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A Definitive Guide to Customs Holds and Exams

A Definitive Guide to Customs Holds and Exams

Explore the various types of holds and examinations that the U.S. Customs places on imported goods upon their arrival to the United States.

The Issue 

The 9/11 attacks in New York marked the beginning of a precautionary era of increased international terrorism, affecting the operations of international agencies and homeland security authorities. Before this, the main priority of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection services was to prevent the smuggling of illegal substances into the country and to avoid importers from misclaiming the value of imported goods. However, CBP’s responsibilities have now extended to protecting the country and monitoring any security risk that comes in from international grounds. 

The Result 

Nowadays, the U.S. Customs targets, pulls, and examines any questionable shipment that enters the United States. Customs cargo inspectors have a system in place that gives scores to each shipment, and if that score is over a certain number (standard), it triggers an interest in the further review and examination of these goods.

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Who pays if my LCL shipment is selected for a Customs Exam?

If your LCL shipment is selected for an exam, then the costs per container will be divided proportionally between the importers, depending on how much space their goods occupy in the container.

How long do Customs Exams take?

The duration of Customs Exams vary, depending on exam intensity, port capacity, and labor capabilities. Here’s a general timeline:

X-Ray Exam- these can take 2-3 days. 

Tail Gate Exam- these can take 5-6 days. 

Intensive Exam - these can take 5-7 days.

How long will my customs exam take if I’m shipping via air freight?

Shipment exams will only take a couple of days, as air cargo is handled on an individual or loose basis, and doesn’t require much labor to break down or pack up the contents.

Why is there a hold on my goods if Customs has already examined it?

Oftentimes this means that other federal agencies have requested that Customs hold your products for them to complete further examination and take samples. There are two types of holds that allow this: Commercial Enforcement Hold and PGA Hold.

How does CBP select shipments for examination or holds?

CBP is very secretive about its targeting and examination tactics, but there are known key factors that play an indicative role in this process. We know that first-time or newer importers have a higher risk of being examined than those who have already gone through that path. Other things that are put into play are the countries of origin and the types of goods that are being transported. We also know that CBP collects data from the documentation provided by the shippers or their brokers prior to the importation of goods into the United States. The Customs body also looks at import data that was entered into CBP’s Automated Manifest System (AMS) and the Importer Security Filing (ISF). Ultimately, providing correct information will help you avoid customs holds and exam charges when your goods arrive to the United States.


What types of Customs Holds are there? 

There are five common types of Customs Holds, they are as follows: 

Manifest Hold - This is based on the provided data or the lack of crucial information on the ISF or on the carrier’s manifest. A manifest hold is also the most common Customs hold. 

Commercial Enforcement Hold - Shipments are placed on a Commercial Enforcement Hold when there’s a potential issue with any Customs regulation. As the auditor for Federal Agencies, the U.S. Customs may place goods on a Commercial Enforcement Hold, if they do not meet the standards of the FDA, USDA, CPSC, and others. 

Statistical Validation Hold - Shipments are selected ‘statistically’ for verification of manifested or reported commodity, its value, weight, quantities, etc. 

CET Hold (A-TCET) - Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team- All dangerous substances and items, such as guns and drugs, are placed under this. 

PGA Hold - Participating Government Agencies (PGA)- Products are placed under PGA Hold when any of the participating agencies instruct CBP to place a hold on a given shipment, to make sure that it complies with regulations. The participating agencies are as follows: 

  • FDA- Food and Drug Administration
  • USDA- United States Department of Agriculture
  • CPSC- Consumer Product Safety Commission

Who will notify me if there’s a hold on my shipment? 

In the case that products are placed on hold, Customs electronically notifies the broker and importer of any holds. Whenever necessary, Customs decides if the shipment needs additional screening or auditing. There are varying types of examinations that Customs can choose to examine your shipment. 

How much do Exam Charges cost? 

The cost of Exam Charges vary, depending on intensity. Here’s an overall price breakdown: 

X-Ray Exam - charges range anywhere from $150 to $350 per container, depending on its size and the port location of the container. 

Tail Gate Exam - fees range from $150 to $350 per container, again, depending on the size and port location. 

Intensive Exam - fees for this exam will run between $1000 to $2,500 or more per container, as it requires extra labor, trucking, etc.