In Finance, what is a General Order?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 August 2019
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A general order is related to the process of importing goods. The term is commonly used in the United States to refer to a warehouse where goods that are not immediately cleared through US Customs are stored, pending further investigation. A general order can also refer to a customs penalty that is applied to the merchandise while it is awaiting clearance.

Goods that are awaiting approval may remain on the transport carrier for a limited period of time. If five working days pass from the initial attempt to move the goods through Customs, and the issue is still not resolved, the goods are then moved to the approved warehouse space. At that point, the importer begins to incur a general order penalty that helps to cover the cost of the temporary storage. The general order charge continues to accrue until the issue surrounding the goods is resolved, either by Customs officials approving the entry of the goods into the country, or refusing entry to the goods. At that point, the importer must make arrangements to ship the goods back to their point of origin.


A general order does not necessarily mean that the imported goods pose any type of threat or are not eligible for import into the United States. In many cases, the issue will have nothing to do with the type or quality of the goods themselves. The documentation on the imported goods may be incomplete or contain information that requires clarification before the goods can be accepted by Customs and allowed to enter the country. When this is the case, the goods are stored in an approved warehouse until the issue with the paperwork is resolved.

All imports to the United States must meet specific standards set by the government. This can include the way that the goods are classified on the accompanying documents, the tariffs that are prepared and presented to Customs officials when the shipment arrives in the country, and a number of other factors. If anything seems out of order to Customs officials, they have the responsibility to declare a general order, withholding authorization for the goods to enter the country, and initiating an investigation to determine whether or not the shipment can eventually be cleared for entry.

The purpose of the general order is to provide a specific process for managing goods arriving in the country that have some type of irregularity. At times, the issue may have to do with suspicion of some type of contamination of the goods, or the use of seemingly innocuous goods to transport illegal substances into the United States. While detaining an inbound shipment can occur for these reasons, the issue is often more a matter of an incomplete or improperly prepared document. When this is the case, the problem can often be corrected in twenty-four hours or less, and the shipment can be cleared for entry into the country.


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