Getting Started with Importing into the US


After completing this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Explain the process of importing into the US

Overview of the Import Process

All imports into the United States are subject to the control of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and, as the case may be, other government agencies.

CBP requires all carriers transporting goods to the United States to transmit information on the shipment 24 hours before the cargo is loaded on a vessel. This so-called cargo declaration must be filed electronically in the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE). Based on the cargo declaration, CBP decides whether further examination of the shipment is necessary upon arrival at the port of entry.

If the goods are transported by ship, importers must inform CBP of certain cargo-related data elements, no later than 24 hours before the cargo is loaded onto a vessel in the so-called Importer Security Filing (ISF).

When the shipment arrives, CBP notifies the importer with details for the collection of the goods. From the time of their entry into the customs territory of the United States until the import procedure has been duly completed, the goods are under CBP custody. For the most part, imported goods are entered for consumption. They may, however, also be entered for warehouse at the port of arrival or transported in-bond to another port of entry. Alternatively, the goods may be transferred duty unpaid to a foreign-trade zone.

If the goods are to be entered for consumption, the importer requests their customs release by filing an entry within 15 days of arrival at the port of entry. U.S. customs law provides for two types of entry:

  • Informal entry (for goods valued less than USD 2,500)

  • Formal entry (for goods valued at USD 2,500 or more)

The procedure of a consumption entry consists of two steps:

  1. Filing an entry (cargo release) together with commercial documents, such as air waybill or bill of lading, invoice, and packing list

  2. Filing an entry summary including an estimation of the duties to be paid

If the importer does not have sufficient information on classification and/or value of the goods at the time the entry summary is filed, he may flag it for reconciliation. This flag alerts CBP that the entry summary is subject to later update or correction. The reconciliation containing the missing or updated information required for the final assessment of the import duties is filed electronically in ACE.

Importing Goods Using ACE

ACE is the system for electronic communication between CBP and other government agencies and the trade community. It is supposed to provide a single access point ("single window") for importers and exporters to connect with the government of the United States.

ACE can be accessed through the ACE Secure Data Portal or Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) interfaces.

ACE offers several features to importers:

  • Manifest (cargo declarations)

  • Cargo Release (entries/entry summaries)

  • Post Release (liquidation and reconciliation, amongst others)

  • Document Image System (transmission of supporting documents)

  • Integration of Partner Government Agencies

Entries and entry summaries must be transmitted to ACE as EDI messages via the Automated Broker Interface (ABI). Once accepted in ACE, they can be updated, replaced or deleted by the filer, depending on their status.

In the two-step procedure, the importer submits the entry to ACE. The data are automatically verified in the system. The filer receives a processing message with status information. If ACE finds an error, the entry has to be corrected and submitted again. If the data declared are verified successfully, CBP sends a response message to the filer for the release of the cargo. The entry summary is equally submitted to ACE and again verified in the system. CBP’s response message to the filer indicates whether the data are complete and correct so that the entry summary can be accepted. CBP sends preliminary and final duty statements also via ACE.

Supporting documents required for entry processing may be provided on paper. However, to facilitate the process, filers can submit such documentation to CBP and other government agencies electronically through the Document Image System (DIS) within ACE. DIS accepts electronic versions of the required documents in different file formats, such as PDF or JPEG.

Importers filing their entries through the ABI can use the Automated Clearinghouse (ACH) for paying certain duties, taxes, and fees electronically in ACE. Filers may choose to authorize CBP to withdraw either funds or a single authorized payment through their bank.

SAP is a CBP-certified software provider for ACE.

Partner Government Agencies (PGA)

Not only CBP monitors the import of goods into the United States. Depending on the merchandise imported, other authorities, which are grouped under the term "Partner Government Agencies" (PGA), may require additional data to be filed or may even refuse the entry of the goods. The following overview lists some of these government agencies:

  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that supervises the manufacture and marketing of food and drugs, as well as other consumer goods

  • National Highway Traffic and Safety Agency (NHTSA): Agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that monitors the import of motor vehicles and other means of transport

  • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS): Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that supervises the import of certain agricultural commodities

SAP GTS supports the maintenance of PGA codes and FDA product codes, and the filing of the prior notice of imported food via ACE.

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