The Essential CTPAT Audit Checklist

by Vector | Mar 26, 2021 9:20:00 AM

The-Essential-CTPAT-Audit-ChecklistBorder security is a growing area of focus. COVID-19 certainly brought border controls to the forefront as nations and even states introduced travel restrictions. But after borders began to close due to health concerns, the subsequent economic impacts soon rippled throughout the global supply chain.

Each year, an estimated 11 million maritime containers arrive at United States seaports. At U.S. land borders, another 11 million arrive by truck, and 2.7 million come by rail.

According to a report by, COVID travel restrictions resulted in reduced available capacity, imbalanced container availability, canceled shipments, congestion in specific ports, and extra related costs due to congestion. In short, the international flow of goods took a serious hit. Perhaps we're still unraveling the knot COVID created within the supply chain.

Fortunately, when it comes to navigating the borders, there are a couple of things your organization can do to improve your situation and bottom line.

One big step an organization can take is to get a CTPAT certification. This article is going to help you tackle this certification process and prepare you with a CTPAT audit checklist.

CTPAT: a United States Customs and Border Protection Initiative for the 21st Century

First of all, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) comes from the United States Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP).

The CTPAT is a voluntary—and free—program that's intended to help protect the global supply chain. Specifically, CTPAT has a primary focus on identifying, locating, and preventing the concealment of terrorist weapons. Indeed, this includes the identification of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). In short, it's good for everyone. We all can agree we want to do our part to help prevent terrorist activity, especially within our country's borders.

That said, a CTPAT certificate benefits the companies that join as well. The CPB conducted an internal study on the CTPAT program through the University of Houston. The majority of respondents included in the study reported "CTPAT membership benefits outweigh the cost of program participation."

Why Get CTPAT Certified?

Obviously, the first box on the CTPAT audit checklist is deciding that getting certified is wise for your company. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, gaining the CTPAT certificate has many benefits.

  • Reduced number of CBP examinations
  • Front-of-the-line inspections
  • Possible exemption from stratified exams, which involve customs officers counting every carton to make sure there's a precise match with the documents
  • Shorter wait times at borders
  • Assignment of a supply chain security specialist to your company
  • Access to the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) lanes for low-risk shipments at land borders
  • Access to the CTPAT web-based portal system and a library of useful training materials
  • The possibility of enjoying additional benefits by being recognized as a trusted trade partner by foreign customs administrations that have signed mutual recognition agreements with the United States
  • Eligibility for other U.S. government pilot programs, including the Food and Drug Administration’s Secure Supply Chain program
  • Getting priority to resume business after a natural disaster or terrorist attack
  • Importer eligibility to take part in the Importer Self-Assessment program (ISA)
  • Priority consideration at CBP’s industry-focused Centers of Excellence and Expertise

So, certification benefits both parties. You become a known entity to the CBP. In turn, you essentially gain pre-clearance from the CBP. In short, the CTPAT certificate has many clear benefits.

So how do you get certified?

Which Companies Are Getting CTPAT Certified?

Obviously, the CTPAT partnership is for organizations involved with the global supply chain. Typical United States organizations that partner within the CTPAT program include:

  • Importers
  • Customs brokers
  • Terminal operators
  • Over-the-road carriers
  • Sea carriers
  • Rail carriers
  • Foreign manufacturers
  • Third-party logistics (3PL) organizations
  • Consolidators

Does your company fall into one of the categories noted above? Then you've come to the right place for CTPAT audit checklist. Indeed, it's critical to understand the CTPAT program certification process.

Preparing for the CTPAT Application Process

First of all, expect a U.S. Customs and Border Protection CTPAT supply chain security specialist to contact you in order to schedule an audit. Passing your CTPAT certificate audit can be difficult or relatively painless depending on whether you prepare correctly in advance. The key to a successful and painless CTPAT audit is the same as any audit. It all starts with your documentation process.

In general, getting organized shouldn't be considered an event. Instead, it's much easier to simply view document management as a way of life.

We'll get into the specifics later in this article. But for now, let's just note that the world of tech has solutions in terms of capture, storage, and access as they relate to critical documents. Digitized documentation and an integrated tech stack can make your life easier—and not just during an audit.

The Steps to CTPAT Certification

Companies looking to earn their CTPAT certificate are expected to check several boxes.

  1. The first step is to review the CTPAT Minimum Security Criteria for your business entity to determine eligibility for the program.
  2. If you qualify, you'll create an account and log in to the website.
  3. Next, you'll fill out a basic application on the CTPAT portal system and agree to voluntarily participate.
  4. As part of your online application, you'll then be asked to conduct a self-assessment. This will be a preliminary self-audit of your of supply chain security procedures against the CTPAT criteria.
  5. The next step is completing a supply chain security profile. In the security profile, you explain how you're meeting CTPAT’s minimum security criteria.
  6. After you've completed the online application process, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will assign a CTPAT supply chain security specialist (SCSS) to your company.

The CTPAT Audit Checklist: Where to Focus Your Attention

The CBP self-audit validation process consists of a risk assessment of your company. In total, the audit will cover several areas of your operation. Both the self-assessment and interview with your SCSS will include questions that dive into aspects of your business that include the crossing of borders. Those areas of focus include but are not limited to:

  • Risk assessment
  • Company policies, procedures, and documentation
  • Shipment controls and procedures
  • Meeting the minimum security criteria in terms of personnel, physical capital, and technology
  • Warehousing storage management systems
  • Distribution network documentation
  • Paperwork and proper documentation

Check these boxes, and your CTPAT audit should go smoothly. That said, audits can be a hefty burden. The requests for documentation can send your office staff on a quest to look for paperwork. It can feel like a wild-goose chase.

One More Box on the CTPAT Audit Checklist—Digitized Document Software

There's another box you may want to check before your CTPAT audit: digitized documents.

The logistics industry has traditionally been very paper-heavy. But digitized document software is ushering in a paperless future. Instead of hitting the filing cabinets, imagine how much easier it would be to search for required documents the way you search Google!

The leader in the digitized document space is Vector. Vector helps streamline the audit process by helping a company to digitize documents that are related to supply chain security processes and procedures. Vector also partners with dozens of other logistics industry companies in order to support an integrated tech stack. In other words, if you work with a TMS or DMS provider, there's a good chance Vector works with them too.

In summary, the audit process doesn't have to be painful. Vector's software can simplify CTPAT audits and compliance. Beyond that, tomorrow will certainly bring another challenge. Digitized document software like Vector's will help streamline workflows throughout your org chart. Consider it a universal tool for process improvement.

In summary, as the global supply chain becomes more networked, safety will remain a growing concern for us all.

Further Resources and FAQs

Let's cover a few more items before you go. If you want to learn more about the CTPAT program, the website has additional information, including an FAQ page.

For more information, you can contact Industry Partnership Programs at (202) 344-1180, fax (202) 344-2626, or email at After you complete your initial application, you can make a followup request for an SCSS by sending an email to that same address.

The CBP holds workshops and events to outline the program. Check here for the next event.

This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.

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