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What is ICS2? 

Learn about ICS2 and the importance of product classification.

ICS2 (Import Control System 2) is a cargo information system aimed to screen shipments for security and safety prior to their arrival into or across the European Union as well as the United Kingdom. Although the UK has left the European Union, it remains part of Europe’s safety and security zone, thus adopting ICS2.

Import Control System (ICS) came into effect at the end of 2010 as a response to an incident involving threatening devices hidden in shipments. ICS2 is an enhancement of the technology to support security and safety protocols. Phase one of ICS2 began March 15, 2021; therefore, whether you’re an online retailer, postal worker, handler, etc., this guide explains how you’re affected and how to be compliant under ICS2.

How does ICS2 work? 

The following is a high-level overview of how ICS2 works:

  1. The sender provides detailed information about the shipment (air cargo and mail), themselves, and the recipient before sending it to the carrier or postal operator.
  2. Economic operators (carriers, postal authorities, handlers, etc.) collect and analyze the information from the sender prior to the shipment being loaded onboard the aircraft that is bound to the EU.
  3. Economic operators and/or Customs authorities complete a risk assessment of the advanced information.
  4. If a risk is identified the authorities will try to mitigate the risk by preventing suspicious packages from being loaded on aircraft destined to Europe.

What is my responsibility? 

Everyone who ships to Europe and the UK is impacted (eg. online retailers, manufacturers, exporters). They must ensure they have accurate information regarding the recipient and package contents before they send the shipment through the carrier or postal operator to the EU or the UK.

The carriers and postal operators have the biggest responsibility under ICS2. Carriers and postal operators have to enter and transmit shipping data in advance to authorities who approve the plane's manifest and loading of the aircraft. If they let a package be shipped to the EU or UK without proper descriptions, they will be held responsible; furthermore, if they let an actual threatening package ship to the EU or UK, they will face consequences such as a sanction for noncompliance.

When do I need to be ready? 

ICS2 will consist of 3 release phases:** March 2021, March 2023, and March 2024.**

  • All online retailers, manufacturers, exporters, and individuals who wish to send goods to or through the EU or UK - March 15, 2021.

  • Postal operators - March 15, 2021

  • Express carriers - March 15, 2021

    • ICS2 should represent a small impact on shipments sent with air express carriers since air express carriers already stress the importance of detailed commodity descriptions of their customers.
  • Third-country postal operators - March 15, 2021

  • Freight forwarding logistics providers - March 1, 2023

  • Air cargo, passenger airlines- March 1, 2023

  • Maritime, rail, and road carriers - March 1, 2024

  • Businesses receiving goods in the EU or UK (e.g. consumers, importers) - March 1, 2024

Good descriptions 

As previously stated, clear, precise, and comprehensive descriptions are necessary under ICS2.

A good package description answers the following questions:

  • What is being shipped?
  • What materials is it made of?
  • What is the item used for?
  • What is the item’s serial or part number (if applicable)?

The following image shows vague vs. detailed descriptions

What information is reviewed for security screening? 

While ICS2 puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of the description of the goods, all shipments will be reviewed for clear information including these fields:

  1. Shipper name
  2. shipper address
  3. Recipient name
  4. Recipient address
  5. Number of packages
  6. Weight
  7. Description of goods
  8. Airllbill number

Now that you know what ICS2 is and all of the impacts it has, you’re ready to operate your business under this new system.


As a merchant, what do I need to do to prepare for ICS2?

You need to ensure that you are providing the carriers with good (not vague) package descriptions when you’re shipping a package to the EU.

What is ICS2 not?

ICS2 is not an import system and it is not used to process the customs declarations for release into free circulation.

What is an express carrier?
An express carrier is an operator providing integrated services of expedited/time- definite collection, transport, customs clearance, and delivery of parcels whilst tracking the location of, and maintaining control over, such items throughout the supply of the service.

What is pre-loading?
Pre-loading indicates the phase before the goods are loaded onto the means of transport that will bring them into the customs territory of the European Union.

Is there an increased need to have proper contact information for this new process for standard postal packages?

Yes, ICS2 is a security and safety regulation that requires valid information, including contacts. Therefore, It is critical for international shipments to have valid contact information for recipients.

Does the US have any similar security screening systems in place for imports?

Yes, the US has used the Known Shipper criteria since 2006. A shipper has to be part of the Known Shipper database for their shipment to be loaded on an aircraft.