A Closer Look at Cargo Inspections

Importers know the risks of bringing in goods from overseas into U.S. ports. They know that to lower the risk of their cargo being detained and inspected, they need to make sure their ISF filing is correct and on time. But, sometimes, their goods get held up in port anyway. Here’s why.

A Highly-Guarded Secret

To be honest, no one knows exactly what triggers a cargo inspection at U.S. ports except for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). CBP is responsible for ensuring that all cargo that enters the U.S. from outside of the country is safe and does not pose a threat to national security. This agency has the right to examine any shipment that enters the U.S. and the importer is responsible for the costs related to those examinations. This law applies to both personal and commercial shipments, so don’t think you can get around the law by declaring your cargo for personal use.

What we do know, though, is that specific data collected on the Importer Security Filing is carefully scrutinized and analyzed to flag potentially dangerous or illegal cargo. Data such as the shipper’s name and address, the receiver’s name and address, the country of origin, and more are used to establish patterns that can raise suspicions. As such, it’s very important that your ISF is completed on time and correctly to minimize red flags.

Some Are Random, Some Are Not

Certainly, some cargo inspections are done at random. You could just be the unlucky importer of the day whose cargo gets randomly selected for examination. But, your track record as an importer will also factor into how often your shipments are “randomly” inspected. If you consistently file your ISF late or you’re always making changes to your filing, you’re going to fall under the microscope of CBP officials. Labeling errors and other mistakes can also get you on the inspection list.

If you’re a first-time importer, your initial imports will probably all be flagged for inspection just to make sure you’re doing things right and to establish your credibility. This period of time can last for several months, or even years, depending on how often you import goods and how many times you’re found in violation of ISF regulations. Therefore, it’s vital that you take the rules seriously and make sure you’re following them to the letter.

How to Avoid Inspection

Let’s face it. You’re not going to avoid inspection 100% of the time. If you ship enough goods, enough times, your cargo is eventually going to get pulled for inspection. But, there are some things you can do to minimize the number of times this happens. First, follow all the ISF rules all the time, but especially when you’re first trying to establish yourself as a reliable importer. Second, consider hiring a Licensed Customs Broker who will make sure all ISF regulations are strictly followed so that your cargo isn’t flagged.


No one likes having their cargo held up for inspection. After all, you have delivery times to meet. But, it’s a fact of the importing trade that you will have to deal with inspection delays at times. Fortunately, by following the ISF rules and hiring a broker, you can keep these disruptions to a minimum.

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