Importer Security Filing: What is ISF and How to File it Faster

by | Industry

When do you need an ISF? Who’s responsible for completing it, and can importers handle it themselves? Here’s what you need to know about the important import document, the Importer Security Filing.

Both ocean shipping volumes and the cost of ocean transport are fluctuating massively. According to data from The Port of Los Angeles, the facility handled 10.7 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2021, up from 9.2 million the year before. As noted by Bloomberg, however, while the spot rates on shipping are finally starting to fall, the cost of a long-term contract to move goods from China to the U.S. West Coast is almost $8,000, more than double the rates of 2021.

The result? Importers can’t afford to have their shipments delayed – or worse, refused – if they want to ensure on-time customer delivery and drive ROI. Some aspects of the shipping and port process are beyond their control, such as ongoing port staffing issues. But others, such as the completion of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Importer Security Filing (ISF), are essential to keeping freight forwarding on track and on time.

But when do you need an ISF? Who’s responsible for completing it, and can importers handle it themselves? Here’s what you need to know about this important import document.

 Key Takeaways

  • A completed ISF must be submitted to CBP at least 24 hours before cargo is loaded on a vessel heading for the United States.
  • The purpose of the ISF is to provide visibility for CBP into all incoming shipments, in turn allowing CBP officers to assess shipments for potential risk and take appropriate action.
  • Customs compliance solutions from Magaya are CBP-approved and can help importers quickly and easily meet ISF requirements without introducing compliance risk.

What is ISF?

Also called the Import Security Filing or the 10+2, a completed ISF must be submitted to CBP at least 24 hours before cargo is loaded on a vessel heading for the United States. The term “10+2” refers to the fact that the ISF requires 10 data elements prior to cargo being loaded and 2 more elements at least 24 hours before the ship arrives at a U.S. port.

The 10 data elements include:

  • Seller
  • Buyer
  • Importer of Record (IOR) number
  • FTZ applicant identification number
  • Consignee numbers
  • Manufacturer
  • Supplier
  • Ship to party
  • Country of origin
  • Commodity Harmonized Tariff Schedule

The additional 2 data elements are:

  • Container stuffing location
  • Consolidator

When is ISF required?

An ISF is required for any shipment arriving in the United States via ocean vessel. It is not required for other methods of shipping, such as air or ground. The purpose of the ISF is to provide visibility for CBP into all incoming shipments, in turn allowing CBP officers to assess shipments for potential risk and take appropriate action.

For example, if the submitted ISF shows that cargo originated from a location with substantive political unrest or contains goods that could potentially pose a public safety hazard, CBP agents can conduct a more thorough investigation of the cargo and the ship when it arrives.

This is the reason the ISF must be submitted within 24 hours of the cargo being loaded. Given the sheer amount vessels and cargo now passing through US ports, CBP needs time to prepare for the investigation of high-risk shipments. If importers do not complete and submit their ISF on time, their shipment could be delayed or denied entry, in turn causing significant revenue loss. For example, CBP can issue fines of up to $5,000 per violation for any inaccurate, incomplete, or late filing.

Who is responsible for filing ISF?

The ultimate responsibility for filing the ISF lies with the Importer of Record (IOR). These importers are also responsible for ensuring that any duties are accurately calculated and paid on time, but in many cases the IOR will hand over this task to a broker or freight forwarder who will file it on their behalf.

While the use of third parties can help streamline the process of ISF filing, it also opens IORs to potential problems if records are inaccurate or aren’t filed on time.

Can importers file their own ISF?

CBP permits the filing of an ISF by importers directly and also allows the use of self-service, CBP-approved software tools to simplify the filing process.

While there are benefits to IORs using freight forwarders or logistics providers to handle their ISF filing, such as the outsourcing of complicated and time-consuming tasks to third parties, there are also benefits to importers handling ISF filings themselves, such as:

  • Elimination of filing fees
  • Increased visibility
  • Reduced import touch points
  • Decreased risk of compliance failures

How Magaya Customs Compliance can Help Streamline ISF Filing

Customs compliance solutions from Magaya are CBP-approved and can help importers quickly and easily meet ISF requirements without introducing compliance risk. Advantages of the Magaya Customs Compliance solution include:

  • Real-time CBP updates

Real-time updates of CBP data, including port data and potential alerts, can help companies actively monitor the status of their shipments and take action as needed to reduce the risk of delays and ensure customer satisfaction.

  • Data validation tools

Built-in data validation tools check for issues with data elements to ensure that ISF information is entered correctly, in turn helping them avoid potential fines for incomplete or inaccurate filings.

  • Automation capabilities

Automation capabilities streamline the process of complex data entry, allowing importers to focus on the security and speed of shipments themselves, rather than getting bogged down in the work of managing every detail of their ISF.

  • Pre-keyed shipment information

Lists of pre-keyed options make it possible for teams to quickly choose from common ISF form options rather than manually entering shipment information. This not only streamlines the process but reduces the risk of data entry errors.

  • Magaya Supply Chain connections

Direct connections with the Magaya Supply Chain portal make it possible for importers to auto-populate certain ISF fields using already-verified data, both eliminating redundancies and saving time that could be better spent elsewhere.

  • Increased visibility

Comprehensive connections across supply chain, compliance, and ISF processes mean better visibility for importers, which empowers both improved oversight and control. Rather than getting data after the fact about a potential issue, companies using Magaya Customs Compliance have the information they need to take action ASAP.

If you’re importing goods via ocean vessel into the United States, you need to file an ISF. And while common practice sees IORs outsourcing this task to freight forwarders or licensed customs brokers, advanced software solutions offer a self-service route for importers that can both increase visibility and reduce total risk.

Discover how Magaya can help streamline and simplify your ISF process. Get started today.

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