X-Ray Exam (2-3 Days)
For an x-ray exam, CBP will order for the container in question to be driven through an x-ray machine at the ocean terminal and have the resulting pictures reviewed carefully to check for discrepancies and/or suspicious items. If all is well, they will release the container. If all is not well, the container could be escalated to either of the next two exams.
Also known as a Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) or a Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System (VACIS) exam, fees for an x-ray exam range from $150 – $350 per container, depending on the port and size of the container. These fees do not include transportation (drayage) to and from the exam site, which can vary widely depending on the distance of the exam site from the port.
Tail Gate Exam (5-6 Days)
In this case, the container seal is broken, and the cargo is physically inspected by a customs officer. If everything is found in order, CBP will release the container. If not, the container is escalated to an Intensive Exam.
Fees range from $150 – $350 per container, depending on the port and size of the container, and again, do not include the cost of transportation to and from the exam site if it’s not at the port.
Intensive Exam (7-30 Days)
This exam is colloquially referred to as “the full monty.” The entire container is trucked over to a Centralized Examination Station (CES) where the container is stripped and thoroughly inspected by CBP officers. A CES is a private corporation authorized by CBP to de-van/offload the container, segregate each set of parcels, open designated boxes, and ready the cargo for a CBP officer to visually inspect the cargo and possibly take samples.
Fees for an intensive exam can run well over $1,000 – $2,500 and beyond, all dependent on the labor involved, size of container, and the port at which it’s held, not to mention (again) the cost of transporting the container to and from the CES.
Note: For LCL shipments, the costs per container are typically divided proportionally between the importers with shipments in the container. Fees are typically calculated and collected by the freight forwarder (arrival agent) that is coordinating the movement of the container from the origin country.