Import Control System

The Import Control System (ICS) automates import procedures so traders have to submit information about goods only once.

Sign in to HMRC Online service and Import Control System (ICS) if you’ve already registered. You can also check if there are any current problems with this service, or times it will not be available.


The Import Control System (ICS) is part of the EU-wide Automated Import System to facilitate import procedures so that traders only have to submit information once. The safety and security amendment to the European Community (EC) Customs Code requires that carriers – or their authorised representatives – lodge electronic entry summary declarations (ENS) at the first (air)port of entry into the customs territory of the EC at a prescribed time ahead of the arrival of the goods, even if the eventual destination of the cargo is outside of the EC.

Member states are responsible for performing risk analysis based on the ENSinformation and agreed EC risk profiles, and passing on the information to subsequent ports or airports for the vessel or aircraft’s journey.

This guide explains ICS, including the rules and processes you will need to follow.

Import Control System – an overview

The Import Control System (ICS) handles electronic communications between:

  • national customs administrations
  • national customs administrators carriers or their appointed representatives
  • national customs administrations and the EC

It is mandatory for carriers to provide customs authorities with advance information, by way of ENS, for goods being brought into the customs territory of the EC.

ICS is designed to incorporate:

  • The lodging, handling and processing of ENS in advance of the arrival of goods.
  • Safety and security risk analysis and the exchange of results between member states.
  • The handling of international diversions.
  • The issue of a Movement Reference Number (MRN). The MRN is a customs computer system generated number that is automatically allocated by the member state which – after successful validation – accepts or registers the received ENS. The MRN must be issued to the carrier and, where different, the declarant.

The electronic ENS must be lodged before arrival – before loading in the case of maritime deep sea containerised shipments – at the first point of entry into the customs territory of the EC – the Office of First Entry (OoFE).

The carrier or their authorised representative submitting the ENS must have a valid Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number. The EU consignees declared on the ENS are also identified by their EORInumber. For more information, see the guide on EORI Scheme.

The ICS does not replace the need to make customs import declarations that ordinarily are submitted to the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system. For more information on CHIEF, you can read the guide on the UK’s import and export processing system CHIEF.

If you import goods into the European Union from outside of the EC and its territories then the ICS requirements will apply to your business.

How to register for and lodge entries into Import Control System

You can register and enrol for ICS.

Carriers, and others making declarations on behalf of carriers, must lodge an ENS with the ICS ahead of the arrival of any goods at the first customs OoFEinto the customs territory of the EC.

Once you have registered, enrolled and activated the ICS online service, you must lodge the ENS with the OoFE in the form of an XML message, which you can submit by one of two methods:

  • a dedicated community service provider message gateway over leased lines conforming to HMRC/IMS security and thus regarded as pre-authenticated
  • Trader Front End, available to registered gateway users authorised to use the online ICS system

Entry summary declarations

Most goods brought into the customs territory of the EC must be pre-notified in an ENS, which is submitted to the customs OoFE into the EU for safety and security risk analysis purposes. Another customs office – the office of lodgement – may accept it if an electronic link with the first customs office of entry is available, and subject to the agreement of the other office or member state. It is however the customs office of entry which remains responsible for risk analysis.

The ENS is common to all 27 member states. Agreed datasets, rules and conditions are provided to help declarants to complete the ENS.

It is the carrier’s responsibility to present the ENS to customs – as the person who brings the goods, or assumes responsibility for the carriage of the goods, into the customs territory of the Community.

The ‘carrier’ is the operator of the means of transport on or in which the goods are brought into the customs territory of the EC. For deep-sea containers, this is seen as the ocean carrier that issues Bills of Lading for the carriage of the goods into the EC.

Someone other than the carrier can lodge the ENS. However, as it is the carrier’s responsibility to ensure that it is submitted, it must only be done with the carrier’s explicit knowledge and consent. Whoever submits the ENSis responsible for the content, accuracy and completeness of the information.

When a customs OoFE is satisfied with the ENS data and validates the declaration, a unique 18-digit alpha numeric reference – the Movement Reference Number (MRN) – is automatically allocated and issued to the declarant lodging the ENS. Where this is not the carrier, the MRN is also issued to them.

Goods for which an ENS will not be required include:

  • electrical energy
  • goods entering by pipeline
  • letters, postcards and printed matter, including on electronic media
  • goods contained in travellers’ personal luggage
  • goods for which an oral customs declaration is permitted

Rules for lodging entry summary declarations

The ENS must be made electronically into the ICS as messages will need to be exchanged between HMRC and their counterparts in other Member States. There are UK Technical Interface Specification for software developers.

There are different datasets for different circumstances, including mode of transport and Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) status. Read ICS: supporting guidance

Traders wishing to register for ICS, and who are not registered as an AEO, must be registered with and have a valid EORI number. This is a number issued to economic operators, and persons involved in customs-related activities involving one or more member states. You can find more information about EORI in the guide on the Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) Scheme.

International Diversion Request

If the active means of transport – eg the vessel or aircraft – is to be diverted to a Member State other than that declared as the OoFE and that is not one of the declared OoSE, the operator for the active means of transport must lodge a Diversion Request to the originally declared OoFE. The originally declared OoFE sends the ENS data and any positive risk information to the actual OoFE.

Depending on the mode of transport or shipping service used, there are different time limits for submitting the ENS.

When shipping goods via You must submit the ENS
maritime containerised cargo at least 24 hours before loading at the port of departure
maritime bulk/break bulk cargo at least four hours before arrival
maritime sea voyages of less than 24 hours at least two hours before arrival
short-haul flights – less than four hours’ duration at the time of actual take-off
long-haul flights at least four hours before arrival
rail and inland waterways at least two hours before arrival
road traffic at least one hour before arrival

Import risk analysis for safety and security

On receiving an entry summary declaration, member states carry out a risk analysis for safety and security purposes. This is based on agreed EC-wide risk profiles.

The common risk analysis for safety and security is applied by the customs OoFE for all goods entering the customs territory of the EC. This includes goods actually destined for subsequent Member States and a non-ECcountry. The customs office will undertake the risk analysis before the goods arrive.

Where a risk is identified, the customs OfFE will do one of the following, depending upon the level of the threat:

  • take immediate action
  • pass on the risk analysis results to any identified subsequent ports or airports

In exceptional circumstances, where the level of physical threat is deemed to be severe, the customs office may decide not to allow goods to be loaded. This instruction is called a ‘Do Not Load’ (DNL) notification, and will be sent to all parties identified as being involved in the movement of the goods. DNLfunctionality is only relevant to deep sea containerised maritime cargo. Once issued, a DNL notification can not be revoked.

International Diversion Request

If the active means of transport  – the vessel, aircraft or road vehicle – is to be diverted to a member state other than that declared as the OoFE and that is not one of the declared OoSE, the operator for the active means of transport must lodge a Diversion Request to the initially declared OoFE.

This office then sends the ENS data and any positive risk information to the actual OfFE.

Import Control System fallback measures

There may be times when you experience technical difficulties while using the electronic ICS.

The EC has developed a BCP to allow the continuity of activities in case of failure of the various EU-wide import and export control systems, including the ICS.

This includes unavailability of:

  • the EORI Scheme
  • the customs OoFE system when lodging the Entry Summary Declaration
  • the customs OoFE system or OoSE system upon arrival of the goods

You can download information on the procedures together with scenarios for each eventuality from the Europa website (PDF, 513K.)

UK Fallback Arrangements for ICS

The UK’s ICS fallback policy and scenarios below are also available in the UK Tariff at Volume 3, Section 3, Para 3.2.12. These have been developed along the EU guidelines for business continuity. Please note that this is the position for UK ICS only, other Member States will have their own fallback provisions.

If an Economic Operators system is unavailable:

  • The UK will not accept ICS declarations by ‘other means’ – eg by paper, data key or email. Economic Operators will need to make arrangements for the ENS to be submitted by another Economic Operator on their behalf, or keep trying to submit an ENS up to the point that the Arrival Notification is processed. The later the ENS is sent in these circumstances the greater the possibility of encountering delays upon arrival.
  • A valid ENS declaration will be required to be submitted to enable Economic Operators to fulfil their legal obligations.
  • Not being able to declare ENS data from their own systems due to system failure will not automatically be accepted as a valid excuse for not declaring an ENS to the UK ICS.

If a CSP system is unavailable:

  • If a CSP system is unavailable, Economic Operators should operate under their individual CSPs fallback arrangements (usually by use of another CSP system) or submit their declaration via the TFE.
  • If all CSP systems are unavailable, Economic Operators will need to either use the published CSP fallback provisions or use an alternative electronic means (ie an other traders system where the trader links to the front end) to enable the ENS to be declared.

If the core UK ICS system, including TFE, is unavailable to both UK and Economic Operators:

  • Economic Operators and CSPs should continue to send messages to UK ICS until HMRC confirms the non availability of the core ICS system. These will be queued until the system is restored. When the ICS system is restored, an ENS can be sent for consignments en-route that have not yet had the Arrival Notification processed.
  • HMRC will advise other member states when the UK ICS is not available so that they can be aware that some consignments, particularly involving short flights, may not have a MRN allocated.

Further information

Safety and security Customs Code procedures on the Europa website

EC Customs Code Legislation on the Europa website

Published 10 August 2012
Last updated 24 August 2015 
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