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“Inbound into Customs” ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW

You’re waiting on a delivery from USPS and you have received an “Inbound into customs” tracking update.

What does this mean exactly? Should you be concerned that customs will have your package and what happens next?

Let’s take a look…

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What Does “Inbound into Customs” Mean?

Inbound into customs means that your package has entered a USPS International Service Center in the USA, and has been forwarded to customs. It is a completely normal process for all international packages arriving in the U.S.

Why is My Package “Inbound into Customs”

ISC New York NY (USPS)
ISC New York NY (USPS)

Essentially, any item that arrives from overseas is subjected to the customs clearance process.

For mail and packages entering the U.S, this takes place inside an International Service Center (ICS).

There are 4 main USPS ICSs, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami. (Click the respective links for our in-depth articles on each).

Essentially, the CPB and USPS work within the same building complex, (the ICS).

When your mail arrives in the country and is lifted from the airplane, you receive a “PROCESSED THROUGH FACILITY” status alert, (followed by the name of the ICS – New York NY (USPS), for example.)

Once the items have been unloaded, they will be passed to the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for customs clearance.

It is at this point you will receive the “Inbound into Customs” status alert.

What Happens During “Inbound in Customs”?

inbound into customs

The customs process for most items is nothing to be concerned about. Customs will not immediately target and open your package without reason.

That being said, all consignments will pass through a scanner (x-ray) for rapid screening. It is only if an issue is detected (or suspected) that further checks are carried out.

The following circumstances may cause your package to have a more thorough examination.

  • The package has been damaged and/or the seal has opened.
  • The package is terminating a strong smell and/or liquid.
  • The scanner has flagged the package and irregularities were detected (either due to the package contents or the paperwork attributed to it).
  • The package has arrived from an origin country that is on a CBP watch list.
  • The package has simply been selected for a random spot check.

Essentially, if you have imported an item that is on the prohibited list, or relevant paperwork is not in order, you could end up having the shipment confiscated.

How Long Will My Package Be Held By Customs?

clock in the sand

The length of time your package will be held in customs will vary.

It is important to remember that the entire time your package is with the CBP you will not receive another status alert beyond, “inbound in customs”.

This is because USPS and the CBP are completely different entities. Your item cannot be scanned by USPS while it is in customs, (and with the CBP).

When you factor in the tens of thousands of items the CBP has to clear each day, it is a small wonder activity with the ISC that isn’t overcome every day with a backlog.

That being said, delays do occur. The USPS Inspector General’s office has recently recommended that the Chicago ISC undergoes an investigation into the inefficiency of its practices.

Delays are common and so are customer complaints of those sending or receiving international mail in the midwest.

New York and Los Angeles ICSs also have their fair share of unsatisfied USPS customers reporting delays online.

Average “Inbound into Customs” Processing Times

hourglass timer

USPS states that the average “Inbound Into Customs” time is two to three days.

Up to five days is not uncommon and anything over this is grounds for a customer to complain.

However, this is where the delays become skewed in that if your item does encounter an issue, wait times can reach multiple weeks.

Once a situation occurs, the package can end up entering an “ICS Blackhole”. And remember, during all of this the consignment will not be in a position to be scanned by USPS.

Frustrated customers waiting for their package literally are given no indication of where the item is once it enters “Inbound into Customs”.

Main Reasons Your Package is Delayed at Customs?

inbound into customs

There are actually myriad reasons your package might be held at customs. Most of which will be completely out of your control.

Assuming the contents are not prohibited in any way, the most common reason is missing, inaccurate, or incomplete paperwork.

This is the responsibility of the shipper, and the fact there is an issue will not always be communicated.

Essentially, the huge volume of shipments passing through the ICS means the reporting of problematic consignments to the sender takes days, sometimes weeks, sometimes never.

Examples of Customs Clearance Documentation Errors

documents and magnifying glass
  • Importer Security Filings (sometimes called the 10+2) are used to record all imported products into the US.
  • A Bill of Lading (A detailed list of the consignment)
  • Commercial Invoice (value details of the shipment)
  • Packing List (A list of all enclosed items)

Beyond the issues of documentation, delays can occur due to seasonal increases in mail volumes, (Christmas) and circumstances such as the pandemic, (impacting staff levels and overall procedures)

There may also be an issue with the consignment in terms of damaged packaging, lost labels, and any other problem that could cause it to be misplaced among the thousands of other items inside the ICS. 

Finally, if your item is selected for a random inspection beyond standard protocols, it will be delayed while the CBP carries this out.

While the delay should not be weeks, it will increase the time your item is held “inbound into customs”.

What to do if Your Package is Stuck at “Inbound into Customs?


From everything that we have covered so far, the first step if your package is stuck on this update is to be patient.

There are many reasons why the delay might have occurred. If it has only been a few days, contacting the sender or USPS will not resolve anything.

We recommend that your package be stuck on “inbound into customs” for at least 7 business days before you go through the effort of contacting USPS customer services.

At this point, you should contact the International Inquiry Center at 800-222-1811 for enquires about a package that is stuck at an ISC. 

What Tracking Status Follows “Inbound into Customs”?

man using phone

The tracking status that you should look out for, (and be happy to see) is “Inbound out of Customs”.

This simply means that your item has cleared the customs process and is now back in the hands of USPS.

From here your item will leave the ISC and be “In Transit” to a “Regional Facility” closer to your location. After this, it will be sent to your local post office before going out for delivery to your door.

If all goes to plan, you will have your package within a few days.

1 thought on ““Inbound into Customs” ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW”

  1. Thank you. What an excellent piece…clear, concise & straightforward. You did a great job writing for consumers who have no idea about the processes or lingo from inside the postal and customs systems.


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