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What Does “Import Clearance Start” Mean? (Tracking Guide)

You’re expecting a package from overseas and have received an “Import Clearance Start” tracking update.

What does this mean exactly? Is it as self-explanatory as it seems or is there more to it? And how long will Import Clearance take before your shipment is moving again?

Let’s take a look…

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Summary: Import Clearance Start

The “Import Clearance Start” tracking update means that the package has been handed over to customs for clearance. However, it does only mean that the customs staff has the package within its control, it doesn’t mean that clearance processing has begun. 

Import Clearance Start – Guide


While the “Import Clearance Start” tracking update seems to suggest that the clearance process has started, it means that the shipment has been handed over to the customs staff.

It is the last scan and update created by the carrier or line-haul operator as they hand over bulk shipments to customs for clearance.

This essentially means that your consignment has joined a line of other items awaiting clearance. 

Imagine a giant warehouse similar to that at the end of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, stock full of crates.

This is what I picture when I think of shipments being wheeled in for clearance in the likes of a USPS ISC or some other International facility worldwide.

Basically, import clearance hasn’t really started, it has just joined the waiting line.

Import Clearance Start
The end of Raiders of the Lost Ark springs to mind when I think of customs warehouses

How Long Will My Package be Stuck on “Import Clearance Start”?

clock stuck in sand

How long your tracking will remain on “Import Clearance Start” before another update is triggered is a difficult question to answer.

There are a ton of variables that can impact the speed of the clearance process.

1. Shipping Volume

packages on a conveyor belt

The first of course is the aforementioned line of shipments. The backlog of packages to go through clearance will vary depending on the following:

  • Where the ISC or International hub is based and the volume of parcels flowing through it
  • Increased Seasonal volumes
  • Any Technical Issues causing delays
  • Staffing shortages (such as that caused by Covid)

Essentially, if your shipment is at the back of a long queue it will be some time before it clears customs and receives another scan.

If the line of shipments is short, your package will flow through much faster.

2. Is the Documentation In Order?

documents under magnfying glass

Simply put, if there is any missing information from the import documentation, the contents are suspicious, or the shipment arrived from a country on a watch list, you can expect delays.

Documentation issues will normally be resolved by the sender. However, in cases where tax or duty is owed, the recipient will often need to pay so the item is released.

Issues with the contents or country of origin will often lead to the package being confiscated.

3. Are Other Shipments in the Consignment Problematic?

packages being checked

Consignments will often flow through customs in bulk, with staff doing spot checks on random items.

This means that there is a high chance that your package will not actually be physically checked.

However, if another item within the same bulk consignment as your package has a problem, that can hold yours up too.

This will not happen in all facilities, however, the process of further inspection and/or removal of dubious items from the bulk consignment, all takes time. 

This is extra time that your parcel is spending in customs control rather than making its way to the carrier for its next scan.

4. Delays in Return to the Carrier

calendar and clock

Unfortunately, there is often another big pile of shipments on the completed side of customs clearance.

Although customs staff has finished with your item and given it the all-clear, it is not until the carrier has it again (and scanned it) that you will see a new update.

If the carrier is delayed in receiving the shipment after clearance, this too is added time that your package is seemingly stuck on “Import Clearance Start”.

So How Long Will it be in Customs Then?

Import Clearance Start

Let’s get back to the original question, how long will your tracking be stuck on “Import Clearance Start”

The best-case scenario is that your package will flow through customs with none of the above issues taking place.

With low volumes, no delays, and paperwork in order your package should complete customs clearance in anything between a few hours to 48hrs.

Basically, anything under 48hrs is good. Two to Five days is common and can occur based on just high volumes and Backlogs.

However, if your package is stuck on “Import Clearance Start” for a week or more you should start making inquiries.

It is likely that there is an issue with documentation and customs/carrier has yet to make contact with you or the sender about it.

What to do if Your Package is Stuck?

steps taken wooden blocks

If your package is stuck for a week or more, you should start by informing the sender and making contact with the origin carrier responsible for the shipment.

You will be able to find the details of the carrier through the tracking of course.

Cite the details of the shipment and see if the representative can help locate the package and explain more about the delay.

Similar Updates to “Import Clearance Start”

There are countless status alerts used by carriers worldwide that essentially mean the same as “Import Clearance Start”. Examples include: “Record Item Customs Information (INB)“, “Send Item to Customs (INB)” and, “Inbound into Customs“.

Final Words

Essentially, “Import Clearance Start” is one of the most self-explanatory status alerts you can hope to receive.

It means that your package has been handed over to customs staff and that clearance will be taking place very soon.

As long as the documentation is in order and customs are not experiencing a backlog, your item should be handed back to the carrier within 48hrs.

However, there are a few variables that can stop that from happening. If your tracking does end up stuck, you now know what to do.

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