3 Things Commercial Carriers Need to Know Before Crossing the Border

Debra Edwards - October 12, 2023

Anyone who has crossed a border between countries knows the process can go smoothly – or it can be a nightmare.

We want all carriers to have smooth experiences at the Canadian border, so we’d like to share three things that are important for you to know when crossing:

1. Carriers must have a Standard Carrier Alpha Code™ (SCAC®). The National Motor Freight Traffic Association, Inc. (NMFTA)™ assigns these codes, which are required by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to be used with three of their automated systems. They are the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) and Pre-Arrival Processing System (PAPS).

The ACE is the system through which the trade community reports imports and exports. The government uses ACE to determine what is admissible to enter the country. The ACE is an electronic information transmission system through which those making air and ocean shipments must file detailed information about the cargo.

The Pre-Arrival Processing System (PAPS) is the default shipment type for commercial goods entering the United States by truck, so any goods transported to the United States by a highway carrier must clear under PAPS unless they qualify for another shipment type or other exemption. PAPS assigns a shipment control number, which the carrier assigns to shipments that require pre-arrival clearance. A PAPS number must begin with the carrier’s SCAC, so without a SCAC, carriers will not be able to bring in PAPS-type goods.

2. When entering into Canada, carriers must have a code through the Pre-Arrival Review System (PARS). PARS is a Canadian shipment type for goods to clear through the Commercial Border Services Agency, and on an ACI eManifest. Any goods transported into Canada by a highway carrier must clear under a PARS unless they qualify for another shipment type or other exemption.

PARS depends on the use of PARS numbers, a type of Cargo Control Number that the carrier designates for pre-arrival usage. Usually this is done by having PARS stickers printed in sequence in order to physically ensure that any given number cannot be reused by mistake.

3. NMFTA can provide both PAPS and PARS bar code labels. Any carrier planning to enter commercially into the United States or into Canada should contact us to get bar code labels – for PAPS if entering the U.S., and for PARS if entering Canada. Carriers do need to understand, though, that while we assign the SCAC codes used with PAPS, the CBSA assigns the codes used with PARS.

PAPS barcode labels will reference your four-letter SCAC along with a series of unique numbers the carrier can select. For example, if the SCAC code is ABCD and the carrier selects 123456, then the barcode labels will display ABCD123456.

Similarly, PARS barcode labels will reference the carrier code (which consists of letters and numbers) along with a series of unique numbers that the carrier is able to select.

There are also some specific requirements for carriers who are entering ports. When we hear from carriers that they are going to enter a U.S. port, we connect them to eModal.com to ensure they have the information they need.

Through eModal, trucking companies can set up pre-gate appointments by providing the terminal or port with the information they need prior to the truck arriving at the port. That makes it possible for the driver to enter the gate or terminal.

The eModal platform also facilitates things like the payment of export fees.

When entering Canada, drivers can use a similar platform developed by the Canadian government called e-Manifest, which allows those involved with trade to electronically transmit their pre-arrival information.

We realize it can be daunting for trucking companies to comply with all of this. That’s one of the reasons that, since 2007, NMFTA has maintained a partnership with CrimsonLogic – a global tech company that digitalizes global trade and enables companies to comply with government regulations and mandates.

Winnie Lau, a Toronto-based director at CrimsonLogic, explained that the company can either provide a digital platform for trucking companies to make these e-Manifest submissions to Customs Authorities, or can make the submissions on the trucking companies’ behalf.

“If we turn back the clock to 20 years ago, truck drivers are all showing paper manifest at the border,” Lau said. “CBPO officers have to check the paperwork and stamp releases. Those times are gone. Customs now want everything reported digitally, and they want everything one hour before the truck gets there to risk assess goods.”

Lau said any truck looking to cross the border between the U.S. and Canada will need to ensure two things are in place. One is the e-Manifest. The other is to ensure the shipment has customs clearance if required.

“Once the broker clears the goods, there’s an entry number,” Lau said. “The officer at the border will look to see if the shipment has an entry number, in addition to checking if the truck has an e-Manifest on file.”

While CrimsonLogic does not assign the entry number, it can recognize that one is missing and help the truck driver solve the problem in advance of arrival at the border.

The robust digital platform provided by CrimsonLogic allows trucking companies to make sure that happens, or they can send CrimsonLogic their paperwork and the staff there will take care of it. Often that can ease the mind of truck drivers who worry about issues that might leave them stuck at the border.

“When you submit e-Manifest to customs, Customs will come back with an accept or reject response,” Lau said. “I think a lot of people are worried about receiving a rejection. How do they fix the issue? If they face problems at the border, who can they call? CrimsonLogic is here to ensure that all drivers can cross the border successfully, without any issues or delays.

At NMFTA, we and our partners know the ropes. We can help when it comes to commercial carrier border crossings. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at customerservice@nmfta.org before crossing the border for any and all assistance.

Debra Edwards
Debra Edwards

NMFTA's Senior Manager of Business Development, Debra Edwards, oversees the association's widely-used products such as Standard Carrier Alpha Code™ (SCAC®) and its related SCAC Data products such as: SCAC Online, SCAC Web Service, SCAC Daily Distribution Service and Quarterly Distribution Service.