What freight forwarders need to know about ICS2

Whether they are using air or maritime services, roads or railways, freight forwarders wishing to import their goods to or via Europe have had to take note of additional regulations within the framework of the Import Control System 2 (ICS2, the EU’s customs safety and security programme) for some time. The aim is to make trade safer & more secure for the EU’s single market and its citizens. We explain what companies need to bear in mind.

A logistics manager examines a stack of different coloured containers

The EU is one of the biggest players in the international market for trading goods. As a result, many countries around the world wish to import all manner of products there. For example, goods worth approx. EUR 2.5 trillion were imported into the EU in 20231. If companies wish to import their products at all, they must comply with all the legal requirements related to product safety. The EU is aiming to protect its outer borders and have transparent customs controls.

Although ICS2 was already introduced in 2021, many of those affected are still unclear about the precise regulations. The EU will also be releasing the third stage in June 2024. To ensure obstacle-free customs procedures, it is worth developing a suitable strategy related to the ICS2 requirements in conjunction with your logistics specialist. 

What is ICS2?

The Import Control System 2 (ICS2) is an important control tool for the customs authorities; it is a freight information system for registering and controlling goods that are entering the EU in advance. Because the freight data is sent to the system at an early stage, importing goods to the European market is becoming more transparent and more secure. As a result, countries and their customs authorities can recognise risky goods early on and actively intervene to prevent potential risks. ICS2 also centralises the risk and data management processes between EU member states. Because it is an all-encompassing system, the measures increase the transparency of trading operations when third countries ship consignments to the EU – and this provides a strong basis for even greater protection from external threats for the single market. The IT-supported control system also accelerates many customs procedures for companies and private individuals, such as the exchange of information between all those involved, risk analyses and therefore customs clearance for imports.

Close-up of an aeroplane wing and turbine with freight wagons in the background.

Introducing ICS2 to the customs system: phase 1 affected courier and postal services using air traffic before the main procedure was introduced

The Release 1 of the three-stage transitional strategy for importing items into the EU already came into effect on 15 March 2021. The aim is to gradually replace the ICS1 process, which has been in force since 2011. Shippers have had to send the Pre-Loading Advance Cargo Information (PLACI) for each air mail and air express consignment to the system for advance checks as part of the first stage of ICS2. The information provides an additional safety & security level, which takes effect even before the goods are loaded: the customs authorities receive the most important data about the consignment, such as the EORI number (Economic Operators Registration and Identification), HS codes (Harmonised System) or an extensive description even before the plane takes off. Using this information, they can then decide whether the cargo may be shipped or not. More information may possibly be necessary and the customs authority communicates this in the form of an RfI (Request for Information).

ICS2 Release 2 has regulated all goods shipped by air since 2023

The second stage of ICS2 has been in force since 1 March 2023 and now affects the entire air freight industry. The economic operators affected include courier and air freight carriers, postal services and freight forwarders. As a result, additional regulations to assess the customs risk have come into effect before goods are loaded and arrive: it is now necessary to specify the entire data set on the Entry Summary Declaration and register their arrival as well as the provision of goods. As for all the items that are transported as postal, courier or general cargo shipments by air, it is not only necessary to fulfil the minimum requirements in terms of the data before loading, but also meet the requirements for sending off the entire ENS data before the goods arrive in the European Union. For short-haul flights (i.e. those lasting less than four hours), the ENS must be sent to the relevant customs authority in the EU member state destination at the latest when the plane takes off. If a long-haul flight is involved (i.e. one lasting more than four hours), the notification must arrive at the first incoming customs office in the EU at least four hours before the goods arrive.


Check list: how to import goods properly using air services with ICS2

The clearance process can be summarised in five stages:

  1. Send the ENS (Entry Declaration Summary) to the system
  2. Register the arrival of the aircraft
  3. Present the goods being transported to the customs authority
  4. Provide intermediate storage for the cargo, if necessary
  5. Transfer the goods to a suitable customs procedure.

The following information also needs to be easy to access:

  • the Entry Declaration Summary (ENS)
  • the Pre-Loading Advance Cargo Information (PLACI)
  • the Master Air Way Bill (MAWB)
  • the House Air Way Bill (HAWB)


New ICS2 requirements for goods shipped by water, road and rail in Release 3

The third Release of ICS2 takes effect on 3 June 2024 – and goes beyond air freight. The regulations will then apply to those economic operators transporting goods by sea, on inland waterway vessels or those using road and rail traffic. There are different phases governing the time when it is necessary to start sending a full set of data using the ENS:

  • The third phase immediately affects carriers operating maritime and inland waterway services from 3 June 2024 onwards.
  • Carriers operating maritime and inland waterway shipping services, which present data as house level filers, are obliged to do so from 4 December 2024 onwards.
  • Carriers operating road and rail traffic services will follow from 1 April 2025 onwards.

ICS2: Customs officers can intervene more quickly in cases of danger

The ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization, a special agency of the United Nations) defines what kind of cargo is viewed as a high-risk consignment. This includes shipments that represent a threat according to intelligence services, have been manipulated, have suspicious features or were handed in by an unknown person. And even if the goods are such that the basic security checks could oversee potential risks, they are viewed as a risk. ICS2 greatly simplifies checks on these indicators: in any cases of doubt, the customs authority can request additional information (RfI) or demand that changes are made to the consignment in question in order to be able to possibly identify hazardous features. If the consignor does not provide this information or refuses to introduce the changes, the customs authority can prohibit the shipment and may even alert the customs investigation department.

Complying with the ICS2 requirements is very important

The EU is sending a clear signal by switching to ICS2: greater transparency guarantees safety & security in customs matters and therefore supports legitimate trade within the single market. Sanctions, bans on loading and, possibly, further costs for storage are real threats if operators contravene the new system. Even minor errors or omissions pose problems and, at best, lead to delays in deliveries or unsatisfied customers. Here is one example: the standard format of the Entry Summary Declaration does not allow any discrepancies. Users now have to communicate six figures of the HS code to classify the product instead of providing an adequate description of the goods or just the first four figures of the HS code in the past. Incomplete or poor-quality declarations can be rejected or even lead to security checks by the EU customs authorities.

Moving into the future with confidence: develop a strategy for ICS2 with your logistics specialist

Particularly those affected by the third phase of ICS2 in the maritime and inland waterway sectors as well as in the road and rail segments must fully understand which information they need to send – and when they need to. This is the only way that they will be able to complete the necessary time-sensitive procedures in the best possible way when importing goods into the European Union, remain a reliable delivery company and meet the transport deadlines that have been set. Even before the introduction of the new customs system, it was normal to rely on a logistics specialist to handle administrative customs issues – and this will continue to be the case under the Import Control System 2 too. Experienced logistics specialists such as Rhenus not only provide many years of expertise, but also specialist personnel and qualified contact partners. They can provide knowledgeable answers to all the questions related to air freight and the new system and offer solutions to guarantee smooth clearance procedures. By developing the suitable strategy for ICS2 with their service provider, companies can actively prepare for the final rollout and can cope with all the challenges in the best possible way.

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