When importing goods, it’s important to ensure that all required documentation is submitted accurately and timely This allows the customs department to process and approve import shipments on time. One of these relevant documents is the Inward Foreign Manifest. 

An Inward Foreign Manifest (IFM) is a customs mandated document that contains a detailed list of all cargo entering the import country. It contains all relevant shipment and cargo information and is submitted from the carrier to the customs authorities for inbound cargo control and duty assessments. 

IMFs are applicable for all shipments that enter the discharge country by air or sea and are submitted electronically by the carrier, on behalf of the importer. The submission is typically done through the official customs website. Upon submission, the information may be cascaded to other relevant government agencies depending on the type of cargo.

In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at the importance of an Inward Foreign Manifest, how they are submitted and what type of information it contains. Lastly, we’ll also provide you with some of the best tips when it comes to IMF submission and the role of importers. 

Why Is an Inward Foreign Manifest Important?

Carriers are required to submit an accurate and timely Inward Foreign Manifest, as this document is used by official customs authorities to control inbound cargo and also assess its respective duties. 

  • It’s Used For Cargo Control – Inward Foreign Manifests are used by local customs authorities to assess and control all inbound cargo. It’s also used for security purposes and for general economic statistics. As far as security is concerned, it aids in the assessment of additional inspection or quarantine requirements. 
  • Duties Are Assigned to It – Local customs authorities are required to collect the correct duties and taxes from importers. The Inward Foreign Manifest allows them to assign and assess the correct duties in accordance with cargo that is imported.
  • It’s Customs Mandated Around The World – IFMs are mandated by all countries as a means to know what type of cargo is arriving. This helps them to anticipate possible security issues or violations that may need further checking or policy implementation. Failing to submit an IMF may lead to hefty fines and issues with cargo clearance. 

Who Files the Inward Foreign Manifest?

In all cases, the shipping line or airline is responsible to submit the inward manifest to the respective customs authorities at the destination. This is because the shipping line and airline issues the master bill of lading and the master air waybill, respectively. 

If the shipper or consignee has engaged an agent or a freight forwarder, the agent will typically work with the shipping lines and airlines directly to facilitate the IMF submission. 

How Is an Inward Foreign Manifest Filed?

Depending on the destination country of the shipment, carriers will file this online through the official customs website or a dedicated submission portal. Each country will have their own guidelines, timelines and methods of submission that all importers and carriers have to adhere to.  

When Must the Inward Foreign Manifest Be Filed?

It’s important to stress that inward foreign manifest regulations vary from country to country. Some countries require an Inward Foreign Manifest submission about 1 – 2 days before the vessel’s estimated time of arrival (ETA) at the port of discharge. 

For US-bound shipments, an Inward Foreign Manifest submission needs to be filed at least 24 hours before it is loaded on to the vessel at the origin port. Therefore, ensure to check with your carrier or agent on the guidelines for your shipments.

What Information Does an Inward Foreign Manifest Contain?

An Inward Foreign Manifest contains all relevant shipment and cargo information, so that the local customs authorities can assess all aspects of the incoming cargo. 

This helps them to combat potential security threats, monitor illegal cargo and track regulated shipments. Below, you’ll find a list and an explanation of what information is found on an IMF:

  • Shipper Details – The name, address and contact details of the shipper. This is often the exporter, seller or consolidator. 
  • Consignee Details – The name, address and contact details of the consignee. The consignee is usually the importer and this information is used by regulatory agencies for further assessments. 
  • Air Waybill or Bill of Lading Number – The bill of lading number or the unique air waybill number is used as a main way of tracking the inbound shipment. 
  • Carrier SCAC – The Standard Carrier Alpha Code (SCAC) is a unique 4 letter code to identify the shipping line, airline, or non-vessel operating common carrier (NVOCC). 
  • Container Numbers – The IFM submission must include all the containers in the waybill. Failing to comply with these regulations may mean clearance delays, outright confiscation or a huge monetary penalty. 
  • Seal Numbers – The unique seal number of each laden container. 
  • Mode of Transport – It must also indicate if the mode of transport is by air or sea.
  • Origin Country – The country of origin of the shipment, also known as the exporting country where the shipper is located. 
  • Destination Country – The country of destination of the shipment, also known as the importing country where the consignee is located. 
  • Port of Loading / Origin Airport – The origin port (sea) of the shipment or the origin airport (air).
  • Port of Discharge / Destination Airport – The destination port (sea) of the shipment or the destination airport (air).
  • Cargo Description – the cargo description as stated in the bill of lading or air waybill. This allows customs authorities to identify the cargo type and its respective import duties. 
  • Cargo Quantity – The number of items and their type of packaging.
  • Cargo Measurements – The total cubage and dimensions of the cargo.
  • Cargo Weight – The total weight of the cargo.
  • Marks and Numbers – Other identifying marks and numbers of the shipment. 

What are the Penalties for Failing to Submit an Inward Foreign Manifest?

Non-compliance, delayed or untimely submissions of Inward Foreign Manifests are subject to penalties, depending on the regulations of the destination country. 

Some scenarios may exercise seizure of cargo, monetary penalties, clearance delays or additional procedures when processing the import clearance. Therefore, it’s important to understand the IMF requirements of the destination country beforehand.

For example, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) states a monetary penalty of $5,000.00 for each violation. Therefore it’s important to ensure that cargo manifests are submitted timely and accurately by shipping lines and airlines. 

General Tips On Inward Foreign Manifests

Although the Inward Foreign Manifests are submitted by shipping lines and airlines, there are certain things you can do (as a shipper or consignee) to ensure that it’s submitted timely and accurately. 

  • Follow Up With Your Carrier – Follow up with your carrier regularly on documentation timelines. This should also include the inward foreign manifest submission.  
  • Provide Accurate Shipping Documentation – As a shipper or consignee, always ensure that the shipping documentation such as the packing list, invoice and other required certifications are accurate and are coherent with the details on the bill of lading or air waybill. 
  • Submit Documentation Timely – It’s also important to ensure that all relevant shipping documentation is submitted to the carrier or freight forwarder timely. Missing submission deadlines can lead to monetary penalties and delays. 

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Gerrit Poel

Co-Founder & Writer
at freightcourse

About the Author

Gerrit is a certified international supply chain management professional with 16 years of industry experience, having worked for one of the largest global freight forwarders.

As the co-founder of freightcourse, he’s committed to his passion for serving as a source of education and information on various supply chain topics.