Live Unload The Ultimate FAQ Guide 4

Intensive Exam: The Ultimate FAQ Guide

Let’s look at yet another import freight term – intensive exam.

If you have any question on intensive exam, you will find the answer right here.

So keep reading to learn more.

What Is An Intensive Exam?

An intensive exam is one of the three types of exams performed on cargo by a customs officer.

A shipping container with cargo gets devanned and all its contents separated.

This is to allow for a thorough inspection by the customs officer who might as well take samples.

The time taken and cost incurred will depend on a variety of factors such as;

  • Amount of cargo
  • The port
  • Size of labor

Performing this process is neither cheap as you are bound to spend from $1000 to $2500 up.

Time taken can range from one week to one month or more depending on the factors mentioned above.

After the intensive exam is completed, the cargo is loaded back into the container.

Loading shipping container

Loading shipping container

What Are The Functions Of Intensive Exams In US Customs Clearance?

The intensive exam is performed to prevent contraband such as drugs, dangerous weapons, and other illegal goods from entering the country.

This way, the security of the country is also upheld.

What Criteria Do Customs Use To Flag Shipments For An Intensive Exam?

The truth of the matter is that there are no solid criteria used to determine whether or not a shipment should undergo an intensive exam.

Nonetheless, this shouldn’t worry you much as only 3%-5% of shipments get selected for examination.

Again, this procedure would only occur if the officer suspects something fishy with your shipment.

That said, there are several ways you could counter this but I shall explain that later in this guide.

If you are a new importer, you probably should be prepared for such instances happening. New importers are targeted to having intensive exams performed on their shipment to ensure the credibility of the cargo.

How Long Does An Intensive Exam Take?

Normally, the time taken for an intensive exam to be completed can range from 2-7 days. You need to factor in that there will be two examinations conducted.

The X-ray exams can take from 2-3 days and the intensive exam takes from 5-7 days to be completed.

However, other factors such as the location of the port, size of labor, and container size can slow down the procedure.

A very busy port will experience delays in the examination of your shipment.

Also, having inadequate labor to load and Devan the contents of the container can lead to delays.

Without forgetting that the size of the container or amount of cargo could also influence the time taken to conduct the intensive exam.

Types of shipping container

Types of shipping container

Do Customs Open Shipment During An Intensive Exam?

Yes. Once the shipment arrives at the Centralized Examination Station, It’s unloaded from the container and a thorough inspection follows.

Within this period, the customs officer can decide to take samples from the shipment.

This will mean opening the shipment and conducting an inspection.

Will My Shipment Be Safe During A Customs Hold For Intensive Examination?

Your cargo may be damaged after an intense inspection.

To add salt to the injury, neither of the port personnel or officials shall be held accountable for the damages done.

Keep in mind that the repacking of the items in the container won’t be as perfect as initially done.

All these are factors might result in your shipment arriving when damaged after an intensive inspection is conducted on it.

Therefore, you can tell that there is a high need to properly secure your goods before the intensive examination.

What Is The Difference Between VACIS And Intensive Customs Exam?

Unlike the intensive customs exam which might involve opening the shipment, VACIS is done without unsealing the shipment.

VACIS otherwise known as the Non-intrusive Inspection involves a scanner that is passed through the entire container.

This is to reveal its contents without unsealing the shipment.

VACIS is the first examination to be conducted on a shipment and if it doesn’t pass this step, the container will be passed to the tail gate and afterward to the intensive exam.

How Can I Avoid An Intensive Customs Exam?

Customs exams can not only result in significant expenses but also delays which can affect several other factors in your business.

To avoid falling into this trap, below are some measures to consider to minimize the possibilities of being selected for an intensive custom exam.

  • Ensure that you have all your paperwork ready and that it can be clearly understood. You might consider hiring a freight forwarder to advise you accordingly and take you through this process.
  • Work with qualified and established partners along the supply chain.

This can range from freight forwarders and shippers to customs brokers.

Working with established partners minimizes the possibility of your shipment being subjected to an intensive customs exam.

  • If you can, avoid LCL shipping as it’s more likely to be selected for a customs exam as compared to FCL shipping.
  • It’s better to import from low-risk countries as opposed to the high-risk ones.
  • Do thorough research on the items’ quota information and requirements before the actual importation process begins.
  • Ensure that your ISF is filed early enough.
  • Conduct accurate valuation of your cargo and present correct figures.

Your freight forwarder will be in a position to advise you accordingly as per your shipment.

  • Be aware of any certificates or licensing that might be needed by the partner government agencies.

Is The Location Of The Intensive Customs Exam Any Important?

The location of the intensive customs exam will matter in terms of the amount of time taken to complete the exam.

For instance, if you happen to have the intensive customs exam conducted in a busy port. There’s a higher probability that you will experience delays as compared to it being done in a smaller port.

Additionally, you are bound to evade significant storage fees and have your process accelerated by having your cargo moved to an in-bound warehouse.

What Percentage Of Shipping Containers Are Subjected Through An Intensive Exam?

Only 3% to 5% of shipping containers are selected for an intensive exam.

This happens in a random selection or if the officer suspects anything about your shipment.

Is A Customs Intensive Exam The Same As A Tailgate Exam?

No. In as much as these two are all types of customs exams, they vary.

A tail gate exam will involve the officer breaking the seal and opening the back of the container.

He will have a look at its contents and if everything looks unsuspicious, the container will be released.

As we now know, a customs intensive exam might go an extra mile to unseal the goods while doing the inspection.

Can Customs Still Hold My Package Post An Intensive Examination?

Quite simply, yes.

You need to keep in mind that there might be other agencies involved with your cargo and not just the Customs and Border Protection.

Such agencies can include the US Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and Consumer product safety commission among others.

Therefore, once your cargo has gone through an intensive examination, the respective agency concerned with the type of cargo,

you are importing might request further examination.

What Are The Costs Associated With A Customs Intensive Examination?

A customs intensive examination can result in significant expenditures that make your overall import process expensive.

It’s worth noting that the CBP expects you to bear all these expenses even though they don’t directly charge the fees.

The CES is the one in charge of collecting the fees.

To enlighten you on the charges to expect, let’s have a look at the expenses you are bound to incur below;

  • To begin with, your cargo will be unloaded and load from the container by CES staff. You will be expected to pay for these services as well as storage fees for keeping your shipment in their warehouse.
  • Transportation charges – Your shipment will be moved to the examination station and back by a transportation company.

This adds an extra cost to transportation services.

  • Demurrage – Demurrage refers to fees charged by a shipping company for prolonged use of the container.

An intensive examination can take from 5-7 days and this will affect the period which you were to return the container.

As a result, you will end up being charged demurrage fees for the extra days you stay with the container.

Additionally, storage fees might be added based on your specific situation.

With all these factors considered, you can tell how important it is to make earlier arrangements for the payment .

These services  is to avoid further delays and extra charges.

How Do I Pay For Customs Intensive Exam Charges?

You will pay the customs intensive charges to the Centralized Examination Station.

These costs can range from $500 to $1000 and more depending on the port where the examination is conducted.

What Is The Difference Between A C.E.T Exam And Customs Intensive Exam?

US border patrol

US border patrol

A CET exam and Customs intensive exam are more or less the same.

A CET (Contraband Enforcement Team) exam specifically aims at ensuring that no drugs, weapons, or narcotics are contained in the shipment.

This is done by conducting a physical examination of the shipment.

Is An Intensive Exam A Type Of Customs Inspection?

No. An intensive exam differs from a custom inspection in the following aspect.

An intensive exam is one of the types of customs exams conducted on a shipment.

It involves the shipment being transferred to a Centralized Examination Station where it is opened and contents unloaded for examination.

The shipment is afterward released once it meets the requirements.

During an intensive exam, the officer is also allowed to unseal and take samples from the shipment for further examination.

When conducting a customs inspection, the clearance officer examines every feature of your shipment including;

The value, quantity, and properties of the shipment among others.

Other factors that might trigger inspection of your cargo include doubts that relate to;

  • Monitoring
  • Violation of trademarks
  • Customs declaration
  • Smuggling

The customs officer can decide to derive samples from the shipment and evaluate them and in some instances.

You might be required to unpack some specific cargo.

This however might result in damages to the cargo.

When doing a customs inspection, you will not only have the duty to tolerate the handling of the cargo and present the shipment for inspection.

You will also you are obligated to provide all information that the customs might need.

How Will A Customs Intensive Exam Impact My Supply Chain?

No one wants to receive news that their shipment is on hold as this might heavily impact the entire supply chain.

Nevertheless, it’s never easy to determine whether or not your shipment will be subjected to a customs intensive exam.

The selection happens randomly.

If by chance your shipment is selected, you have no option but to follow the required procedures stipulated by the port officials.

To prepare you for such situations, here is what you need to know regarding the impacts of customs intensive exams on the supply chain;

It Will Cause Delays

The truth of the matter is that once your shipment is unexpectedly selected for inspection, it’s difficult to determine;

How long it will take for the entire process to be completed.

If your shipment has been held in a busy port, be sure to wait longer for the shipment in line to be cleared before you are reached.

This might take up to a week for them to start your process or even a longer period. And that’s not enough, don’t forget that this is an intensive exam.

Therefore, loading and unloading of the cargo, inspection, and sampling will also be part of the entire exam.

Roughly, expect to experience delays that range from 7- 30 days for this entire process.

This will not only affect your business but also the shipper’s operations.

Additional Costs

Expenditure you will incur for the entire process is one of the major factors that can hugely impact the supply chain.

Think of it this way, your shipment has been held for an intensive exam and you are requested to pay all the costs associated with it.

Such costs can range from transport costs, loading and unloading costs, storage costs, and demurrage charges just to mention some.

In the end, you will realize you have spent from $1000- $2500 for this process.

Might Result In Damages

Just as the name implies, an intensive exam will be more detailed to the specific items in the ship.

Thus you should expect some damages to occur as a result.

This is because the opened box will not be carefully loaded back and therefore the items are prone to damages.

Damages incurred might result in inadequate products for the business or market.

Also, the damages might cause mistrust between the importer and the freight forwarder if applicable.

Working With The Wrong Partners e.g., Freight Forwarders And Brokers

When doing your importation, working with established freight forwarders or brokers will make your procedure less stressful.

This is because such personnel are experienced in their work and know what’s required by the customs for your specific shipment.

However, working with the wrong partner can affect the efficiency of your importation.

You might lack enough advice to help you make major decisions that would adversely affect your shipment and result in it being kept on hold.

Also, be keen when importing using LCL as you are more likely to be selected for an examination.

Your freight forwarder can provide you with suitable options for your shipment.

What Is The Significance Of CTPAT In Relation To Customs Intensive Exams?

If you are a frequent importer or planning to be one, then you must read this.

CTPAT (Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism) is an important requirement if so, you want to avoid the random examinations by customs.

Being a member of CTPAT will minimize the chances of your shipment getting flagged for inspection.



CTPAT members are considered reliable shippers and therefore given the benefit of doubt when passing through customs.

There are requirements that you need to meet to become a member.

Once you pass, you will never have to worry much about being selected for inspections.

What Is The Difference Between An Intensive Exam And A Customs Manifest Hold?

A custom manifest hold comes as a result of goods being held by customs owing to the submission of inadequate data in the manifest.

If by chance there are concerns regarding your shipment, the CBP will flag them for VACIS/NII exam.

An intensive exam is done after the shipment neither meets the VACIS exam nor the tail gate exam.

It is the costliest exam and entails a thorough inspection of the shipment.

Do Customs Brokers Have A Say In Customs Intensive Exams?


Custom brokers have no say when it comes to customs intensive exams.

Once your shipment has been selected, it will have to undergo inspection at that port until the completion of the inspection.

If it’s a busy port, it might take longer for the processes to be completed as compared to smaller ones.

During this time, you can also minimize the storage fees by having your shipment moved into an in-bond warehouse.

This will also fasten the exam process.

Customs broker

Customs broker

How Will I Know If My Shipment Is Undergoing A Customs Exam?

In case your shipment is flagged for inspection, your customs broker will be notified electronically.

Sometimes, the broker might handle the issue without involving the importer.

However, if it involves more complex issues, the importer is notified by the broker.

After examining the cargo, CBP might either decide to request additional information then release it .

It can also  forward the shipment for further examination.

What Are Other Types Of Customs Exams Are There?

There are three main types of customs exams namely;

  • X-ray exam –An X-ray machine is passed through a container to examine the contents of the shipment.

Afterward, the shipment can either be released or forwarded for further examination.

  • Tail Gate Exam – The seal of the container is broken and the customs officer examines the cargo.

In case he is not contented, the shipment is forwarded to intensive exam for further examination.

  • Intensive Exam -The container is unloaded and thorough inspection is carried out. Some samples might also be taken to help in the inspection process.

At BanSar, we help you in all shipping services from China to any global destination.

Contact us now for all freight forwarding services.

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