Import Control System (ICS): supporting guidance

Explains the Import Control System (ICS) introduction in the EU and its implementation in the UK for UK Traders


The Import Control System (ICS) is the first phase implementation of the EU wide Automated Import System (AIS).

ICS implements the European Union (EU) safety and security legislation which requires carriers, or their authorised representatives, to provide pre-arrival information, in a specified format, for all cargo entering the EU regardless of the eventual destination of the cargo.

This information is submitted in a declaration, known as an Entry Summary Declaration (ENS) to the first port/airport of entry into the EU, the Office of First Entry (OoFE), and will include, amongst other things, details which identify the cargo, the traders involved in the movement, the vessel/aircraft and the envisaged route into and across the EU.

ICS information will be assessed against a set of common (EU) risk criteria and will also allow for messages to be passed onto subsequent ports or port/airport in other Member States (MS), Offices of Subsequent Entry (OoSE), about any positive risks identified at the first port/airport of entry into the EU.

All ICS messaging must be fully electronic.

Introduction of Phase 1 of ICS in the UK

From 1st January 2011 it is mandatory for traders to provide customs authorities with advance information in the form of an ENS for all goods brought into the customs territory of the EU.

A Trader Test Facility (Third Party Validation System) has been available since 29th April 2010 and a trader test pack since March 2010. Information on Trader Test was published under the HMRC Software Developers Support Team.

Further phases of ICS

The second phase of ICS potentially includes Office of Lodgement (if this is made mandatory) and the passing of all information to subsequent Member States, rather than just information where a positive risk has been identified as is the case with phase 1.

Once ICS Phase 1 has been successfully delivered there will be a full EU wide review of the costs/benefits offered by progressing to the full ICS solution before deciding whether to do so. Any further development will be taken forward as part of the Modernised Customs Code implementation and will include a review of process and data requirements.

ICS systems

The ICS systems architecture has been developed by the EU for the lodging and processing of ENS’s and for the exchange of messages. Each Member State is responsible for building its own system to the specifications laid down by the EU.

The UK system is being built by ASPIRE, the IT provider to HMRC. Companies and traders who wish to adapt their own systems to interface with ICS will need to refer to the UK Trader Interface Specification (TIS) TIS (PDF, 1.51MB, 152 pages) which has been developed by ASPIRE using the EU technical specifications.

Routes into ICS in the UK

Message exchanges with the UK ICS for the submission of ENS’s and other transactions will be either via the Government Gateway or through one of the channels being provided by some Community System Providers (CSPs).

HMRC is aware that some independent software companies who already provide customs packages, are developing ICS functionality which will sit at the front end of their systems and will connect with one of the above channels into ICS. If you are a carrier, or are likely to submit Entry Summary Declarations on behalf of a carrier (e.g. a groupage operator) it may be advisable to contact your current CSP and / or software supplier to obtain further information about this.

HMRC / ASPIRE are not developing a web interface to UK ICS, so there is no screen into which data can be manually input.

More information on technical specifications for ICS can be found at ICS: support for software developers..

Submitting the ENS

The operator of the active means of transport on or in which the goods are brought into the customs territory of the Community (e.g. the vessel, aircraft, train or road vehicle) commonly known as the carrier, is responsible for ensuring an ENS is filed.

The operator is the person who brings, or who assumes responsibility for the carriage of the goods into the customs territory of the Community. In the case of maritime or air traffic where a vessel sharing or contracting arrangement is in place, the obligation lies with the person who issues the bill of lading / air waybill for the actual carriage of the goods on the vessel / aircraft. For a deep sea container vessel, there may be several such ocean carriers.

Someone other than the carrier may lodge an ENS. However, as it is the carrier’s responsibility to ensure that it is submitted within the legal time limits, it must only be done by a representative with the carrier’s knowledge and consent.

ICS Phase 1 in other Member States

If you import goods into the EU via any Member State, then the requirements of ICS will apply to your business. Although cargo may be coming direct to the UK, the vessel carrying it may well initially call at an OoFE in another Member State. The ENS will need to be submitted to that Member State and so submission must accord with that Member State’s ICS implementation timeline.

Main elements of ICS Phase 1

ICS Phase 1 seeks to build upon the existing processes of:

  • presentation / arrival process for imported and transhipped goods
  • national risk analysis performed before imported goods are discharged 

ICS Phase 1 will provide for:

  • the lodging, handling and processing of an ENS in advance of the arrival of goods
  • the issue of a Movement Reference Number (MRN)
  • safety and security risk analysis to a common set of EU risk criteria
  • the exchange of positive risk results between member states
  • the ability to issue a Do Not Load (DNL) message where necessary (for deep- 
sea maritime containerised imports only)
  • the handling of a vessel or aircraft International Diversion Request
  • the processing of an Entry Key - this is a conveyance level number which can 
be used by carriers instead of many individual MRN’s in the exchange of 
  • Identification of AEOs to enable the benefits of a reduced data set and fewer 
physical and document based controls to be delivered. 

Entry Summary Declaration (ENS)

An ENS is an electronic declaration of goods being carried into the customs territory of the EU. The declaration is made to the customs OoFE in the EU and will be required for all goods carried on-board the means of transport, including: goods to be discharged at port/airport in the EU and those remaining on board and destined for port/airport outside of the EU.

ENS data received in ICS

Once the ENS is received in ICS, customs administrations will undertake risk analysis against an agreed set of criteria and, where a positive risk is identified will take appropriate action. This may include forwarding positive risk assessment information to subsequent Member States.

Risk analysis in the UK

Where a UK (air)port is to be the OeFE, all data on the ENS as provided to the UK ICS application will be run against the EU risk criteria.

Where positive results are detected, UK Border Agency (as delivery partners for HMRC at the UK frontier) will assess whether to intervene. This may mean issuing a DNL message, intercepting the goods on arrival in the UK, or merely forwarding the positive risk results to customs administration(s) in subsequent identified (air)ports in the EU.

DNL message

At the request of the maritime container industry, the time limit for the submission of an ENS for deep-sea containerised shipping is at least 24 hours before loading the vessel. This will allow risk assessment to be undertaken before goods are loaded and, in exceptional circumstances, allows for the customs authority at the first port of entry to notify the declarant and, where different, the carrier that the goods are not to be loaded. This is to avoid the possible necessity of unloading a suspicious container destined for elsewhere from the bottom of a large vessel at its first EU port of call.

There is no such message for air or other types of freight movement.

International Diversion Request

Where the active means of transport (vessel/aircraft/lorry) is to be diverted to a MS which is different from the MS where the declared OoFE is located and also different from where any of the declared OoSE are located, 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 OoFE.

For example, if all the lodged ENS’s show that a vessel is due to call at UK, NL, FR and DE but is diverted to IE (Ireland) then a diversion request will need to be sent to the UK as OoFE before the vessel reaches Ireland. The UK will then arrange for the ICS data to be forwarded to the Irish customs authority.

There is no need to submit a diversion request if the diversion is to another port/airport in either:

  • the MS already listed as OoFE
  • any port/airport in a MS already listed as an OoSE

Movement Reference Number (MRN)

The MRN is an ICS system generated number that is automatically allocated by the member state which, after successful validation, accepts and registers the received ENS. The MRN will be notified to the declarant and, where different, the carrier. You can view the structure of an ICS MRN in the UK TIS TIS (PDF, 1.51MB, 152 pages)

Entry Key

The Entry Key is a conveyance level reference which may be used instead of an MRN in the exchange of messages, for example, for a Diversion Request or an Arrival Notification. The Entry Key is comprised of 2 ENS data items:

  • the Identity and nationality of the active means of transport crossing the border
  • the date and time of arrival at the first place of arrival in the EU customs territory

The Entry Key will refer to all the ENS’s/MRNs which contain these same 2 data items. If a vessel or aircraft is diverted and the carrier has used an Entry Key it is easier to divert all the MRNs associated with that number from the declared OoFE on the ENS to the actual OoFE into the EU.


ICS does not replace the need to make a customs import declaration that is ordinarily submitted to Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF). ICS Phase 1 does not impact on fiscal customs declarations as the submission of an ENS to ICS is a totally separate process from the handling of the import customs declaration submitted to CHIEF.

ENS lodged

EU legislation requires that an electronic ENS must be lodged before arrival at the first point of entry into the customs territory of the Community but the time limits vary by mode of transport.

Additionally, in the case of maritime deep sea containerised shipments, it is required that the ENS is submitted before loading onto the vessel that will carry the goods into the customs territory of the Community.

Time limits

The time limits for the lodging of the ENS are set out in Article 184a of Implementing Regulation 2454/1993 (as amended by Commission Regulation 1875/2006). They vary according to the mode of transportation carrying the goods into the customs territory of the Community and are summarised in TIS (Annex B) TIS (PDF, 1.51MB, 152 pages) .

What data needs to include

The data requirements are laid down in Annex 30A of Commission Regulation 1875/2006. Tables based on this information and including some notes for clarification are attached at TIS (Annex C) TIS (PDF, 1.51MB, 152 pages) .

How traders and carriers are identified on the ENS

From 1 July 2009 it became mandatory for anyone involved in Customs activities in the EU to become registered for an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number.

The carrier or their representative submitting an ENS will need to ensure that they have a valid EORI number. In addition, EU consignees declared on the ENS, will also be identified by their EORI number. Consignees outside the EU will be identified by their EORI number if they have one or by their name and address.

ICS messaging system

The ENS is submitted to ICS using an XML message called an IE (Information Exchange) 315. The format and structure of all messages, including the rules and conditions required, can be found in the UK TIS TIS (PDF, 1.51MB, 152 pages) .

Contact HMRC

The Software Developer Support Team provides technical information and support services to software developers during the development and testing of their products.

Telephone: 03000 518308
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 09:00 - 17:00 (Closed Bank Holidays)

More information

Published 3 January 2010