter shortly and the case was closed by DHS without any positive conclusions.
    Next day the CBP letter came with a paragraph describing the duties of the CBP and a reason why my fiancé had been deported. But all my complaints were ignored and not identified in either letter.
    I realized dealing with the government and bringing the injustice to the surface was just a waste of time. My complaint was ignored and the officers’ cruel behavior was covered up by the officials. Our future we had planned and waited for so long was destroyed. The only option now was to start a new plan from the beginning and try again, meanwhile losing another 1 to 2 years of waiting while being separated.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Caltino,

    We’re sorry to hear about the exam issues you have been experiencing.

    Exams are one of the unfortunate parts of importing into the U.S., but it is very necessary to protect the security of the country as well as the environment and agriculture. If you are continually having issues with exams on shipments from particular suppliers, the problem could be that they have experienced issues with Customs in the past and therefore are flagged more frequently.

    We recommend that you contact your supplier and customs broker to see if all the necessary steps are being taken to ensure your documentation and shipping procedures are compliant with the Reasonable Care Checklist for compliance found here: http://www.shapiro.com/resource-center/resources/reasonable-care-a-checklist-for-compliance/

    Please let us know if we can help with any other questions.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Crag,

    Unfortunately, when importers ship their cargo LCL, they are responsible to share the exam costs even if their goods were not related to the exam. Personal items and household goods have a higher probability of being flagged for exam, but at this point, your son and daughter-in-law are responsible for the charges.

  • Tricia

    Hi, Would you please clarify the statement in the article “You should also note that CBP as well as any Participating Government Agencies (PGA) that regulate your cargo have the right to recall your goods with a redelivery notice up to 180 days after release.” If these are goods imported for sale, we’re not expected to hold them prior to sale for 180 days are we? Is the point that if they are recalled by CBP that we would have to recall them from whoever we shipped them to?

  • Abbas Ali

    Hi Shapiro
    I have shipped a container of furniture and household goods from Pakistan after getting married and being given citizeship to me and my spouse .The shipment is a door to door service for which I have made payment in advance, are there any specific payments which I have to make like examination and scanning.Hoping for hear from you soon.Thanks

  • Shapiro

    Hi Tricia,

    Customs will issue a 4647 form-notice to mark or redeliver. This could be for a marking violation under 19 CFR 141 or if say FDA found a product to be volatile, they would ask for redelivery.

    We have cited the regulations below:

    19 CFR § 133.46 Demand for redelivery of released articles.

    If it is determined that articles which have been released from Customs custody are subject to the prohibitions or restrictions of this subpart, the director of the port of entry shall promptly make demand for redelivery of the articles under the terms of the bond on Customs Form 301, containing the bond conditions set forth in § 113.62 of this chapter, in accordance with § 141.113 of this chapter. If the articles are not redelivered to Customs custody, a claim for liquidated damages shall be made in accordance with § 141.113(h) of this chapter.

    Although it can be very frustrating to deal with a redelivery after the goods have been distributed, the process is in place to ensure the safety of American consumers is upheld.

    Please let us know if we can help in any way!

  • Shapiro

    Hi Abbas,

    Thanks for reaching out and congratulations to you and your spouse!

    If you have selected a door-to-door service, you will want to ensure that duties and custom entry fees are included in the price.

    Unfortunately, personal items have a higher chance of being flagged for exam since the contents of the shipment tend to include a lot of different items and Customs wants to ensure there is no contraband . This will be the major roadblock and cause of additional fess for your shipment if Customs wants to inspect the goods. You can contact your broker to ensure the paperwork was filed timely and correctly, but there is no way to know what additional fees will apply until the shipment arrives in the U.S.

    Good luck with your shipment!

  • Laura


    I’m a new hire at a company that intends on expanding to the US market and I found your article searching all the customs information I can find.

    I know you stated in the article that as first time importers our first few shipments will be examined, but is this true? We got different info from our freight forwarding company and were told its less than a 10% chance….
    but also it was once thought that there are not fees for CBP exams/inspections and only fines for violations.

    Anyway, I’ve gotten a lot of info through the article and comment section, but I am still concerned that since we are using a freight forwarding company and importing electronics from Germany to the US, that we need to get a better idea of what the potential costs/risks/ are.

    Do you have any additional information that you think would help us (me) in understanding the problems we might face or what we can do to better prepare for our first importation?

    We will do formal entry via vessel delivery
    We will not apply for continious until we know how regularly we will ship
    We are already aware of electronics regulations that apply to our devices from the FCC, EPA etc

    Thank you for creating this thread!

  • Shapiro

    Hi Laura,

    Thanks for reaching out!

    The first shipment an importer brings to the U.S. is not guaranteed to be examined, but the likelihood is higher than that of a company that has been importing for many years. Customs may not flag your first shipment, but certain commodities that require other government agencies involvement may be scrutinized more closely.

    As far as the fees go, if your shipment is flagged for exam, you will be responsible for the exam fees and any transportation/storage fees that are incurred. The fees vary from port-to-port, but your customs broker should have an idea of what the possible charges may be in the event your shipment gets examined.

    Good luck with your first shipment and please let us know if you have any questions.

  • John

    Have a 26 year old SUV coming from the UK, is on hold in Jacksonville, FL. What fees/dalays can I expect? Thanks for the wonderful read. John

  • Laura

    I read Libby’s article and short thread on the subject of why importers need brokers and the short thread that follows. While we are really experienced in trading within the EU and neighboring nations, the US importation process seems to be more complicated, mostly because of conflicting information (or maybe just the variances between ports).

    . …So the option of self-filing or using only a freight forwarder only instead of having a customs broker, is almost a sure way to guarantee exams, problems, and is just overall a bad rookie move?

  • Shapiro

    Hi John,

    Sorry to hear about the issue with your SUV.

    The fees/delays depend on what type of exam was requested by Customs. For example, an intensive exam can take days to complete and in some major cases it may be more than a week before the cargo is released. The fees will depend on which exam was conducted and if they Customs needed to move the shipment to off-site location for the exam.

    Contact your broker immediately as they may be able to get more information on the exam being performed and when you can expect to get your shipment.

    Good luck and please let us know if there is anything we can do to help.

  • Shapiro

    Hi Laura,

    Thanks for reaching out!

    We have customers that choose to do their own entry filing, but in many cases, they have a long history of compliance adherence and have internal processes in place to ensure that the entries are being filed correctly.

    We recommend that new importers use a reputable and knowledgeable customs broker to ensure the entries are filed correctly with Customs.

    Please let us know if you have any other questions.

  • Kevin

    We are self importer of juices and purees and are currently CTPAT certified level 1 I believe. Since becoming CTPAT certified we have seen a dramatic increase in intensive exams through the Port of Los Angeles more than double the amount of containers as last year. Additionally, it is taking us twice as long in line to be examined. We have voiced our repeated frustration with the CBP officials and examination facility in out of that port and it seems like it has only gotten worse. I have two questions: 1) Who holds CBP accountable? Is there a review board where we can voice our complaints? 2) is it a possibility that because of our numerous complaints they are making it a personal issue? We have been self importing for close to 16 years, had countless exams, and they have never found anything illegal or unclaimed in our containers and the issue is only at the port of Los Angeles. I would love to know if there is someone we can contact to state our case. We have a CTPAT representative that hasn’t been helpful. Thanks

  • Shapiro

    Hi Kevin,

    We’re sorry to hear about the exam issues your company has faced recently.

    There are a number of factors that could cause exams. Common factors include: late filing of ISF, entry not files at least two days prior to vessel arrival, the commodity, classification, IPR, the exporting country, the exporting firm, and oftentimes it is something as simple as the way cargo is manifested on a bill of lading that flags Customs.

    In our 100 year experience, it helps to speak directly with the Customs/PGA official and discuss the problem and understand the underlying concern. You may also want to contact the C-TPAT representative and the Centers of Excellence and Expertise for more information as to why there have been so many exams after becoming CTPAT certified.

    Please let us know if we can help in any way!