Import Customs Glossary

Our import customs glossary explains terms frequently used in the import and export industry, especially those related to shipping and customs clearance. You are welcome to contact Transmark Customs Brokers about adding a term or receiving help with your import process and customs clearance.


Air Waybill (AWB)

An Air Waybill is a bill of lading covering international or domestic flights transporting goods to a predetermined destination.

Automated Commercial Environment (ACE)

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) electronic program the agency uses to track, identify, and perform risk analysis on shipments arriving at US ports, and manage customs entries and documents filed by customs brokers and importers.

Automated Manifest System (AMS)

Another electronic CBP system used to receive import shipment information from importing carriers as shipments move toward the United States. Customs brokers like TCB use this system to verify the accuracy of customs entry documents by matching them to the appropriate carrier’s manifest.


Bill of Lading

Both a receipt for cargo and a transportation contract between ocean carrier and shipper.

Bonded Warehouse

Warehouses authorized by CBP to store goods until duty is paid or the goods are exported.


Certificate of Origin

Document that shows where the good originated.

Container Freight Station (CFS)

Warehouse where shipping containers are loaded and unloaded.

Commercial Invoice

A document issued by the seller that describes the quantity, value, and nature of imported goods, and serves as a bill to the buyer. Customs officers use these to determine the actual value of imported goods.

Country of Origin

Where the goods were manufactured or produced.


Government agents charged with managing international trade, collecting import and export duties, and maintaining border security.

Customs Bond

U.S. Customs requires that entries of commercial imports valued at more than $2,500 be secured by a bond posted with a recognized surety company. The bond guarantees duty payment, even if the importer defaults. Single Transaction Bonds (STB) are available for one-time imports, and Continuous Bonds (CB) for ongoing imports.

Customs Clearance

The release of imported cargo by customs.



Storage charges billed by a carrier or terminal operator when a shipment is not picked up by the importer within allowed free time.


Delivery order.


The process of moving goods or containers a short distance, typically from one location to another at or near the point of entry, or within a warehouse or storage area.


Taxes imposed on imports by the destination country.



Estimated time of arrival.


Estimated time of departure.

Export License

A government-issued document permitting the export of specific goods in specific amounts.

Excise Tax

A tax levied on certain goods in addition to duty. Excise taxes apply to shipments like tobacco and alcohol.


Federal Maritime Commission (FMC)

This independent agency regulates commercial ocean trade and transportation.


Full container load.


Free on board is a term used to indicate when liability and ownership of goods is transferred from a seller to a buyer.

Free Time

Period during which a shipment can remain at a cargo terminal without payment of storage charges.

Freight Forwarder

Independent company that handles export shipments for private businesses.


Full truck load.


Harbor Maintenance Fee (HMF)

A fee collected by CBP for all imports that arrive via water.

Harmonized Tariff System (HTS)

Also known as the Harmonized System, it provides standard codes for classifying imported and exported goods.


House air waybill.


House bill of lading.



International Air Transport Association.

Importer Number

Required by CBP, this number is used to identify an importer’s customs transactions, and is a standard data element in customs entry documents.

Importer of Record

The United States entity who accepts responsibility for fulfilling all customs regulations and laws related to an import shipment.

Import License

Document that authorizes the importation of specific types of goods. Often issued by an agency which regulates a particular category of goods, such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, or other agricultural products.

Import Quota

A limit to the total amount of a given commodity that may be imported during a specified period.

Importer Security Filing

All ocean freight arriving in the U.S. must meet this requirement. Information must include a description of the commodity, manufacturer and seller information. It is submitted to CBP at least 24 hours before loading at the port of origin.



Less than container load.


Less than a truck load.


Marine Cargo Insurance

Insurance that covers the cost of goods damaged or lost at sea.

Multi-Modal Distribution

Also known as multi-modal transport or combined transport, this is defined as a shipment which is transported by at least two types of vehicles or vessels, from air, ship, truck, and/or rail.


Ocean Bill of Lading

Both a receipt for cargo and a transportation contract between ocean carrier and shipper.


Packing List

Shipping document outlining package information about package count, package measurement, and package weight.


Power of attorney.


Proof of delivery. Also, Port of discharge.


Port of loading.



A limit on the amount of merchandise that may be imported or exported during a specific period of time.



Roll-on/roll-off ships are designed to carry wheeled cargo, such as cars, trucks, trailers, and railroad cars.


Standard carrier alpha code is a unique two to four letter code used to identify transportation companies.


Shipper’s load and count.

Shipping Weight

The gross weight of a shipment including all packaging, but not the shipping container.



A government tax assessed on imported or exported goods. Tariffs are often imposed to protect domestic companies or generate revenue.


Terminal handling charge.


United States Department of Agriculture.

U.S. Principal Party in Interest (USPPI)

The United States entity benefiting from an export transaction.

If you need help planning or implementing a strategy for your import shipments, completing the customs clearance process, or getting your shipment out of customs, contact us today!

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