US Customs and Border Protection

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) became an official agency of the Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.  It combined employees from the Department of Agriculture, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Border Patrol and the US Customs Service.  Unifying the agencies improves the way the US government manages the border.  It will be far more effective and efficient than when the border responsibilities were fragmented into four agencies in three different departments of government.


As the single unified border agency of the United States, the CBP mission is vitally important to the protection of America and the American people.  The strategy is to improve security and facilitate the flow of legitimate trade and travel and includes:

  • Improving targeting systems and expanding advance information regarding people and goods arriving in the US;
  • Pushing the "zone of security outward" by partnering with other governments as well as with the private sector;
  • Deploying advanced inspection technology and equipment;
  • Increasing staffing for border security; and
  • Working in concert with other agencies to coordinate activities with respect to trade fraud, intellectual property rights violations, controlled deliveries of illegal drugs, and money laundering.

Modernization & ACE

Modernizing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) automated systems and information technology is critical to the successful protection of the American people and the American economy in the 21st century, and development of the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) is an important project for CBP.  Ultimately, ACE will enhance border security and deliver efficiencies to the trade community and participating government agencies by providing inter-agency information sharing and real-time, cross-government access to more accurate trade information.  By centralizing and integrating the collection and analysis of information, ACE will enhance the ability to target illicit cargo, illegal persons and unsafe conveyances.  Trade data will be analyzed prior to arrival of goods, allowing enhanced inter-agency assessment of risks and threats to determine which goods and people must be scrutinized.

  • "24-Hour Manifest Rule"
  • US Customs established a new security regulation, effective December 2, 2002, that required ocean carriers and non-vessel-operating common carriers to file detailed manifests to CBP, 24 hours prior to loading their containerized freight in overseas ports.  The purpose of this regulation is to give CBP adequate time to stop "high risk" containers for inspection before loading on US-bound ships.
  • The US Customs and Border Protection began enforcement of the 24-hour advance manifest filing rule for seaborne imports on May 4, 2003.
  • Customs said it would fine companies that do not electronically submit their cargo declarations on time and issue "do not load" messages to vessel operators for containerized cargo that has an invalid or incomplete cargo description.
  • Initially, enforcement efforts focused on significant violations of the cargo description requirements such as the vague terms "freight all kinds," "said to contain," or "general merchandise."
  • Effective May 15, 2003, Customs will issue "do not load" messages if the consignee's name and address are not clearly labeled or left blank.  Customs will also penalize companies for invalid cargo descriptions and late submittals for shipments known as "foreign remaining on board," that enter the United States, but are not unloaded at the first port of call.  Carriers may be assessed a $5,000 penalty for the first violation and $10,000 for any subsequent violation attributable to the master of the ship.
  • Customs said it will no longer accept vague freight descriptions, such as "freight of all kinds" (F.A.K.) or "said to contain" (S.T.C.), or broad descriptions, such as "chemicals" or "food stuffs."  Many ocean carriers, NVOs and importers have traditionally used these types of cargo descriptions to protect the privacy of their business information from competitors and reporting services.
  • Customs officials told the industry that they must either provide a more detailed cargo text description or use the first six digits of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule numbers.
  • More in-depth cargo descriptions on manifests will help the agency speed up non-intrusive inspections of "high-risk" containers and perhaps reduce the need to de-van some boxes.  Failure to comply may result in US Customs disallowing loading of the cargo.
  • Ocean carriers claim to incur added administrative costs as a result and have started to implement "security manifest documentation" charges.  These charges have become part of new charges that can be either prepaid or will now appear on the bill of lading.  Most charges are $25-$30 per bill of lading and supplier.  WSSA sent a summary of those charges to the membership.
  • The new "24-hour rule" is part of another of the government initiative C-TPAT (see below) in America's fight against terrorism and to protect the security of cargo entering the United States.
  • The US Customs and Border Protection website can be accessed at
  • Customs Clearance of Imported Merchandise
  • Once goods arrive at a US port, they will need to be cleared through Customs.
  • Customs brokers that are licensed by US Customs and Border Protection can provide this service and conduct Customs business on behalf of importers.  They take the burden of filling out paperwork and obtaining a Customs bond off of the importer's hands.  Some importations can be particularly complex.
  • The importer is always ultimately responsible for knowing Customs requirements and for ensuring their importation complies with all federal rules and regulations.  However, use of a Customs broker can save you from making costly mistakes.  The use of a broker is not a legal requirement and many importers do their own clearance.
  • For a list of brokers, visit CBP main webpage,, click on Ports.  Then click on the state in which you will be importing into, click on the city, below the city information there is a link for broker listing.
  • Otherwise, look in your yellow pages under Customs Brokers.  Customs cannot recommend individual brokers.


In April 2002, (the then still called) US Customs Service launched a new initiative in America's fight against terrorism, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, or C-TPAT.

This joint initiative between government and business is designed to protect the security of cargo entering the United States while improving the flow of trade.  C-TPAT requires importers to take steps to assess, evolve and communicate new practices that ensure tighter security of cargo and enhanced security throughout the entire supply chain.  In return, their goods and conveyances will receive expedited processing into the United States.

Through C-TPAT, Customs is asking businesses to ensure the integrity of their security practices and communicate their security guidelines to their business partners throughout the supply chain.

By participating in C-TPAT, companies will ensure a more secure supply chain for their employees, suppliers, and customers.  Besides giving their cargo faster processing at the border, Customs will offer additional potential benefits to C-TPAT members, including:

  • Dedicated commercial lanes where infrastructure permits;
  • Assigned Customs point of contact (account manager);
  • Eligibility for account-based processes (bi-monthly/monthly payments); and
  • Reduced inspections.

Businesses must apply to participate in C-TPAT.  Membership is available to importers, carriers, brokers, warehouse operators, manufacturers, domestic port authorities and marine terminal operators.  Participants will sign an agreement that commits them to the following actions:

  • Conduct a comprehensive self-assessment of supply chain security using the security guidelines jointly developed by Customs and the trade community;
  • Submit a supply chain security questionnaire to Customs;
  • Develop and implement a program to enhance security throughout the supply chain in accordance with guidelines; and
  • Communicate C-TPAT guidelines to other companies in the supply chain and work toward building the guidelines into relationships with these companies.

C-TPAT benefits can begin once Customs has completed a company risk assessment encompassing both security and trade compliance.  Highly compliant importers who have already been evaluated for risk will be accepted into C-TPAT upon submission of a signed C-TPAT agreement.

Seven companies helped initiate the program - its charter members were:  BP America, Daimler Chrysler, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, Motorola Inc., Sara Lee Corporation, and Target.  Customs also invited more than 200 highly compliant importers to join C-TPAT.  As of today, any company that imports into the United States may apply to become a C-TPAT participant.

As of late December 2003, 1,125 companies signed C-TPAT agreements; 764 are importers, 252 customs brokers/freight forwards, and 99 carriers.

Visit the Customs website for further enrollment information.


CSI, launched by Customs in January 2003, is a Customs initiative intended to prevent terrorists from smuggling weapons of mass destruction and other contraband in cargo containers.

The security initiative includes cooperation between the Customs authorities of participating countries and aims to pre-screen US-bound containers.

CSI is built upon four core elements:

  • Establishing security criteria to identify high-risk containers;
  • Pre-screening containers identified as "high-risk" before they arrive at US ports;
  • Using technology to pre-screen high-risk containers; and
  • Development and use of "smarter" containers.

A team of inspectors and analysts assigned to each foreign port will use the agency's automated systems to identify potentially high-risk containers that pose a terrorist threat.  For those containers identified as "high-risk," officials will take the lead in screening them to ensure they don't contain terrorists or weapons of mass destruction.

CSI is operational in many major ports including, but not limited to, Rotterdam, LeHavre, Antwerp, Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Singapore and Marseilles.

Customs inspectors are also in place at the Canadian seaports of Montreal, Halifax and Vancouver to pre-screen cargo off-loaded at those ports and bound for the US.

CBP ISF Enforcement

July 9, 2013

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has begun enforcement of the Importer Security Filing (ISF) rule, effective July 9, 2013.  This rule was first announced in 2009, so most importers and their Customs Brokers are already familiar with and following the required procedures. 

For new importers, or for those who would like to increase their familiarity with ISF, Avalon Risk Management has prepared an extensive listing of FAQ’s for your reference.  (Click here for FAQ's)

For specific questions, please contact Lisa Santiago at 718-917-6795 or  

If your Customs Broker is having difficulty with timely filings, “Web Merlin” is said to be provide the best automation package available for managing ISF compliance.  This program is used by the most sophisticated Customs Brokers, including Albatrans, Inc. 

USDA Re-Export Policy Change
January 31, 2011

Please note this letter from the United States Department of Agriculture.  It is an official notice regarding a change in the re-export policy which is effective January 1, 2011.

October 3, 2008

The following is an informative notification published by the CPSC staff regarding the new mandatory CPSC import documentation requirements, effective November 12th 2008.

View the publication.

August 4, 2008

The US Department of Commerce and Census have issued a final rule in the Code of Federal Regulations, requiring the mandatory use of AES export reporting for US shipped cargo.

Advisory for AES export reporting.

July 21, 2008

U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) will begin enforcing their new AES rule, effective September 30, 2008. This will require changes be made to the shipment processing for all cargo vessels that load at ports in the United States. The rule will have an impact on many of our customers, as it requires that both shippers and carriers adopt new disciplines and procedures to ensure timely manifesting and loading of cargo.

View the three easy steps for AES Participation.

August 10, 2007

CBP has issued the following announcement pertaining to E-Manifest Enforcement Clarification.

CBP's announcement in PDF.