Facilitation (FAL) – enhancing the free flow of trade by ship


Simple and efficient cross border trade - the digital way

When ships enter and leave port, detailed and specific administrative information needs to be exchanged with the authorities ashore. This used to mean paperwork. But Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is quicker, better and more efficient for everybody – and EDI is a mandatory requirement (since April 2019) under the IMO’s International Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (the FAL Convention).

This means that public authorities are required to set up electronic systems for ship reporting formalities. This applies to all the documentation needed to fulfil the standard regulatory requirements – the cargo declaration, dangerous goods declaration, crew manifests, vessel details and so on.

Port authorities, maritime administrations, customs, police, immigration, health and agricultural authorities and all other relevant bodies must be part of the port EDI system. Ships’ agents, terminal operators, tug and pilot services and others can also be included - making things quicker, simpler and more effective for everyone. 


IMO can provide technical assistance to governments that need help to fulfil their mandatory obligations under the FAL Convention.

IMO has also developed the IMO Compendium, a technical reference manual for software developers within the relevant public authorities. The IMO Compendium harmonizes the data elements requested by the various public authorities and standardizes the electronic messages. IMO has also issued guidelines for setting up a maritime single window.

All this will help make cross-border trade simpler and the logistics chain more efficient, for the more than 10 billion tons of goods which are traded by sea annually across the globe.

Download and view the brochure to find out what the obligations are and how IMO can help to implement them.

Simple and efficient cross border trade - the digital way (PDF download)

Simple and efficient cross border trade - the digital way (online digital issue)

Maritime single window

The FAL Convention encourages use of the so-called “single window” concept in which all the many agencies and authorities involved exchange data via a single point of contact. The maritime single window system allows for the streamlining of procedures, via electronic systems, for provision of information related to the arrival, stay and departure of the ship itself, and data on its crew, passengers and cargo, in accordance with the requirements of the FAL Convention.

IMO has been supporting Member States to prepare for electronic data exchange, with national and regional seminars and work shops.

A successful International Maritime Organization (IMO) project promoted by Norway to establish a maritime "single window" in Antigua and Barbuda has been completed – and the source code for the system will now be made available to other countries who need it. Read more here.

What is FAL?

When a ship comes in to port it may be the end of a voyage but it’s just the beginning of a whole range of administrative tasks that need to be done.

Customs declarations for cargo and ships’ stores; immigration clearance for crew and passengers and their baggage; import and export permits: these are just the tip of the iceberg. And when the ship leaves, it’s the same process all over again.

This is what we call Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic – or FAL for convenience.

Why does it matter?

FAL matters because, if it goes smoothly, shipments move more quickly, more easily and more efficiently. But if it goes badly, delays, inefficiencies and extra costs are inevitable.

Statistics show that countries with more efficient FAL infrastructure have better import and export figures. There’s a clear link between reducing red tape and competitiveness.

Efficient trade facilitation can help reduce transport costs and thereby contribute to sustainable development.

Click here to download the flyer on Facilitation.

The FAL Convention

For international shipping, a unified, global approach to FAL is vital. These activities are regulated and streamlined by an international treaty called the FAL Convention.

It’s been in force since 1967 but is kept continually amended and updated by Governments at the FAL Committee of IMO – which meets once a year at IMO’s London Headquarters.

The FAL Convention contains standards and recommended practices and rules for simplifying formalities, documentary requirements and procedures on ships’ arrival, stay and departure.

Under the FAL Committee, IMO has developed standardised FAL documentation for authorities and Governments to use, and the FAL Convention urges all stakeholders to do this.

The FAL Convention makes it mandatory for ships and ports to exchange FAL data electronically. The FAL Convention also encourages use of the so-called “single window” concept in which all the many agencies and authorities involved exchange data via a single point of contact.

Action for Governments

FAL is not just about ships and it’s not just about port authorities. There’s a wide range of stakeholders in the FAL process and everyone needs to be involved.

Governments are often represented at the FAL Committee by maritime or port authorities. But customs, health, police, immigration, agriculture, and defence authorities are all involved in the FAL process.

The FAL Convention recommends that Member Governments establish a national facilitation committee, involving all stakeholders, to develop a national facilitation programme, adopt practical measures and make recommendations.

Communication is vital. For the FAL process to work effectively, all stakeholders must get involved and talk to each other, at both the national and the international level. At the international level, the IMO FAL Committee is where this happens.

Learn more