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How to File an ISF

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Importers and merchants who purchase imported goods need to be aware of the Importer Security Filing (ISF) requirements implemented by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Bureau (CBP) to prevent illegal items from entering the country. If you don’t file an ISF properly, you may face fines and your products may not be released from the ship they are on, causing you to lose even more money in delays or lost product. You are required to submit your ISF filing online, as there is no other way to file this all-important information. Here’s what else you need to know about how to file an ISF.

Filing Time

The timing of your ISF filing is critical. For most goods, you must file an ISF with the CBP no later than 24 hours before your products are loaded onto the vessel at a foreign port. This means that if you have not filed an ISF and the ship your goods are on has already set sail or your products are already onboard even if the ship hasn’t left yet, you’re going to face a fine and other penalties. But, for break-bulk cargo, you can file an ISF as late as 24 hours before the vessel arrives at a U.S. port, so if you have not filed an ISF for your break-bulk cargo and the ship has already left its foreign port, you’ll still be fine as long as it takes more than 24 hours to arrive in the U.S.

Information Needed

Have the following information about your shipment ready before you begin the filing process. This will make it easier to file and ensure you’re not missing any data points that could cause your filing to be rejected. These 10 data points must be submitted at least 24 hours before your goods are loaded onto the ship that will carry them to the U.S.

  • Manufacturer name and address
  • Seller name and address
  • Buyer name and address
  • Container stuffing location
  • Consolidator
  • Importer of record number/FTZ applicant identification number
  • Consignee number
  • Ship-to party name and address
  • Country of origin
  • Commodity Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS)

The ocean line carrier company must file an additional two data points, which are:

  • The vessel stow plan and
  • Container status messages

A Certified Partner

To submit your ISF online, you must have a certified partner or approved third-party service provider that has access to the Automated Broker Interface (ABI) in the ACE (Automated Commercial Environment) Portal. They will need either an SCAC or ABI filer code to enter your information into the online form and submit it to the CBP. Through your partner or third-party service, you’ll be able to keep track of your ISF status to make sure you don’t need to provide any additional information or make any corrections to your filing. Be aware that if you do have to make corrections, you could be fined $5,000, have your cargo detained or inspected, or both.


Filing an ISF is not difficult, but it does require very specific information and you have to follow a set of steps to make sure it is filed correctly. Learning to do this will ensure your goods arrive at their destination on time and that you don’t incur any unnecessary fines.

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