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Basic FCL import process and charges in USA

29 Nov 2023

By Richie Lin     Photo : Sebastian Herrmann

USA is still the biggest import market in the world. According to the statistics, there were USD 3.24 trillion goods imported into USA in 2022 and the numbers are USD 2.3 trillion from January to September 2023. Whereas Canada and Mexico have become the two biggest origins of import, Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand are still playing crucial roles to provide miscellaneous products such cell phones, car parts, furniture, clothes, shoes, medical equipment, etc. Henceforth, we can see many vessels loaded with cargo sailing across Pacific Ocean, Panama Canal to reach the ports of USA for the appetite of American consumers. However, many suppliers in Asia or even the buyers in the USA are still unfamiliar with what will happen after cargo loaded on board and on the way to the destinations. So today we spend some time to talk about the basic FCL import process and charges in USA from vessels arriving the ports till delivering the containers to the destinations


  1. Arrival Notice

Shipping lines will send the arrival notice to the consignees on the Master Bill of Lading 7 days before vessels reach the ports of USA. Then the consignees will transfer the arrival notice to the customs clearance brokers to file the customs clearance.


  1. Import Customs clearance:

After receiving arrival notice about the incoming containers, the customs brokers will file the entry to CBP (Customs and Border Protection) and cause the customs clearance charge. If the products requiring FDA certificate or Lacey Act, it will cause extra FDA or Lacey Act filing fees. And it will cause customs inspection charges if the containers are selected by CBP to run customs inspections.


  1. Containers arriving ports:

After vessels actually arriving the ports, containers will be discharged at the terminals of the ports. Normally the terminals will charge the THC (Terminal Handling Charge). But THC in USA is already included in the ocean freight rate from Asia, it will not be charged again on USA soil. If the final delivery place on the MBL is the port, container will stay at port and wait for customs released by CBP. If the final delivery place on MBL is the IPI (Interior Point of Intermodal) such as Chicago, Detroit, shipping lines will transfer the containers to the railway companies to move them to the inland rail ramps to wait for customs release. And railway companies will not charge the movement on the rails because it is also included in the ocean freight rate from Asia. After customs released at ports or at the rail ramps, importers will need to pay the import duty, HMF (Harbor Maintenance Fee), and MPF (Merchandize Processing Fee).


  1. Delivering containers to destinations:

Consignee on the MBL will receive a pick-up number from shipping line after container is customs released, shipping line released, port or ramp released. Trucking company can use the pick-up number to pick up the container and deliver to the destination. Delivering container to destination will cause the drayage charge, the chassis charge. Normally, it will have two hours free time to unload the cargo from container at the destination, but will cause waiting charge per hour if unloading takes more than two hours. After unloading the container, trucker will bring the empty container back to the port or ramp to return it to shipping line. If trucker needs to drop the container at the destination and pick up the empty container later, the drayage  will have to add the drop and hook charge. Furthermore, because trucking company will need to pick up the empty later, it will need to add on bobtail charge if trucking company doesn’t have container to deliver at the same time.


  1. Extra charges might happen:

Chassis Split- If there is no chassis at the ports or rail ramps

Pre-pull: When customer cannot accept the container but need to pick it up container to avoid demurrage

Yard Storage: Needs to store the container to wait until customer can receive the container

Over Weight: If cargo weight is over 38500 pounds for 20GP and over 44000pounds for 40GP

Demurrage: If container stays inside the ports or rail ramps longer than two days free time given by shipping line

Detention: If container stays outside the ports or rail ramps longer than four days free time given by shipping line

Rail storage: If container stays inside the rail ramps longer than two days free time given by railway company


Arranging ocean container from any ports of Asia till delivering it to the doors of customers in USA needs several participants t to work seamlessly along the process. Therefore, an experienced and reliable 3PL or 4PL logistics company can provide customer end to end service and valuable consult before shipping out the container.

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