Centralized Examination Station

Centralized Examination Station: The Ultimate FAQ Guide

If you want to learn about centralized examination station, the information you’re looking for is right here.

You’re going to learn about what it is, why you need it and importance in importing from China business, among other critical aspects.

Keep reading to learn more.

What is CES in Shipping?

A Centralized Examination Station (CES) is inspection facility used by custom brokers and freight forwarders.

They use it to quicken the tedious custom inspection process involved in importing merchandise into the United States.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) majorly uses the hub to physically inspect and examine imports and exports freights or cargo.



CBP defines a CES system as a privately operated facility that avails merchandise for physical examination

Why do Customs Send Shipments into a CES?

Majorly, the CES facility acts as a convenient means, to both the importer and CBP, to ensure that cargo is examined within a short time frame.

Most merchandise are moved to the CES for intensive customs examination.

These examinations can last anywhere between a week to 30 days.

Due to its lengthy span, the CES tries to shorten the time for the custom examinations.

Notably, the intensive customs examination is the most crucial in the customs exam process.

This not only highlights the need for CES but also gives more reason for the need for an effective facility.

What is a CES Operator?

CES operators are persons who have made a written agreement with the US Customs to operate a Centralized Examination Station (CES).

Importantly, the person(s) must have met the eligibility criteria of the US Customs service.

What are the Responsibilities of a CES Operator?

Upon signing an agreement, a CES operator is mandated with:

  • Maintenance of the CES designated facility as per the agreed-upon security standards
  • Provide adequate staffing and equipment for efficient opening, inspection, and closing of all merchandise scheduled for inspection by the US Customs service
  • Bills the users on the services rendered as outlined in the fee schedule
  • Bears all the expenses of operating the CES – US Customs service does not operate the facility
  • Maintain a US Customs Service custodial bond within an amount determined by the port director.

The bond is inclusive of the liability for transporting the cargo to the CES facility managed by the operator.

Also, the operator is obliged to increase the bond amount as instructed by the port director

  • Having efficient liability insurance for his/her property/ facility, and the people using the facility
  • Ensure timely and regular filing with the port director
  • If the merchandise is within district boundaries, the operator can offer to transport the merchandise to the facility.

Importantly, the operator will assume the liability of the merchandise from the point the merchandise departs to the CES facility.

  • Avail office space, sanitary facilities, water, and parking reserves for customs official for free or impose a charge of $1 per annum.
  • Maintain and avail all examination records to customs for a period of five years or more.

What are the Qualifying Features of CES Operator?

Below are the key qualifying features or minimum requirements of a CES operator:

 CBP at Work

CBP at work

Proximity/ Distance

The operator must clearly give the distance of the CES facility to the: CBP Port Office, nearest direct ocean discharge, and nearest major highway.


The operator must avail information that shows their experience in international shipment operations, and an understanding of CBP procedures and select regulations, or show a commitment to acquire the understanding.

Availability of the Facility

The facility should be available for use at all times, 24hours 7 days.

The CES facility operation hours will be determined by the CBP.

Provisionally, operations in the CES facilities will start from 8:00 am through to 5:00 pm, as from Monday to Friday.

However, the days and hours of operations may increase depending on the workload.

Secure Facility

The facility should be secure and have a barrier that separates CES cargo from any other cargo that is not under CBP jurisdiction.

Also, an intrusion detector should be installed on the CES to monitor what goes in and out of the facility.

Additionally, separate intrusion detecting systems must be installed for reserved high-security storage areas and CBP office space.

Access to CBP designated areas must be restricted from the public and/or unauthorized personnel.

Lastly, the facility must be under 24-hour surveillance including the use of security cameras and patrol guards.

Computerized Tracking System

The CES facility should have a tracking system capable of providing information on past and current inspections.

Advisably, the tracking system should provide information on the examination type and status, container number, carrier, and bill of lading.

Container Storage Area

There ought to be a secure and fenced yard that surrounds the facility and the storage structures put in place.

The yard area should have a minimum space of 125’ by 55’.

Some requirements that the operator’s warehouse should meet include:

  • Compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) standards.
  • Not less than two outlets for refrigerated containers
  • A minimum lighting intensity of 300 LUX at floor level for sufficient illumination in the examination area
  • Proper ventilation, advisably two ceiling fans and/or one large wall fan
  • Not less than 6 cargo doors which are the same height as the dock (or presence of specialized equipment for efficient handling of the cargo).
  • Not less than 1,000 square feet of open floor between the doors and the examination area

Which Government Agencies use Central Examination Stations?

Government agencies that use CES include:

  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • S Department of Homeland Security
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)

What is a Customs Exam?

Depending on the type of cargo, customs exams can either be in form of a Tailgate, X-ray, or Intensive exam.

The major purpose of custom exams is to confirm whether the merchandise meets the set standards.

How does CBP Select Shipments for Customs CES Exams?

Commonly, CBP uses a targeting system that ranks shipments according to scores.

If a shipment exceeds a specific score, then there is a high possibility of being selected for examination.

Importantly, the fact that the CBP keeps the details of the targeting system confidential makes it difficult to determine whether your shipment will meet or exceed the score.

It’s worth mentioning that first-time shippers are more prone to inspection and subsequent subjection to customs exams.

This is aimed at establishing the credibility of the shipper.

How do you know if your Shipment has been Flagged for Customs CES Examination?

Most shipments are transmitted to Customs through the Automated Broker Interface (ABI).

In such a scenario, your broker will receive a ‘manifest hold’ electronic notification.



A similar notification is also transmitted to the carrier and also anyone listed in the Bill of Lading under the ‘Notify Party’ section.

Also, the consignee can get a notification if the latter section was left blank.

Note: Before a cargo arrives in the US, its details are to be manifested with US Customs.

This means that manifestation is based on information and data.

Consequently, a manifest hold will arise when there is a problem or some omission in the data or information provided.

After the manifest hold, the CBP may want to physically inspect your cargo.

Consequently, they will order that the shipment be moved to the nearest CES facility for inspection.

What are the Different Types of Freight Exams and Tests?

Some of the main exams include:

Tailgate/Backdoor Exam

This is the most straight forward exam.

It entails a visual inspection by the CBP officials.

The container seal is cut, the container is opened, a visual check is done, the container is closed (if there is no further suspicion), and the container is released.


Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System (VACIS) or the Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) is a common exam that you will probably come across.

As the name suggests, there is no intrusion of the container or the cargo components.

The container is simply X-rayed using 3D imaging to enable the CBP officials to check for contrabands or unlisted materials.

Due to its unobtrusive approach, this exam takes a shorter period and it is less costly. On the high end, it will cost not more than $300.

CET Exam: Security and Contraband

Contraband Enforcement Team (CET) examination entails a thorough search of your cargo or container.

It is an intensive and quite expensive exam initiated after the VACIS exam.

For the CES exam, your freight will have to be moved to the CES.

The inspection will be conducted manually/physically.

This exam is aimed at protecting US consumers from illegal weapons, narcotics, and alcohol.

The information that will be checked includes trademark or copyright, safety standards, and valuation of the goods.

Also, the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) classification is confirmed.

CET exams can last between 7 days to 30 days.

Moreover, it is quite costly considering that you will have to pay for every cost of the exam including the transportation cost to the CES facility.

USDA Exams

This exam is conducted by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors.

The cargo is physically inspected for pests or anything that could cause harm to the US environment.

Products subjected to USDA exams range from food products to wood products (including crating and shipping pallets used)

What is the Customs CES Examination Process?

  • The CES is notified of the exam hold via the Automated Manifest System (AMS). For the CET exams, the CES is notified by the CBP whether a tailgate or full strip exam is required
  • The CES confirms the container’s availability for CES pick up at the terminal. If available, the container will be picked up within 24-48 hours.

In a scenario where CES cannot make the pick-up, other means such as – Customs House Brokers, CBP, Freight forwarders, and Steamship line – will be used.

  • Upon delivery of the container to the CES, it is moved to the cargo door
  • Cargo is availed to the CBP as per the exam instructions requested (full strip or tailgate)
  • CBP is provided with a list of containers picked up by the CES for inspection, including the stage a container is at.
  • The respective team conducts specific exams. For example, Contraband Enforcement Team conducts the CET exams.
  • Cargo may remain on Government hold awaiting further inspection or release
  • You can check the release status of your container via the CES internet tracking system or CES customer service.
  • Upon the release of hold, CES gets the agreed payment or credit to cover the exam costs. Also, the CES will check for line release if a Steamship line was used.
  • The container is finally delivered

Who Bears the Cost of CES Exams?

 Inspecting shiping container

Inspecting shipping container

The CES exam cost is solely covered by the shipper.

This includes the transportation cost to and from the CES facility.

How Long do Custom Exams take?

The time custom exams take vary depending on the intensity of the inspection.

Also, the mode of transport to and from the CES facility majorly affects the time frame.

Generally, the majority of examinations are completed within 24hrs of the shipment arriving at the CES facility.

However, some examinations that require laboratory analysis, review, and thorough investigation will take longer.

Presumably, a complete intense CES examination will take about 7-30 days.

Who Supervises the Loading and Unloading of Containers at CES?

The supervision of the loading and loading of containers at a CES facility is done by the US government officials/ CBP officials.

Who Pays for the Loading and Unloading of Goods at a CES Station?

Every logistics handled by the CES station staff is payable by the shipper (you).

Loading and unloading of the goods at the CES facility is not an exception.

 Loading shipping container

 Loading shipping container

How Long can CBP hold your Shipment in CES?

Legally, CBP has up to 35 days from the date of arrival of the shipment, to hold your shipment in CES for examination.

CBP is legally required to release or seize your merchandise after 35 days.

However, the CBP may hold your merchandise longer than the stipulated period in circumstances.

For example, an exam filled with a lot of bureaucracy may stipulate a lengthy examination process.

What are the Holding Charges for Shipments Held at CES?

Before the examinations, there are no holding charges.

However, after the examination, a free time of 2 days is allowed. Upon the lapse of the free time, a charge of approximately $ 50/Day is levied.

Below is an example of a fee schedule with the holding charges.

 Schedule holding

Schedule holding

Who is Responsible for Moving goods to and from CES?

The CES operator is in charge of all logistics.

However, the merchandise should be able to be picked up by the specific CES transportation service.

If the CES cannot offer the transport services, CBP, Freight forwarders, Custom House Brokers and Steamship line, can be used.

Importantly, no matter the transport means used, you are legible to pay the entire cost to and from the CES facility.

What are the Conditions for Releasing Shipments from CES?

Importantly, your shipment ought to have passed the CES examinations before being released.

If your shipment breaches or goes against the set examination standards, it can be seized.

Also, you have to completely pay the fees levied by the CES facility for the entire examination process before your cargo is released.

Note: Your container may be released by CES but it might not still get to you.

Such a scenario may occur if you still owe certain persons involved in the shipping process.

Say for example you have not paid the shipping company for extended usage of their container.

The company can hold your cargo until you pay the added amount.

How can you Avoid a Customs Exam?

Even though no one can be exempted from customs exams do not warrant laxity.

You can put measures in place to cushion the cost of the customs, and to reduce the likelihood of being on the losing end when a customs exam is ordered.

Here are some suggestions to ensure this:

  • Deal with people you know. Knowing your suppliers, manufacturers, and vendors will make it easy for you to provide the needed information when requested.
  • Ensure your shipping documents are in order. Do not have your documents all over. Check and counter-check that the details on product description, product value, and country of origin are clear.
  • Consider securing a continuous bond as opposed to a Single Entry bond when you are planning to have multiple shipments in a year.
  • Go FCL rather than LCL /LTL. The latter entails sharing a container with other importers. This may make your shipment be delayed when the other shipments within the same container are being examined.
  • Register for an ACE and ensure you make a regular audit of your Customs Entries
  • Increase the legitimacy of your shipping by applying for Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT).
  • When sourcing from a potentially high-risk country, ensure a regular audit of your supply chain to point out possible loop-holes and put in place a corrective measure.
  • Ensure timely filing of your Importer Security Filing (ISF), preferably 24hours before the shipment is loaded overseas.
  • Know the Priority Trade Issues (PTIs) highlighted by the CBP. These will give you an idea of whether your cargo has a high probability of being subjected to a customs exam.
  • Importantly, maintain a cordial relationship with your customs broker for a prompt response if need be. Your broker should have an effective communication channel.

Are Container Freight Stations insured?

Yes, almost all Container Freight Stations (CFS) have a general insurance cover for potential risks such as fire outbreaks.

However, you should have a cargo insurance cover that guarantees compensation when anything happens to your shipment at the CFS.



Who Pays for Damaged Goods and Losses Incurred at a CES?

Unfortunately, you will bear all the costs including losses.

The CBP and CES are not liable for the damage of any commodity during an inspection.

You might find some of your goods damaged after being released from the CES facility.

Consequently, this is the sole reason for you to acquire insurance or coverage for the complete transit of your cargo up to its final destination.

What happens if a Violation Occurs during Customs Exam?

In a case where your cargo violates the specified customs exam, your broker will be contacted by CBP officials. CBP will then give details on the nature of the violation.

Your broker will then discuss with the CES manager on the appropriate course of action to correct the violations.

However, some violations are punishable by law.

For example drug and firearms smuggling.

How is Secure are CES (Central Examinations Station)?

CBP regulations try to ensure that Central Examinations Stations (CES) are secure by putting in place mandatory requirements in the facilities such as:

  • Creation of a barrier that separates CES cargo from any other cargo that is not under CBP jurisdiction.
  • Installation of intrusion detector systems on the CES and the offices reserved from CBP officials to monitor what goes in and out of the facility.
  • Restriction of access to CBP designated areas from the public and/or unauthorized personnel
  • 24-hour surveillance including the use of security cameras and patrol guards.

What Other Value-added Services can you Find in a CES Facility?

  • Transportation to the final destination
  • Container Freight Station (CFS)
  • Heavy Lifting/ Cross-Docking
  • Warehousing
  • Food and Drug Samplings
  • Drayage services
  • Making your cargo CBP compliant

How do you track the CES Examination Process?

CES facilities have computerized tracking systems that provide information on the examination type and status, container number, carrier, and bill of lading.

What Factors should you Consider when Choosing a CES Facility?

You should consider the following key aspects:


The CES facility should be near the port of landing and the final destination.

This will save on the transport cost to and from the CES facility.

Track and Trace Facilities

An efficient track and trace system will enable you to know the examination status of your shipment.

Consequently, you will be able to handle the necessary logistics as you await the release of your shipment.

Personnel Skill

Skilled personnel will ensure the correct handling of your cargo.

Also, their experience will help in efficient and economic correction of any CES violation, if need be.

Facility Size and Capacity

Facility size will affect how fast the examination is conducted.

A larger CES facility is likely to be having more experienced personnel and machinery for a quick examination.


You would not want the contents of your container going missing.

Being keen on the security measures put in place to ensure the safety of your cargo may help you prevent potential theft or the disappearance of your cargo.

Machinery and Infrastructure

The more modern and efficient the machinery and infrastructure, the lesser time your shipment will be held for examination.

Additionally, efficient cargo handling equipment will reduce the risk of damage to your merchandise.


Shipping in itself is a costly affair. Cutting costs by choosing an affordable CES facility is economically advisable.

What happens to Multiple Containers on a BOL when one is Selected for CES Examinations?

When one container is selected for CES examinations among multiple containers on a Bill of Lading; the rest of the containers can be transported with the selected container to the CES facility

Which Types of Cargo get Preferential Treatment at CES?

Some of these cargoes include:


The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) is a pact where the CBP and trade members work hand in hand to counter-terrorism.

The partnership aims to make international trade legitimate and secure.

Consequently, members of CTPAT have their cargo exempted from most CBP exams, among other preferential treatments such as:

  • Fast inspections
  • Reduced wait times at the borders
  • Business resumption priority following national disasters like terrorism
  • Designation of a Supply Chain Security specialist
  • Usage of Free and Secure (FAST) routes at land borders

How do you Request Permission to Transfer Cargo to CES?

You will require Customs Form 3461 or 3461 (ALT) or an electronic equivalent of either forms; to request permission to transfer the cargo to CES. Here is an example of the form.

Figure 8 Form

Who Assumes Liability during Cargo Transfer to CES Facility?

When the CES operator picks up the cargo from the port of landing, the operator assumes the liability of the cargo through the customs custodial bond.

If the shipment is transported to the CES facility by an importing carrier, the carrier continues to assume the liability of the shipment.

In case a bonded carrier is transporting the cargo to the CES facility, the bonded carrier is liable for the transfer.

Lastly, if the importer or his/her agent makes the transfer, then either of the two shall assume the liability of transfer.

Do you need a Customs Broker to help you Navigate Customs CES Exams?

The customs world is a rather rocky one.

Navigating the customs CES exams can be a hard nut to crack when you lack the expertise.

For these basic and outright reasons, you need a customs broker.

You need someone to advise you on the appropriate cause of action to hasten the CES exams process.

What happens to your Consolidated Shipments during Customs Examination?

When the container holding the shipments is flagged for a customs examination, then all the shipments will be taken to the CES facility.

Consequently, the delivery of your shipment may be delayed without having any violations.

At BanSar, we will help you with all your shipping needs – from free shipping container, warehousing, customs clearance to booking spaces in ship.

BanSar makes shipping from China easy and straight forward – Contact us now.

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