US Customs


A Glossary and Definition of commonly-used import export acronyms and terms

ABI Automated Broker Interface – a part of Customs Automated Commercial System, permits transmission of data pertaining to merchandise being imported into the U.S. Qualified participants include brokers, importers, carriers, port authorities and independent data processing companies referred to as service centers.
ACE Automated Commercial Environment – Part of Customs Automated Commercial System which controls imported merchandise from the time a carrier’s cargo manifest is electronically transmitted to Customs until control is provided to another segment of the ACS.
ACH Automated Clearinghouse – The Automated Clearinghouse (ACH) is a feature of the Automated Broker Interface that is a part of Customs Automated Commercial System. The ACH combines elements of bank lock box arrangements with electronic funds transfer services to replace cash or check for payment of estimated duties, taxes and fees on imported merchandise.
ACS Automated Commercial System – The Customs Automated Commercial System, ACS, is a joint public-private sector computerized data processing and telecommunications system linking customhouses, members of the import trade community and other government agencies with the Customs computer. Trade users file import data electronically, receive needed information on cargo status and query Customs files to prepare submissions. Duties, taxes and fees may be paid by electronic statement through a Treasury-approved clearinghouse bank. ACS contains the import data used by Census to prepare U.S. foreign trade statistics.
Ad Valorem Duty Duty imposed on imported merchandise based on a percentage of the value.
ADD Antidumping duty – A tariff imposed to discourage sale of foreign goods at less than a fair market price that would be detrimental to local manufacturers. See Dumping.
Air Waybill A bill of lading that covers both domestic and international flights transporting goods to specified destination. Technically, the air waybill is a non-negotiable instrument of air transport that serves as a receipt for the shipper, indicating that the carrier has accepted the goods listed therein and obligates itself to carry the consignment to the airport of destination according to specified conditions.
All Risk Extensive insurance coverage of cargo including coverage due to external causes such as fire, collision, pilferage, etc., but does not include special risks such as those resulting from acts of war.
AMS Automated Manifest System
APEC Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation
APHIS A branch of the USDA, the Animal Plant Inspection Service provides leadership in ensuring the health and care of animals and plants, improving agricultural productivity and competitiveness and contributing to the national economy and the public health.
Appraisement The determination, by a proper Customs official, of the dutiable value of imported merchandise following procedures outlined in the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended.
Arrival Notice This notice, which advises the consignee that cargoes have arrived, is issued by steamship lines and can also serve as the freight bill.
ASEAN Association of Southeast Asian Nations
Assist Items furnished to the producer either free of charge or at a reduced amount or used in the production of merchandise that will be imported. Examples include tools, dies, and molds. Artwork performed in the U.S. is not considered an assist. The value of an assist
ATPA Andean Trade Preferences Act
AWB Air Waybill
BEET Business Executives Enforcement Teams
BIS Bureau of Industry and Security
BL Bill of Lading – A contract between the owner of the goods and the carrier. There are primarily two types of ladings. A straight bill of lading is nonnegotiable. A negotiable or shipper’s order bill of lading can be bought, sold, or traded while goods are in transit and is used for letter of credit transactions. The customer usually needs the original or a copy as proof of ownership to take possession of the goods.
Bonded Warehouse A warehouse authorized by Customs authorities for storage or manufacture of goods on which payment of duties is deferred until the goods enter Customs territory. The goods are not subject to duties if reshipped to foreign points.
Bureau of Census -Department of Commerce In relationship to imports, the DOC has two primary interests. The first interest pertains to the Committee for Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA) which regulates certain textile imports under Section 204 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act. The second area of interest involves the collection of statistical data from import shipments.
Buying Commission A buying commission consists of any monies paid to the buyer’s agent, who is controlled by or works on behalf of the buyer.
CACM Central American Common Market
Cargo Selectivity System The Cargo Selectivity System, a part of Customs Automated Commercial System, specifies the type of examination (intensive or general) to be conducted for imported merchandise. The type of examination is based on database selectivity criteria such as assessments of risk by filer, consignee, tariff number, country of origin and manufacturer/shipper.
CARICOM Caribbean Common Market
Carnet Customs documents permitting the holder to carry or send sample merchandise temporarily into certain foreign countries without paying duties or posting bonds. A carnet serves as both the entry document and a Customs bond.
Cartage Movement of freight via trucking, draying or carting.
CBERA Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act
CBI Caribbean Basin Initiative
CCL Commerce Control List
Certificate of Origin Certain nations require a signed statement as to the origin of the export item. Such certificates are usually obtained through a semiofficial organization such as a local Chamber or Commerce. A certificate may be required even though the commercial invoice contains the information.
CF 3461 -Immediate Release All imported merchandise (other than merchandise admitted into a FTZ) must be released by U.S. Customs before it can be received by the importer/consignee. The CF 3461, Immediate Release, is the form used to obtain the proper release from Customs.
CFTA Canada Free Trade Agreement
Classification Classification is the categorization of merchandise according to the Harmonized Tariff Schedules of the U.S. Classification affects the duty status of imported merchandise. Simplified, it is the process of finding the tariff classification which best describes the imported good.
CM Contract Manufacturer
CMC Customs Management Center
Compound Duty Tax imposed on imported merchandise based on a percentage of value and also on the net weight or number of pieces, etc.
Consignment Delivery of merchandise from an exporter (the consignor) to an agent (the consignee) under agreement that the agent sell the merchandise for the account of the exporter. The consignor retains title to the goods until sold. The consignee sells the goods for commission and remits the net proceeds to the consignor.
Consignor The person or company shown on the bill of lading as the shipper.
Consolidation The combination of many small shipments into one container, often with more than one destination/consignee.
Consumption Entry Required by U.S. Customs for goods entering the United States. Information on the form includes cargo origin and description and estimated duties, which must be paid at the time the document is filed.
Container Single rigid, sealed, reusable metal box in which merchandise is shipped by vessel, truck or rail.
Container Freight Station (CFS) Facility used by ocean carriers to load/unload cargo to and from containers. Most less-than-container-load lots of cargo are either packed into or de-vanned at the CFS.
Country of Origin Country where merchandise was grown, mined or manufactured.
Customs Broker Individual or firm licensed by Customs to enter and clear goods on behalf of others through Customs.
Customs Territory Includes the States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico
CVD Countervailing Duty – A special duty imposed on imports to offset the benefits of subsidies paid to producers or exporters in the exporting country
Date of Exportation The actual date the merchandise leaves the country of exportation for the U.S.
DCS Destination Control Statement
Demurrage Excess time taken for loading or unloading a vessel. Demurrage refers only to situations in which the charter or shipper, rather than the vessel’s operator, is at fault.
Devanning Unloading of cargo from a container.
DOC Department of Commerce
Dock Receipt A dock receipt is used to transfer accountability when the domestic carrier moves the export item to the port of embarkation and left with the international carrier for export.
DOD Department of Defense
DOE Department of Energy
Domestic Status Domestic status material is Growth, product, or manufacture of the U.S. on which all IRS taxes have been paid. · Previously imported and on which duty and tax have been paid.· Previously entered free of duty and tax.
DOS Department of State
DPL Denied Persons List
Drawback Refund of all or part of Customs duties paid on imported merchandise which was subsequently either manufactured into a different article or re-exported.
DTRA Defense Threat Reduction Agency
Dumping The sale of a commodity in a foreign market at less-than-fair value. Dumping is generally recognized as an unfair practice because the practice can disrupt markets and injure producers of competitive products in an importing country. Article VI of the GATT permits imposition of antidumping duties equal to the difference between the price sought in the importing country and the normal value of the product in the exporting country.
Duty Tax levied by the government on the import, export or consumption of goods and usually based on the value of the goods or some other factors such as weight or quantity or a combination of both.
EAA Export Administration Act
EAR Export Administration Regulations
EC/EU European Community/European Union
ECCN Export Control Classification Number
EFTA European Free Trade Association
EL Entity List
EMS Export Management System
EPCI Enhanced Proliferation Control Initiative
FACR Foreign Assets Control Regulations
FDA Form 2877 Declaration for Imported Electronic Products Subject to Radiation Control
FDI Foreign Direct Investment
FMS Foreign Military Sales
Foreign Inland Freight Foreign inland freight consists of the charges to move the freight from the foreign factory to the place of loading. Foreign inland freight charges are dutiable unless the terms of sale are “ex-factory” or the charges were incurred incident to the international shipment.
Freight Forwarder An independent business which assembles, collects and consolidates less-than-truckload freight. Also, a person acting as an agent in the transshipping of freight to or from foreign countries and the clearing of freight through Customs for compensation.
FTAA Free Trade Area of the Americas
FTSR Foreign Trade Statistics Regulations
GATS General Agreement on Trade in Services
GATT General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
GDP Gross Domestic Product
GSP Generalized System of Preferences
Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) * The Harmonized Commodity Description & Coding System (or HTS) is a system for classifying goods in international trade, developed under the direction of the Customs Cooperation Council. Beginning on January 1, 1989, the new HS numbers replaced previously adhered-to schedules in over 50 countries, including the United States. For the United States, the HTS numbers are the numbers that are entered on the actual export and import documents. Any other commodity code classification number (SIC, SITC, end-use, etc.) is just rearrangements and transformations of the original HS numbers.
House Air Waybill Contains all the information of an air waybill but is not a financial document. This is a contract between the shipper and freight forwarder. All the shipments covered by the individual house air waybills are consolidated, and a single air waybill is issued to cover the consolidated shipment.
IC Import Certificate
IEEPA International Emergency Economic Powers Act
Immediate Delivery Customs entry procedure that provides for immediate release of a shipment prior to the arrival of merchandise although the merchandise must arrive within the port limits for the release to take effect. The entry summary with duties must be filed within 10 working days after release.
Importer Number Identification number assigned by the Customs Service to track importers, usually IRS number for the company.
In bond Procedure under which goods are transported or warehoused under Customs supervision until they are either formally entered into Customs territory and duties paid or until they are exported.
Incoterms Maintained by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), this codification of terms is used in foreign trade contracts to define which parties incur the costs and at what specific point the costs are incurred.
Informal Entry The informal entry is a simplified import entry procedure for most commercial shipments not over $2,000 in value. The statutory limit for informal entries is actually $2,500.
Insurance Certificate This certificate is used to assure the consignee that insurance is provided to cover loss of or damage to the cargo while in transit.
Intensive Exam An intensive exam result means that Customs wants to physically examine the merchandise. Inspectors have the ability to “override” some intensive exams and convert them to general exams.
IPR Intellectual Property Rights
ITA Information Technology Agreement
IVL Individual Validated License
L/C – Letter of Credit – A financial document issued by a bank at the request of the consignee guaranteeing payment to the shipper for cargo if certain terms and conditions are fulfilled. Normally, the letter of credit contains a brief description of the goods, documents required, a shipping date, and an expiration date after which payment will not longer be made.
LCL Less than container load
Liquidation System The Liquidation System, a part of Customs Automated Commercial System, closes the file on each entry and establishes a batch filing number which is essential for recovering an entry for review or enforcement purposes. An entry liquidation is a final review of the entry. The process of liquidation is currently under revision by the Customs Service.
Marine Cargo Insurance Broadly, insurance covering loss of, or damage to, goods at sea. Marine insurance typically compensates the owner of merchandise for losses in excess of those which can be legally recovered from the carrier. Losses may include fire, shipwreck, piracy, inclement weather and various other causes.
Marking (or Marks) Letters, numbers and other symbols placed on cargo packages to facilitate identification.
Marks of Origin The physical markings on a product that indicate the country of origin where the article was produced. Customs rules require marks of origin of most countries.
MERCOSUR Southern Common Market
MLA Manufacturing License Agreement
Mod Act The Customs Modernization Act is a comprehensive effort by the U.S. Customs Service to streamline and automate the commercial operations and improve compliance with Customs laws and regulations.
MOU Memorandum of Understanding
MPF Merchandise Processing Fee is a fee assessed for formal entries based on 0.21% of the invoice value, with a minimum of $25 per formal entry and a maximum of $485.
NAFTA North American Free Trade Agreement. A free trade agreement that comprises Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, exceeding 360 million consumers and a combined output of $6 trillion–20 % larger than the European Community.
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NDA Non-disclosure Agreement
Net Weight (Actual Net Weight) Weight of the goods alone without any immediate wrappings (e.g., the weight of the contents of a tin can without the weight of the can).
NIS Newly Independent States of the ex-Soviet Republic.
NVOCC Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier: A cargo consolidator of small shipments in ocean trade, generally soliciting business and arranging for or performing containerization functions at the port.
OAC Office of Antiboycott Compliance
Ocean Bill of Lading A receipt for the cargo and a contract for transportation between a shipper and the ocean carrier. It may also be used as an instrument of ownership which can be bought, sold, or traded while the goods are in transit. To be used in this manner, it must be a negotiable “Order” Bill-of-Lading. A Clean Bill-of-Lading is issued when the shipment is received in good order. If damaged or a shortage is noted, a clean bill-of-lading will not be issued. An On Board Bill-of-Lading certifies that the cargo has been placed aboard the named vessel and is signed by the master of the vessel or his representative. On letter of credit transactions, an On Board Bill-of-Lading is usually necessary for the shipper to obtain payment from the bank. When all Bills-of Lading are processed, a ship’s manifest is prepared by the steamship line. This summarizes all cargo aboard the vessel by port of loading and discharge. An Inland Bill-of-Lading (a waybill on rail or the “pro forma” bill-of-lading in trucking) is used to document the transportation of the goods between the port and the point of origin or destination. It should contain information such as marks, numbers, steamship line, and similar information to match with a dock receipt.
OECD Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
OFAC Office of Foreign Assets Control
Open Insurance A marine insurance policy that applies to all shipments made by an exporter over a period of time rather than to a single shipment.
Packing Costs Packing costs are defined as “the cost of all containers (except instruments of international trade) and coverings of whatever nature or materials used in placing merchandise in condition, packed and ready for shipment to the United States.
Packing List A list showing the number and kinds of items being shipped, as well as other information needed for transportation purposes.
Paperless A paperless result indicates that the merchandise is low risk from a compliant importer. The broker places a stamp on the CF3461 and signs the document; thus, the merchandise is released without a Customs official ever looking at the documents.
PO Purchase Order
Port of Entry A port at which foreign goods are admitted into the receiving country; port where the imported merchandise is entered for consumption.
Port of Import First port within the Customs territory where imported merchandise arrives.
Pro Forma Invoice An invoice provided by a supplier prior to the shipment of merchandise informing the buyer of the kinds and quantities of goods to be sent, their value, and important specifications (weight, size, etc.).
Protest A “protest” is the method primarily used by importers to take issue with Customs decisions with which they disagree. A protest is normally utilized as an opportunity to provide evidence that will result in the refund of duties and other charges that were erroneously paid.
Reasonable Care “That degree of care which a person of ordinary prudence would exercise in the same or similar circumstances. Due care under all circumstances. Failure to exercise such care is ordinary negligence.”
Related Parties – Members of the same family, spouse, and lineal descendants
– Officers or directors if each individual is also an officer or director of the other organization
– Partners
– Person owning, controlling or holding with power to vote 5% or more of outstanding stock
– Person who is an officer or director in both organizations
SACU Southern African Customs Union
SADC Southern African Development Community
SDN Specially Designated Nationals
SED Shipper’s Export Declaration
Shipping Weight Shipping weight represents the gross weight in kilograms of shipments, including the weight of moisture content, wrappings, crates, boxes and containers (other than cargo vans and similar substantial outer containers).
Ships Manifest A list, signed by the captain of a ship, of the individual shipments constituting the ship’s cargo.
SLI Shippers Letter of Instruction
SO Sales Order
Surety Bond A surety bond is a promise or guarantee of payment to U.S. Customs in the event of a default in any terms of the importation laws. If the importer does not comply, Customs will look to the surety for payment and compliance.
Tare Weight The weight of a container and/or packing materials without the weight of the goods it contains.
Tariff List or schedule of merchandise with applicable rates to be paid or charged for each listed article. A schedule of duties or taxes assessed by a government on goods as they enter or leave a country.
Tariff Rate Quota Permits a specified quantity of merchandise to be entered at a reduced rate during a specified period.
Tariff Shift A change in tariff classification may be from one heading in a chapter to another heading in the same chapter. Some changes must be from one chapter to another chapter.
TDO Table of Denial Orders
Textile Declaration In addition to the original textile visa, shipments containing textiles must be accompanied by either a single or multiple country declaration which provides certification as to the article and country of origin.
Through Bill of Lading A single bill of lading covering receipt of the cargo at the point of origin for delivery to the ultimate consignee, using two or more modes of transportation.
TIB The Temporary Importation Bond (TIB) procedures allow importers to enter merchandise that will be exported within one year from importation for temporary use without paying duties. Merchandise entered under a TIB cannot be sold but can be repaired, altered or processed.
Trade Name Name by which a commodity is commonly known in a trade; a name used as a trademark.
Trademark A symbol, design, word, letter, etc., used by a manufacturer or dealer to distinguish his products from those of competitors and usually registered and protected by law.
Trailer Vehicle without motor power designed to be drawn by another vehicle and so constructed that no part of its weight rests upon the towing vehicle.
Transaction Value Transaction Value is the price actually paid or payable for the imported goods, with additions made for any dutiable items not included, or deductions made for any non-dutiable items included.
Transfer Pricing Overpricing of imports and/or under-pricing of exports between affiliated companies in different countries for the purpose of transferring profits, revenues or monies out of a country in order to evade taxes.
Transship Cargo which is transferred from one vessel to another.
TSCA The Toxic Substances Control Act is intended to protect human health and the environment from unreasonable risks of certain chemicals. The EPA and U.S. Customs Service are responsible for keeping chemicals that have not undergone risk screening out of the United States.
TWEA Trading with the Enemy Act
UCP 500 Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits
Ultimate Consignee The ultimate consignee is the person located abroad who is the true party in interest, receiving the export for the designated end-use.
Ultimate Purchaser The ultimate purchaser is generally the last person in the United States who will receive the article in the form in which it was imported.
URAA Uruguay Round Agreements Act
USITC U.S. International Trade Commission
USTR United States Trade Representative
Value Added Fee This method of pricing offers a base entry fee with extra charges for additional classifications, additional invoices, issuance of delivery orders, freight tracking, phone and fax charges and other miscellaneous services.
Visa ** A visa is an endorsement in the form of a stamp on an invoice and consists of a stamped authorization that is usually circular, square, or rectangular in shape. The visa number normally consists of a standard nine digit number.
War Risk Insurance coverage for loss of goods resulting from any act of war.
Wharfage A charge assessed by a pier or dock owner for handling incoming or outgoing cargo.
WTO World Trade Organization
HTS – The International HTS (Harmonized Tariff Schedule) contains 97 chapters divided into 21 sections. The first 2 digits is the number of the chapter. The next 2 digits define the chapter heading and the next 2 digits thereafter define the chapter sub-heading. These first 6 digits is standard for all countries. So when we come across 4202.92, we know it is some kind of a bag anywhere in the world.

The US HTS has one additional section containing two extra chapters, i.e. 22 sections with 99 chapters. The HTSUS number has 10 digits. The 8-digit code is the tariff item number and the duty rate is connected at this level. Since each country sets their own duty level, the 8-digit code cannot be part of the harmonized system and is different from country to country. The last two digits are used for statistical purposes only. All countries do not have 10-digit codes. They can have 8, 9, 10 or even 11 digits.

HTS is the number used for imports and Schedule ‘B’ is the number used for exports. They are usually the same number, though not always.
** Textile Visa – A textile visa serves as an endorsement in the form of a stamp, which is either on an invoice or export control license. The visa is executed by an authorized official of a foreign government. It is used to control the exportation of textiles and their products to the U.S., and prevent the unauthorized entry of controlled textiles into the United States.

A textile visa is needed when you are importing goods from a country with which the U.S. has negotiated limitations on the quantity allowed into the U.S. for a period of time. There are some countries that only require a visa or are subject to quota limits. For example, the Czech Republic has categories that are subject to quota, but do not require a visa. Whereas, categories from Japan require a visa, but do not have quota limits. This all depends on what was negotiated between the exporting country and the U.S.

If a shipment requires just a visa, or just quota, it must still be a type 02 entry and input in the quota module by Customs.

If a visa has an incorrect category, year of export, a lower quantity than is in the shipment or other incorrect or missing data, or if a shipment arrives without a required visa, the entry is not accepted and the merchandise is not released until the importer submits a replacement visa or visa waiver from the foreign government. If the value on the visa and invoice do not match, the importer must provide Customs with a reasonable explanation for the difference. If the importer is unable to supply a reasonable explanation, they should contact the issuing government and
request a replacement visa or visa waiver. If the importer has already submitted the
visa to Customs, they can get a certified copy of the visa from Customs to resubmit
to the issuing country. Customs will not return the original visa to the importer.

Assuming there is no clear explanation for the discrepancy, Customs will not release the goods until a visa is replaced or waived. Customs will allow the importer adequate time to obtain the visa replacement or waiver. It usually takes up to a week to obtain the visa waiver or replacement. If the importer cannot obtain the replacement or waiver, they should export the goods. If there is a possibility they will receive the waiver or replacement, but need more time, a warehouse entry should be considered to store the goods while the visa issue is being sorted out.


Muhammad Omer

Muhammad Omer is the founding partner at Allied Consultants. Areas of interest for him are entreprenuership in organizations, IT Management, Integration and Business Intelligence.