What is VACIS?

Customs Jul 02, 2020

If you've spend any time on the waterfront or dealt with importing international shipments, you've probably seen or at least heard of VACIS, the process, the hold, or inspection. We're going demystify the VACIS process and exactly what it is.

What is a VACIS?

VACIS is an acronym (thanks for more acronyms maritime industry!! shakes fists at sky) for Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System that is performed by CBP

VACIS is a non-intrusive x-ray exam that scans the entire container -which all takes place without breaking the container seal. It is very similar to the baggage scanners we are all familiar with at airports. The VACIS scan allows customs officers to see "inside" the container without ever breaking the seal on the container. This allows them to quickly and easily determine if they would like to inspect a container further.

VACIS truck

What does a VACIS hold mean?

VACIS holds mean that customs has decided to run your container and cargo through the VACIS truck.

How does CBP determine what to VACIS?

CBP keeps this information close to the vest on how they determine what to VACIS and what not. This is for Homeland Security and defense purposes. If CBP were to publish or share how they determine what to VASIS and not, then getting around the system to either avoid cargo dues, smuggle, or import dangerous goods or weapons would bee to easy and predictable. Currently CBP VACIS' approximately 5% of the cargo entering the United States. These exams are random and can occur if the Customs Officer thinks something looks out of place or doesn't make sense.

When does VACIS occur?

VACIS occurs at one of two times on a marine terminal.

  1. During the vessel offload customs may assign a semi truck driver to be the "VACIS driver", meaning they will bring the loads they receive from the ship at random to the VACIS truck for scanning.
  2. CBP may provide a list of what they want to VACIS to the terminal prior to the start of operations. The terminal then sets the containers aside for CBP to VACIS the cargo at a later determined date.

Usually, a VACIS hold won't impact the movement of cargo when the inspection is performed alongside the vessel. If the inspection takes place at a later date and time in the terminal, the cargo may be delayed by a day or two.

Nick Seferos

Sea-going maritime professional on ships and tugs turned to shore-side terminal life. Nick manages shore-side personnel and security, customs, and hazardous shipments in a container terminal.

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