Learn what ICS2 is and how to be compliant.

Import Control System 2 (ICS2) 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 ICS2 works 

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 onto the aircraft destined to Europe.

View an illustrated PDF about ICS2 and its requirements.


Everyone who ships to Europe and the UK is impacted (e.g., online retailers, manufacturers, exporters). They must include accurate information regarding the recipient and package contents before sending the shipment to the carrier or postal operator in the EU or the UK.

Carriers and postal operators have the biggest responsibility under ICS2. Carriers and postal operators have to enter and transmit shipping data to authorities in advance to approve the plane's manifest and loading of the aircraft. If they allow a package to 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 non-compliance.

The shipper is ultimately responsible for providing carriers and postal companies with complete and accurate information about the goods. Although the carriers and postal operators are held responsible for non-compliance, providing unacceptably vague, ambiguous, inaccurate, or incomplete descriptions may result in your shipments being held or rejected, leading to delays, possible penalties, and a poor consumer experience.

When to be ready 

ICS2 will consist of 3 release phases :

  • Release 1: March 15, 2021 = Air express and postal preloading
  • Release 2: March 1, 2023 = Air cargo, air express, and postal
  • Release 3: June 3, 2024 = Maritime
    • April 1, 2025 = Road and rail

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)?

Vague vs. detailed descriptions graphic.

Information screened by security 

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. Airbill number

Key points to remember 

Ensure package descriptions are detailed and accurate because:

  • A shipment with a vague description will not be loaded onto an aircraft going to the EU or UK.
  • If the shipment does get to the EU or UK with a description of poor quality, the shipment will be rejected by Customs and won't proceed to clearance.
  • The carrier who allowed the shipment with a poor description to reach the EU may be subject to a sanction for non-compliance.
  • Providing all the needed information about your shipment will benefit safety and security concerns and allow for quick shipment clearance.

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.

EORI numbers 

Economic Operators Registration and Identification number (EORI) numbers are required for EU businesses to import or export goods into or out of the EU. EORI numbers are only required for B2B shipments, and only the EU recipient business must have one. Non-EU businesses will only have an EORI as the sender if they have an EU headquarters.

For B2B shipments entering the EU, the sender must collect the recipient business' EORI number before passing the shipment to the carrier. The carrier cannot depart without it. See our guide for more information on EORI numbers.

Frequently asked questions 

When is an EORI number needed and who needs one?

The EU Commission requires businesses to have an EORI. People or consumers have a tax ID similar to the US social security number but generally will not have or need an EORI. A non-EU sender should collect an EORI number from a business recipient for business-to-business shipments in the EU before shipping and include the EORI in the recipient tax ID field. If you're concerned about digital products or services, ICS2 and EORI requirements do not apply.

Is the HS code description enough for ICS2 product descriptions?

Customs needs more details than the verbiage obtained in the HS Tariff code. The description should answer the following questions: What is it? What is it used for? Why is it being sent?

Are six or ten-digit HS codes preferred?

As of right now, only six-digit codes are required, but ten-digit HS codes are preferred.

How can a business obtain an EORI number?

Businesses can apply online through the EU Commission website.

Do U.S. retailers need an EORI number?

A U.S. business will have a US-issued Employer ID number. This is a U.S. number. A business in the EU will have an EU-issued EORI. An EORI is required by a recipient business in the. EU for B2B shipments.

Where on the commercial invoice should the EORI number be entered?

The EORI number should be entered in the recipient tax ID field.

Does the carrier or sender obtain the EORI number for the shipment?

Under ICS2, the sender should collect the recipient business' EORI number before sending the shipment so that the carrier has it as soon as they receive it.

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.

Was this page helpful?