Beginners Guide to Becoming CTPAT Certified for Carriers

Things have changed a lot in the freight industry in just a few short years. Carriers have had to adapt, whether it’s more straightforward navigation and fleet tracking with GPS or changes to regulations. Regulations, laws, cross-border freight rules...

Beginners Guide to Becoming CTPAT Certified for Carriers

Things have changed a lot in the freight industry in just a few short years. Carriers have had to adapt, whether it’s more straightforward navigation and fleet tracking with GPS or changes to regulations. Regulations, laws, cross-border freight rules, and more have changed dramatically. While it’s mainly for the best, it does require constant change within organizations that work to move goods throughout North America.

CTPAT or Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism is just one of those changes, and, while it’s been around since 2001, additional legislation and changes to international shipping regulations mean it’s become more important than ever to become CTPAT certified. So, let’s look at precisely what that means, what it takes, and what you can do to build CTPAT best practices into your carrier business.

What Is CTPAT?

CTPAT is a government program created to protect U.S. borders against terrorism by improving supply chain security.

This system covers all U.S. borders, including those with Mexico and Canada, as well as ports and other points of entry. Companies that apply for CTPAT certification must implement rigorous and comprehensive security protocols, ensuring that the freight carriers carry will not be used in any illegal or terror operations in the U.S. or the countries its carriers supply.

Vehicle inspections under the CTPAT program are designed to ensure that only the items listed on the shipping manifest actually make it onto the vehicle.

If you’re a freight carrier that regularly transports goods overland borders with Canada and Mexico, it’s an excellent idea to consider CTPAT certification. Certified carriers have shorter wait times at borders, less invasive and time-consuming inspections, access to FAST lanes, and more benefits.

It might take time to get certified and a little work to stay compliant, but it can dramatically speed the process of crossing land borders to and from the U.S.

How to Get CTPAT Certification

If you own or manage a highway freight carrier operation that frequently crosses the border with Mexico or Canada (or both), it’s a perfect idea to apply for CTPAT certification. There’s no cost to become a CTPAT partner, and companies of all sizes can use it, but there is a fixed process to apply. Once approved, you will have to continue to meet security standards to remain CTPAT certified. The most important steps to note are:

  • You must be a carrier that regularly crosses the border with Mexico, Canada, or both.
  • Your application will be based on the country you ship to (Mexico or Canada), or if you ship to and from both, you will apply under the Mexico criteria.
  • Submit business information required by CTPAT, based on the country your business is located.
  • Businesses in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico can all apply for CTPAT certification.
  • There are CTPAT field offices in Buffalo, New York, Houston, Texas, Los Angeles, California, Miami, Florida, New York City, and Newark, New Jersey.
  • There is also a digital CTPAT portal to submit and manage your application and account.
  • Have a six-digit DOT number and a four-digit SCAC Code
  • Designate someone in your company to be your CTPAT security official
  • Complete and sign the CTPAT-Partner Agreement to Participate Voluntarily
  • Create a supply chain security profile on the CTPAT portal – this outline how you will comply with CTPAT requirements
  • Remain in good financial standing with CBP

Once you are accepted to the program, you will need to implement several administrative and other processes and procedures to ensure you keep your CTPAT certification. There are also minimum inspections that need to be done for each shipment, which includes:

  • A complete review of your vehicles before they are packed for transportation, including the walls, floors, ceiling, doors, and other parts of the container or vehicle
  • Full inspection of all tractors and trailers, including bumpers, fuel tanks, cab, and interior, fifth wheel and other storage compartments, and more

These inspections are conducted to ensure that no modifications have been made to conceal any contraband material and that nothing has been hidden. CTPAT members must also search for any potential agricultural pests and contaminants.

By conducting these inspections before every shipment, CTPAT members help to ensure that nothing other than their manifest listed cargo is present on their vehicles. Helping to maintain the security at borders, and in return for their diligence, carriers get expedited processing at borders most of the time.

There’s no guarantee that your vehicles won’t be required to undergo additional inspection if you are a CTPAT member, but in most cases, border crossings will be quicker and easier if you are.

Technology and CTPAT

As with any regulatory process, being a member of CTPAT has pros and cons. The pros are that your vehicles will almost certainly spend less time waiting at border crossings and can get expedited processing in FAST lanes. The cons are that the application process can take some time, and you will need to build inspections and checks into your loading process.

Fortunately, these days, we have technology on our side, and one of the ways you can automate and expedite this process is to use a system like gatego.

Gatego is a software solution designed to make compliance with CTPAT as quick and easy as possible. A simple, automated process allows all of your vehicles to check in digitally when ready to load and then allows your security team to conduct inspections, upload images and data, and complete all required processes in real-time. As soon as the checks are complete and the vehicle is ready for loading, inspection data is available digitally on gatego. So, you can analyze, store, and share it as required.

This simple to use system streamlines the process of inspecting all of your trucks and trailers and ensures that you’ll never load a trailer that hasn’t been cleared. Data for the truck, trailer, driver, and shipment is stored securely in the cloud, so you can access it whenever you need it, and you can add as many images as required.

Even better, with secure sign-in for your inspection team, and a paperless system, there’s no risk that documents will be forged, falsified, or lost, so there’s accountability built into every shipment, every step of the way.

In fact, while you could do things the old-fashioned way, you’ll probably find that a digital yard management system like gatego gets the job done faster and better and cuts down the time required to get your vehicles cleared for loading. Time is money, and in this case, technology that helps you to comply with CTPAT will put more profit in every shipment.

Even better, because gatego is cloud-based, you can use it at all your yards, facilities, and warehouses. So, your processes are always uniform, and you can always access information from anywhere you need it.

For a free trial and up-front pricing, without the pressure of long-term contracts, visit