Master the Import General Manifest and avoid customs delays

5 Jul



Importing or exporting goods? Then you must understand the Import General Manifest (IGM).

Let’s say you've sourced the ultimate artisanal coffee beans from a tiny Colombian farm, the kind of beans that make coffee aficionados weep with joy. Or perhaps you're the one cultivating those beans, nurturing your crop to perfection for eager buyers worldwide. 

Either way, you're ready for business to boom, connecting your product with eager customers across the globe. But there's a potential hitch. Your beans – or any products, for that matter – can get stuck in customs limbo due to missing the Import General Manifest document.

While it's the carrier who files the IGM, any errors or omissions, even those originating from another party in the transaction, can ripple outward, causing costly delays for everyone involved. No IGM, no coffee, no happy customers – no matter which side of the deal you're on.

This guide will help you avoid that scenario. We'll break down the IGM in simple terms, explaining what it is, why it matters, and how understanding its details can empower you to collaborate with your shipping company and ensure smooth sailing for your imports.

What is the Import General Manifest?

The Import General Manifest is a document that provides detailed information about the cargo being transported on a vessel or aircraft entering a country. The carrier submits the form electronically to customs officials at the port of destination as a pre-arrival declaration.

Think of the IGM as a passport for your items, granting them entry into your destination country. This declaration allows customs agents to verify the shipment's contents against other documents (commercial invoices, certificates of origin, bills of lading). They uphold accuracy and compliance for a trouble-free customs clearance process.

The purpose of the IGM 

The IGM not only facilitates the entry of goods but also plays an essential role in:

  • Risk assessment: Customs officials use the information in the document to assess potential risks associated with incoming shipments
  • Customs duty calculation: The IGM provides details about the cargo being imported, including their value and classification
  • Statistical purposes: Governments use the data collected to compile trade statistics, track import trends, and formulate economic policies

Contents of the Import General Manifest

For importers and exporters alike, the specific contents of the Import General Manifest are important for precise documentation, efficient customs clearance, and seamless logistics.

Here's a simplified look at the details usually included in an IGM.

About the transport: 

  • Vessel/aircraft details: Name, registration, voyage number, arrival time, and where it came from

About the businesses involved:

  • Importer details: Name, address, contact info, and their import-export code
  • Exporter details: Name, address, and contact info of the sender

About the goods:

  • Cargo details: What the goods are, how much, weight, packaging type, and special codes (HSN Codes) to classify them
  • Shipping documents: Numbers connecting to the Bill of Lading or Airway Bill

About the containers (if used):

  • Container details: Container numbers, seal numbers, size, and type

About the destination:

  • Port of discharge: Where in the country the items will be unloaded
  • Final destination: The goods' ultimate stop within the country

Other important info:

  • Country of origin: Where the products were made
  • Value and currency: Total value of the goods and the currency used
  • Freight and insurance: Costs of transport and insurance details

To ensure the information is relevant and error-free for your specific needs, it's essential to consult official sources and resources from your target country.

Many countries have dedicated government customs websites that provide detailed information about import-export procedures, required documentation, and specific data elements needed for the IGM. For example:

For a more tailored approach:

  • Consult a customs broker or freight forwarder: These professionals specialize in international trade and can provide specific guidance on the requirements of your target country and industry
  • Review sample IGM forms: Many online resources offer sample forms that you can examine to understand the typical layout and data fields

Who files the Import General Manifest?

The carrier bears the ultimate responsibility for filing the Import General Manifest. While importers and exporters carefully prepare their shipments and paperwork, it's the carrier – whether a shipping line or an airline – who consolidates the details and submits the IGM to customs authorities.

Effective communication and collaboration between importers, exporters, and carriers are essential for a smooth process. Importers and exporters must provide accurate information about their shipments for a complete and error-free IGM.

Make sure everyone is aligned on shipping terms and responsibilities. Learn more about Incoterms and how they define import and export obligations.

How to fill the IGM?

Carriers predominantly submit the IGM electronically through dedicated online platforms that customs authorities establish in each country. These platforms streamline the process, enabling efficient and secure information submission.

For instance, in India, the Indian Customs EDI Gateway (ICEGATE) serves as the primary platform for sending customs-related documents online, including the IGM.

Each location sets specific formats and guidelines to ensure uniformity and compliance. While electronic filing is the norm, some locations may allow carriers to opt for manual entry.

When to file the Import General Manifest?

In many cases, the carrier must submit the IGM within 24 hours of the cargo's arrival at the destination port. They might notify the importer in advance about the cargo's impending arrival. This notification allows importers to present the IGM details preemptively, which expedites customs clearance upon the shipment's arrival.

Timely Import General Manifest submission is crucial for:

  • Avoidance of penalties: Late or wrong IGM submissions can result in hefty fines imposed by customs authorities that can disrupt business operations and impact profitability
  • Faster customs clearance: A complete IGM allows agents to process the shipment swiftly, reducing delays, and ensuring goods are delivered promptly
  • Efficient supply chain management: Accurate IGM filing enables better tracking and visibility of goods throughout the supply chain, leading to improved inventory management and reduced risk of loss or damage

What is the difference between EGM and IGM?

The carrier files two distinct documents for international trade: EGM and IGM. Before departure from the origin port, carriers file the Export General Manifest (EGM), declaring the cargo leaving a country. They also submit the Import General Manifest, which declares goods entering a country, upon arrival at the destination port.

In essence:

  • The EGM serves as an outward-looking document: It helps authorities monitor and regulate products leaving the country, ensuring compliance with export controls and international trade agreements
  • The IGM acts as an inward-looking form: It provides customs authorities with a comprehensive overview of incoming goods to ensure the proper execution of import procedures

Imagine, once again, that you're importing those artisanal coffee beans from a Colombian farm. Before the ship leaves Colombia, the carrier files an EGM with Colombian customs, declaring the details of the exported coffee beans. 

Upon arrival at your destination port, the carrier files an IGM with your country's customs, declaring the same shipment as an import.

Carriers file both forms separately with the respective customs authorities of the exporting and importing countries, even though they contain information about the same shipment. This dual filing process guarantees proper documentation and compliance with both export and import regulations.

Common IGM mistakes to avoid

Mistakes in this data can lead to costly delays, penalties, and disruptions to your operations. Be aware of these common pitfalls.

Incorrect HS code classification

Importers or exporters may misclassify goods with the wrong HSN code. This small error can lead to incorrect duty calculations, trigger customs examinations, delay your shipment, and even result in legal repercussions.

Invest time to understand HS codes and their application to your specific products. Consult the HSN code database of your target country, use online resources, or seek guidance from customs brokers or freight forwarders.

Speaking of duties, are you clear on how they differ from tariffs or taxes? It's essential to understand these distinctions for accurate cost calculation and compliance. Read more about the differences between tariffs, duties, and taxes in international trade.

Inaccurate cargo description

Vague or incomplete cargo descriptions raise red flags with customs officials. For example, stating "electronics" instead of specifying "smartphones with LCD screens" can cause delays and trigger unnecessary inspections.

Always provide a clear, concise, and detailed description of your goods on all documentation. Include essential information like the material composition, intended use, brand name (if applicable), and model numbers.

Discrepancies in quantity and weight

Mismatches between the declared and actual quantity or weight of goods can trigger investigations and penalties. Even a small discrepancy can raise suspicions of smuggling or fraudulent activities.

Implement rigorous quality control measures throughout your supply chain. Verify the quantity and weight of your goods at every stage – from packaging to loading – and ensure this information is accurately reflected in all shipping documents.

Missing or incorrect shipping documents

Providing incorrect details for essential shipping documents like the Bill of Lading or Airway Bill number can disrupt the Import General Manifest process. This issue could make it difficult for customs officials to verify your shipment information, leading to delays in clearance.

Establish a system for meticulous document management. Double-check all numbers and details for discrepancies before submission. Use digital tools or platforms for secure paperwork storage and sharing to minimize the risk of errors or missing details.

Late submission of information

While the carrier is ultimately responsible for submitting the IGM on time, delays can occur if you haven't provided them with the necessary information promptly. 

Maintain proactive communication with your shipping company and provide all required shipping details ahead of deadlines. Establish clear communication channels and timelines to ensure a smooth IGM filing process.

Timely payments are also crucial in international trade. Discover how trade credit can help you manage cashflow and maintain strong relationships with your suppliers: What is trade credit and should you use It?

IGM filed, now what? Unlock growth with streamlined trade financing

You've mastered the Import General Manifest. Your products won't be playing hide-and-seek in some customs warehouse. But while those containers are sailing through, let's talk about a different kind of flow – your cashflow

The world of international trade has enough paperwork to make your head spin, but managing your finances shouldn't feel like another bureaucratic hurdle. We're all about keeping things simple.

Stenn's invoice financing is the upgrade your import business needs – fast, flexible, and designed to empower your growth. Get funded in 48 hours – after approval and just two signatures – and experience the Stenn difference.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What’s the difference between an Import General Manifest and a Bill of Entry?

The carrier files the IGM upon arrival, listing all cargo onboard for customs. In contrast, the importer files the Bill of Entry, detailing their specific goods for duty assessment and clearance. In short, the IGM provides a broad cargo overview, while the Bill of Entry focuses on individual shipments.

What’s the difference between an Import General Manifest and a Bill of Lading?

The Import General Manifest records all cargo arriving at a port, facilitating customs clearance and cargo tracking. The carrier-issued Bill of Lading serves as a contractual document, acknowledging receipt of goods from the shipper for shipment and addressing legal aspects of the transaction.

What's the difference between IGM and Gateway IGM?

Carriers file the IGM at the first port of entry for all cargo on a vessel, while they submit the Gateway IGM specifically for cargo moving inland to a different final destination, at the inland customs port or container depot acting as a gateway. 

For instance, if a shipment arrives at the Port of Los Angeles but is destined for an inland container depot (ICD) in Chicago, the IGM is submitted at the Port of Los Angeles, while a Gateway IGM is filed at the Chicago ICD.

What happens if there are discrepancies in the Import General Manifest?

Discrepancies between the IGM and actual cargo can lead to customs delays, fines, or legal action. To ensure smooth import operations and a positive relationship with authorities, maintain accuracy, and address any discrepancies proactively.


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