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What is a Customs exam charge?

If your shipment is pulled for a Customs examination you will be charged a Customs exam fee. The importer is liable for any Customs fees, including exams charges on shipments that are brought into the country.

How does Customs decide what shipments to examine?

The U.S. Customs selects shipments to examine with the help of their targeting system which applies a score to each shipment that comes in. If the score is above CBP’s standard, a further review of the shipment is conducted.

While the exact procedures are unknown, CBP inspects newer importers at a higher frequency than they do with shippers who have more seniority.

How much does a Customs exam cost?

Customs exam fees depend on the type of inspection and can range from $80 to over $1,000. These fees are applied if U.S. Customs examines the shipment in its country of origin or in the United States.

What types of Customs exams are there?


The Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System exam, also known as the Non-intrusive or the X-Ray exam is just X-Ray. If your cargo is subject to this exam, CBP asks that the container be driven through an X-ray machine at the point of arrival. CBP will then review the images and if all is in order, they will release the cargo. If not, well, you will be looking at the exam being escalated to one of the next two exams.

Fees for this exam range from $150-$250, depending on the size of the container.

Tailgate Exam.

If, after viewing the X-ray images, CBP is not satisfied, the cargo will move to the tailgate exam, which is fairly simple. In this exam, the cargo inspector will break the seal on the container, open the doors, and have a look inside. If they don’t see anything to worry them, then the container can be released and be on its way. However, if the officer is still concerned, the cargo will move to the most involved exam, the intensive.

This exam costs between $150-$350 per container, depending on the port and size of the container and they usually take between 2-3 days, for ocean shipments. Air shipment examinations usually only take a few days no matter the exam type, as air freight is usually loose, rather than in containers or on pallets.

The Intensive Exam.

This final exam, like its name, is intense. For the intensive, the entire container is moved to a Customs Exam Site (CES), a private corporation contracted by Customs to prepare the shipment for inspection. A CES does this by offloading the container, separating the sets of parcels, opening boxes, and readying the cargo. If the cargo passes the examination, your shipment is free to go.

As the most labor-intensive exam, it is also the most costly. Fees for this exam can run from $1,000-$2,500 or beyond. The price is calculated based on the labor involved, the size of the container, and the port it is being held at. This exam can take anywhere from 5-7 days.

To learn more about Customs exams please visit our US Customs Exam and hold types guideline.

Need help? Reach out to one of our experts to make sure you don’t miss any important documents in the import process.


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