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What Is It With These Customs Holds And Exams?

There are strict deadlines with the customer. You have been pushing your factory for weeks to complete the production on time so you can ship out the goods from the origin country which will barely make the deadline with your customer. Factory ships the goods finally after tons of emails, telephone conversations and correspondences. Everything is finally on track and your container arrived at the port.
US Customs Exam
All of a sudden you get a notice from your service provider advising that there is a customs exam hold on your container. No way… How are you going to meet the deadline now? You get another notice from your service provider two days later advising your container is held up for further examination. Why is this happening to me? What can I do to get my container immediately so I can deliver it to my customer that is about the cancel the order?

Above scenarios are very common amongst the importers. Customs exam holds are unavoidable and they are crucial to protect our homeland from contraband. Each year alone thousands of containers are held up. Some of these are even re-exported to the origin country before even leaving the terminals. Exam and related charges are costing the importers hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

As per Customs Border Protection (CBP) the importer shall bear any expense involved in preparing the merchandise for CBP examination and in the closing of packages” (19 CFR 151.6). Household effects are not exempt. No distinction is made between commercial and personal shipments. In the course of normal operations, CBP does not charge for cargo examinations. However, there may still be costs involved for the importer. For example, if your shipment is selected for examination, it will generally be moved to a Centralized Examination Station (CES) for the CBP exam to take place. A CES is a privately operated facility, not in the charge of a CBP Officer, at which merchandise is made available to CBP officers for physical examination. The CES facility will unload (devan) your shipment from its shipping container and will reload it after the exam. The CES will bill you for their services. There are also costs associated with moving the cargo to and from the exam site and with storage. Rates will vary across the country and a complete devanning may cost several hundred dollars. The CES concept fulfills the needs of both CBP and the importer by providing an efficient means to conduct exams in a timely manner. (

Under 19 USC 1467, CBP has a right to examine any shipment imported into the United States and it is important to know that you, the importer, must bear the cost of such cargo exams. Per the CBP regulations, it is the responsibility of the importer to make the goods available for examination.

US Customs ExamThere are threats to US everyday and one of CBP’s responsibilities is to secure and facilitate the trade. There are various exam types:

Tailgate Exam: Customs officers open the container and check to see if there is anything suspicious that may lead to further examination.

Intensive Exam: Containers are drayed to Customs exam site and contents are physically inspected.

USDA Exam: USDA inspects the goods for insects, infestation or improper wood packaging.

CET Exam: Physical examination of the container. CET stands for Contraband Enforcement Team. If your import cargo is subject to CET exam it will be transported to customs exam warehouse for physical inspection for narcotics, drugs, weapons etc.

Since there is not much to do to control the exams the best thing to do is to take preventive actions, and comply with the requirements. In conclusion, it is important to understand the necessity of the exams and procedures and that they are inevitable for homeland security. In order to minimize the exam holds I would recommend the importers to become a member of C-TPAT and provide appropriate paperwork that complies with the customs requirements.

Serkan Kavas
Serkan Kavas
Serkan Kavas was born and raised in Turkey. He graduated from Dokuz Eylul University with a Degree in Business Administration in 2001. He had an internship in Germany at a major industrial company after college. He worked at their family business in Turkey and managed their exports from Turkey to Europe. He moved to the U.S. to continue his education in New York and obtained his MBA degree with International Business concentration at New York Institute of Technology in 2005. After graduation he was recruited by MTS Logistics and he has been working at the company since 2005. Serkan worked his way up from the entry level to operations manager and to his current position as our VP of Imports at MTS Logistics. He wears different hats daily with different responsibilities. He has vast knowledge, experience, and understanding of all aspects of logistics, freight, and the supply chain. His focus now is to help develop our import department and help our company move forward.

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