Importing to the U. S.: What Happens when CBP Flags a Shipment?


As the U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) expects thousands of cargoes coming into the country daily, they regulate illegal, restricted, and improperly packaged cargoes. Because of this strict process, a lot of import shipments are flagged and put the process on hold, subjecting the shipments to examinations. 

To minimize the risk of cargoes being flagged by CBP, importers must take precautions to ensure everything meets applicable regulations. They can work with a customs broker to get help them check the right boxes before they import to the United States. And when their cargo is subjected to inspection, the broker can help importers understand the process and what to expect from it. 

What Happens to Flagged Cargoes

Should Customs hold a cargo, an agent will inspect it upon arrival or transport the cargo to a Centralized Examination Station or CES. Having the cargo inspected means a delay in its arrival at the final destination and fees for the importer. Once the importer gets notified by CBP about their cargo being held, they can contact the agency or let a customs broker do it for them. 

Kinds of Cargo Holds

All cargoes imported into the U. S. are subject to certain rules. For instance, some foods, hazardous materials, or animals should be handled in a particular way or might not be allowed entry into the country. Also, some requirements must be met for some kind of paperwork, labeling, or packaging.

When an importer’s cargo gets held at Customs for further inspections, the CBP will send a letter to the importer telling them about the kind of hold their cargo is subjected to and what the importer must do to move forward. The following are the most common kinds of cargo holds:

  • Manifest hold. Cargoes can get held this way when shipping documents such as a bill of lading or manifest are not correct, missing, must be verified, or not legible. 
  • Commercial enforcement hold.  CBP sets this kind of cargo hold when additional verification is necessary for trademark, licensing, copyright, and safety standards.
  • Statistical validation hold. This is set when the cargo and the shipping documents have discrepancies such as different values, weights, and commodity declarations. 

Shipments that are flagged for holding will be examined, which could take about one month to complete. Under Customs Laws, the examination should happen at the arrival destination, unless the authority says otherwise. As the entire process can take weeks, the importer could face extra storage fees. But importers can avoid all these troubles when they understand the importation requirements in the first place. There is where they can rely on an experienced customs broker.