The U.S. Importer’s Guide for Importer Security Filing (ISF)

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Trade Talk Blog • May 5th, 2022
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If you’re shipping and importing goods into the United States, you are responsible for filing an Importer Security Filing (ISF). ISF is required for all ocean shipments coming in by vessel to the United States. Don’t be caught off guard by the complexity and cost of the process. This article will cover everything you need to know about Importer Security Filing when importing goods into the United States.

What is an Importer Security Filing (ISF)?

The Importer Security Filing (ISF) on U.S. Imports, also known as 10+2, is a regulation enacted by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requiring importers to provide additional information about their cargo prior to its arrival in the U.S.

Importer Security Filing (ISF) is mandatory for ocean cargo imports into the United States. This filing process must be completed before the departure of cargo on an inbound vessel. An ISF filing is only required if the shipment is imported into the U.S. Therefore, you do not need to file an ISF if you are shipping goods to another country and transiting through the U.S.

Bulk cargo, which is generally defined as any non-containerized solid commodity, is excluded from the ISF 10+2, vessel stow plan, and container status message requirements. Bulk cargoes may still be subject to other documentation requirements depending on the cargo type. Additionally, containers that are not loaded on an ocean vessel in a foreign port are also exempt from these requirements (e.g., containers loaded on an ocean vessel in a U.S. port). Break-bulk shipments, while exempt from the vessel stow plan and CSM requirements, still require the filing of an ISF.

For the purposes of the Importer Security Filing rule, the following definition is used for bulk cargo:

“Homogenous cargo that is stowed loose in the hold and is not enclosed in any container such as a box, bale, bag, cask, or the like. Such cargo is also described as bulk freight. Specifically, bulk cargo is composed of either: (A) free flowing articles such as oil, grain, coal, ore, and the like which can be pumped or run through a chute or handled by dumping; or (B) uniform cargo that stows as solidly as bulk cargo and requires mechanical handling for lading and discharging.”

What’s the purpose of an Importer Security Filing (ISF)?

The Importer Security Filing (ISF) aims to enhance national security and international trade facilitation by improving the quality of the information provided to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) about what’s being imported into the United States.

The ISF rule was created as part of the Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act of 2006 under Congress to help prevent terrorism. This increased visibility and transparency ensures better security within the supply chain and ultimately reduces the risk of terrorism or smuggling.

For CBP to enforce the ISF rule, the agency has implemented systems to identify non-compliant shipments and assess penalties for delinquent or inaccurate filings. Specifically, CBP officers have been instructed to detain shipments that do not have an ISF on file for up to 48 hours after arrival in the United States or until an ISF has been filed, whichever is later.

What are the requirements for an ISF?

Your ISF filing includes 10 data elements critical to CBP for determining the admissibility and security risks of inbound shipments. It must be filed by the importer of record, their U.S. agent or foreign exporter or freight forwarder at least 24 hours before departure from a foreign port.

The data elements that must be included with an ISF filing and submitted through the Automated Manifest System (AMS) are:

  1. Manufacturer name and address
  2. Seller name and address
  3. Buyer name and address
  4. “Ship to” name and address
  5. Importer of record number (or Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) applicant identification number)
  6. Consignee number(s)
  7. Country of origin
  8. Container stuffing location
  9. Consolidator (stuffer) name and address
  10. Commodity Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the U.S. (HTSUS)

The two additional elements are required by the ocean carrier, and you will only be required to submit the above 10 data elements.

Who is responsible for filing the ISF?

The importer or their agent is responsible for filing the ISF. The ISF Importer is the person who owns the cargo while it’s in transit. If the cargo is owned by someone other than the party bringing the cargo into the U.S., that person or business is listed on the bill of lading under “Notify Party.” This party is responsible for filing an Importer Security Filing on behalf of the owner.

In short, you can submit the ISF 10+2 if you are:

  • An importer of record
  • A licensed customs broker acting as an agent for the importer of record
  • A non-vessel operating common carrier (NVOCC) acting as an agent for the importer of record or the owner or purchaser of the goods that will be filing under their own bond

Financially speaking, The ISF Importer is the party responsible for the cargo and its entry into the United States. The ISF Importer can be either the owner of the goods, agent, consignee, or purchasing agent, or any other party with a financial interest in the shipment. This may not be the party who actually imports the merchandise.

If another party has guaranteed the payment of duties, taxes, and fees to CBP through a bonded warehouse or by other means, that party may be responsible for payment of the ISF. If another party has agreed to pay duties and fees in exchange for the release of the cargo, that party may be responsible for payment of the ISF fees. And if you are an IOR but are not paying the duties and fees, you should consider using a power of attorney or other written agreement to designate another party as liable for payment of your ISF fees.

Even though you may be using a freight forwarder or customs broker, as the importer, you are ultimately responsible for ensuring that your ISF is completed correctly and filed on time. Late, inaccurate, or incomplete ISFs may result in penalties of USD 5,000 to USD 10,000 per violation.

What is the cost of filing an ISF?

The fee for ISF filings ranges from USD 10-25 if filed by you or the carrier and USD 50-100 if filed by a freight forwarder or customs broker. The cost of an ISF filing depends on two factors:

  1. How many shipments you import or ships you use. The more containers you have to file, the lower your per-container ISF filing costs. Generally, with a large number of shipments, you will pay less per filing than if you were only to import a few shipments per year.
  1. Whether or not you choose to have an ISF filing service provider complete and file your ISF for you. If you’re comfortable enough to complete and file the form yourself, there will be no additional costs for having a service provider complete and file it on your behalf.

Do I need to purchase an ISF Bond?

Importers determined to be a high risk may be required to purchase an ISF Bond to file their ISF with U.S. Customs, and the cost of the bond will depend on your credit score. If you’re importing low-value shipments or filing an ISF for a single shipment, we recommend purchasing an ISF Bond. Otherwise, it’s best to purchase a Customs Bond (single-entry or continuous).

Not to be confused with a Customs Bond, the ISF Bond is a surety bond that guarantees the importer will comply with all federal regulations and laws of importing goods into the United States, including filing the required ISF. If a bond is required, it must be purchased before the ISF can be filed. It is usually in the importer’s best interest to purchase an ISF bond through a licensed customs broker who can also file their ISF.

When do you need to file an Importer Security Filing (ISF)?

The importer or their agent must file the ISF at least 24 hours before goods are loaded onto the ship at the origin. If the ISF deadline isn’t met, there’s a risk that your imported goods will be denied entry into the United States or delayed at the port of entry. These risks may be compounded if the shipment arrives during peak season when congestion at ports of entry is common.

In addition, the importer or their agent must also file a post-summary correction within five days if any information in the ISF changes after it has been filed with CBP.

Where can I find more information about Importer Security Filing (ISF)?

Do you need help to understand your ISF filing on your imports? Book a meeting with us.

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