Where’s my international package, and what the hell is “ISC?”

So your package has arrived in the U.S., and it’s now a matter of one or two days before it arrives in your hands, right? Wrong. The processing of international packages is one of the most inefficient, convoluted systems of the many governmental agencies that your tax dollars fund. Your status reveals something obscure like “Inbound out of customs” or some other nonsensical cluster of words. Regardless, the phrasing is completely misleading. At worst, it means that the plane carrying your package has landed at the airport. It does NOT mean that it’s gone through Customs. All packages from Singapore and India automatically go through Customs, regardless of what they contain. Customs doesn’t appear to answer to anyone, so if your package is more than 3 days with that status, CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) are the ones who have it.

What it also means is that USPS can’t (or won’t) touch your problem. While the USPS does see a different screen than we see when tracking packages, they have no access to reasons why Customs is holding a package. The ISC employees have been requesting that the language get changed, because they apparently haven’t even gotten their hands on the package yet and they’re being made to answer for it.

In fact, so many complaints have been lodged against the CBP that the US Office of Inspector General (OIG) completed an audit in late 2017 and found that the whole process is wildly flawed. Unfortunately, the audit meant nothing, because the USPS officials and CBP said they disagreed with the OIG findings. [Read below report if you want details.]


The laws are vague, so they’re abused. The CBP is allowed to hold anything from certain foreign locales (like the aforementioned) for any reason, usually under the guise it might be cigarettes or illicit or unapproved drugs. Most often they’re looking for fentanyl or heroin, but they’ll hold any package for any reason, and there’s no recourse. There are no listed contact numbers, no chain of command, no place to complain or inquire. Sometimes the holdup is actually that the palette of packages going to the same region isn’t full and they’re waiting for it to be worth breaking a sweat to move it to the next department.

My current package arrived last week after a 40-day wait. In general, a wait itself was nothing new, although this was my longest wait in 15 years. And wha-what?? No regretful serenade? No “we’re so sorry!” stamp? No explanation for its unlawful detainment? No sign that my confiscated package had been inspected in any way whatsoever? Frankly, my package could’ve contained a great number of illegal things that clearly sniff hounds and sub-par machinery couldn’t detect, but looking at it this very moment coated mostly with dust, except for a swipe the postal worker might have used to stick it in my mailbox, it seems like it got neither love nor hate during its time in the mail clink.

Your takeaway: usually your package finds a way to you at some point. The bad news is that if it was a gift, it’s embarrassingly late. The worst news: If it was meds, you’re in fetal position from withdrawal. Bottom line: crossing your fingers will get you as much progress as calling USPS or the CBP (if you’re lucky to get your hands on the right numbers.)

Here’s a link I found on the CBP website that gives instructions on how to trace your package, excuses for why they have it, blame that they shift on others, rights they have to hold it, etc. Good luck.

Mail – Lost / Missing package

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