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Explainer: Importer Security Filing (ISF) for Canadian importers

Explainer: Importer Security Filing (ISF) for Canadian importers

At Cole International, we believe that the more you know, the better your goods will go. Our Explainer posts provide valuable information from customs compliance consultants that you should know about before you make your next move.

We understand that the logistics industry involves complex processes, regulations, and definitions that can be overwhelming to navigate. Cole's Explainer series breaks down key concepts into bite-size knowledge that's easy to consume. 

In this Explainer, we’ll examine Importer Security Filing (ISF) for Canadian importers, including why you need to submit an ISF and how to fill out ISF-5 and ISF-10 forms.

What is an importer security filing (ISF)?

Importer Security Filing (ISF) is a mandatory filing requirement for ocean vessels importing goods to or through the United States. Canadian businesses need to file an ISF with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when their goods pass through the U.S. en route to another destination. Companies with import operations in Canada and the U.S. also need to submit an ISF. BLog Customs Brokers  (5)

The CBP collects data on shippers, consignees, and shipments through ISFs to improve border security and maintain smooth trade operations. Info provided in ISFs help the CBP prevent prohibited, illegal, or dangerous goods from entering the country. Since the U.S. accepts immense volumes of imports daily, ISFs allow the CBP to improve how they allocate resources to root out illegal or threatening shipments with better efficiency.

Why do Canadian importers need to provide an ISF?

Canada’s importers need to submit an ISF when their goods land in a U.S. port, even if Canada will be the final destination of the shipment. Goods that arrive at a U.S. port and remain on ship before leaving for another country are classified as Freight Remaining on Board or Foreign Cargo Remaining on Board (FROB). In this scenario, you need to file an ISF-5.

If your shipment is offloaded from the ship into the United States, you’ll need to fill out an ISF-10 instead. Canada doesn’t have the same ISF import requirements as the U.S., so you don’t need to deal with ISFs as long as your goods don’t pass through a U.S. port.

What’s the difference between ISF-5 and ISF-10?

The most significant difference between the ISF-5 and ISF-10 includes the amount and type of data submitted, and whether or not the goods are classified as FROB. A shipment that qualifies as FROB will need to submit an ISF-5. If the goods are offloaded in the U.S., expect to fill out an ISF-10.

In terms of data, the ISF-5 requires five key data points while the ISF-10 involves ten data points to fill out the documentation. Folks familiar with cross-border customs requirements may refer to the ISF-10 as the “10+2” and the ISF-5 as the “5+2”. If someone mentions an ISF 10+2, you’ll know that it’s the ISF-10.

What is required to submit an ISF-5 or ISF-10?

The CBP requires that the importer of record, or an agent such as their customs broker or freight forwarder, submits an ISF a minimum of 24 hours before the cargo loads onto a vessel bound for the U.S. You need to file an ISF even if the cargo stops at other ports before arriving at its destination.

The 24-hour requirement is a hard deadline with few exceptions, with penalties up to $5,000 for a late ISF submission. Typically, it's recommended to file as soon as possible, and no later than 72 hours before the ship departs towards a U.S. port.

Information you need to submit for the ISF-5 (5+2) includes:

  • Booking party name and address
  • Ship to name and address
  • Port/place of delivery
  • Foreign port of unlading
  • Harmonized tariff number/description

Information you need to submit for the ISF-10 (10+2) includes:

  • Buyer name and address
  • Seller name and address
  • Ship to name and address
  • Importer name and address
  • Country of origin
  • Forwarder/consolidator name and address
  • Manufacturer’s name and address
  • IRS or importer number
  • Container stuffing location name and address
  • Harmonized tariff number/description

Failure to submit an ISF on time or filing with incorrect information can lead to fines, additional costs, and significant delays. It's worth a bit of extra time and effort to file the ISF flawlessly. 

The more you know!

We invite you to continue growing your knowledge base by exploring our earlier Explainer posts:

Explainer: Filling out your Cole Proforma Invoice (U.S. Customs)

Explainer: How do Schedule B numbers, HTS codes, and HS codes work?

Explainer: Why businesses work with Customs compliance consultants

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