General Order (GO): Understanding Imports With Missing Paperwork

What Is a General Order (GO)?

A general order (GO) is a status given to imported goods that are missing the proper documentation or cannot be quickly cleared through customs for other reasons. Merchandise may be held under general order if the proper duties, fees, or interest are not paid, if the owner fails to complete the required customs paperwork, or if it is not correctly or legally invoiced. Goods will be held under general order if they remain uncleared for more than 15 days.

Key Takeaways

  • Imported goods either missing proper paperwork or not claimed within 15 days are classified by U.S. Customs as General Order (GO).
  • After the 15 days are up, the goods get moved to a class 11 general order warehouse, which is a type of bonded warehouse.
  • If the items are under General Order for more than six months, they can be either seized by the government, donated to charity, or auctioned.
  • The auctions are held by the U.S. Customs, take place monthly online on a nationwide basis, or locally at public spaces like hotels near the ports.

Understanding General Orders (GOs)

After 15 days, any general order merchandise will be moved to a Class 11 bonded warehouse under the authority set forth in Title 19, United States Code (U.S.C.), section 1555. The risk of transportation and storage of the goods remains with the owner of the merchandise.

If the goods remain under general order for more than six months, the merchandise will be confiscated by the government or put up for an auction run by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. Live auctions take place each month online (nationwide) or at public venues like a hotel located close to ports. Auctions are open to anyone except CBP employees and their immediate family members. Bidders must place down a $5,000 deposit to participate. Purchases are nonrefundable and the buyers are responsible for picking up the merchandise.

The port of entry or company that first receives the goods into the United States is responsible for letting U.S. Customs know within 20 days of arrival that unclaimed or incorrectly documented items are being held—subject to a fine of up to $1,000.

Real-World Example of a General Order

On February 16-17, 2017, the CBP held a nationwide online auction for general order merchandise abandoned at ports and moved to bonded warehouses. After six months, the merchandise became eligible for auction. The list of items included the following:

  • 2011 Mercedes Benz ML350
  • 2011 Ford Fusion
  • 2010 Chevrolet Camaro
  • Women's and men's clothing
  • Quilts
  • Framed mirrors, bathroom vanity with mirrors, and a table with a glass top
  • Toy cars
  • Lamps and lighting accessories
  • Carbon steel pipe
  • Backpacks
Article Sources
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  1. Code of Federal Regulations. "19 CFR §123.10—General Order Merchandise." Accessed July 8, 2021.

  2. Code of Federal Regulations. "19 CFR §19.9—General Order, Abandoned, and Seized Merchandise." Accessed July 8, 2021.

  3. United States Code. "19 USC §1555—Bonded Warehouses." Accessed July 8, 2021.

  4. CWS Asset Management & Sales. "FAQs—US Customs GO Merchandise." Accessed July 8, 2021.

  5. CWS Asset Management & Sales, Inc. "Bid Results—U.S. Customs & Border Protection GO Merchandise, 17-54-271/321," Pages 1-3. Accessed July 8, 2021.

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