Clearing Canadian Customs: The Advanced Commercial Information Initiative |'s Blog on Customs Brokerage and News Updates

Clearing Canadian Customs: The Advanced Commercial Information Initiative

Many Canadians have sat in long lines at the border. Most of us have had to wait for a shipment to finally clear customs before it can be in our hands. Everyone has some sort of story about paperwork slowing down their day.

Finding new and ever-evolving ways to make the customs and border crossing process more streamlined is the ongoing goal of any government’s customs agency. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) has implemented a number of programs and measures to cut down on processing time, such as the Advanced Commercial Information (ACI) initiative.

The ACI initiative aims to increase trade efficiency and safety through more secure and timely transmission of information. While the exact requirements differ by transport method, measures introduced by the ACI initiative, such as eManifest, have become the standard for any cross-border trade in Canada.

The eManifest measure represents the third part of the ACI initiative. Phases 1 and 2 required air and marine carriers to comply by submitting info electronically, while eManifest — when fully implemented — will extend compliance to all kinds of carriers, freight forwarders, and importers.

How The ACI Works

As a general rule, to cooperate with the ACI, you and your customs broker must submit both dispatch and shipment level information to customs before you approach the border. This is, in essence, the core reason why ACI and eManifest measures were implemented — by giving the CBSA shipment information beforehand, the shipments can be processed for risk before they hit the border and decisions can be made ahead of time.

The general process, when fully implemented and updated for all carrier types, should look like:

  • Cargo and conveyance data is transmitted electronically to the CBSA prior to arrival at the border. If applicable, a freight forwarder sends house bill data as well
  • CBSA receives and acknowledges the data
  • The importer or customs broker electronically passes on import data, including Harmonized System codes
  • CBSA assesses the import information
  • The import is released at first point of arrival

ACI and eManifest Timeframes

The timeframes for submitting ACI-required documentation like the eManifest change per transport method:

Air Carriers

All shipments coming in to Canada by air must submit advance information to the CBSA 4 hours in advance. If the flight is less than 4 hours in duration, information must be submitted at time of departure. Compliance has been in effect since June of 2006.

Rail Carriers

Shipments arriving in Canada by rail must electronically submit cargo data a minimum of 2 hours prior to arriving at the border.

Marine Carriers

Marine carriers have the longest required timeframe — shipment data must be conveyed to the CBSA a minimum of 24 to 96 hours before arrival. The exact specifics of what timeframe applies to each ship varies based on cargo type and country of origin. Compliance has been in effect since April of 2004.

Highway Carriers

Contrasting with marine carriers, highway carriers have the shortest timeframe — only 1 hour advance notice is required at a minimum. The inclusion of highway carriers is an extension of the air and marine ACI initiatives.

Freight Forwarders

As of August 2018, compliance from freight forwarders is voluntary — there will be no penalties for non-compliance during this period, but compliance is expected to eventually become mandatory. If a freight forwarder wants to be compliant, consolidated freight data must be submitted to the CBSA 4 hours in advance for air, 24 hours in advance for marine, 1 hour in advance for highway, and 2 hours in advance for rail shipments.

Trying to navigate ACI initiatives like eManifest on your own, especially while regulations are still changing, can be complicated. An experienced customs broker can help you stay within the law and avoid penalties.