SCAC stands for Standard Carrier Alpha Code. It a special, privately maintained code that consists of from two-to-four letters uniquely identifying transport and freight carriers with shippers, regulatory agencies, customs and brokers. The National Motor Freight Traffic Association is a private American organization that issues SCAC codes to carriers that apply to them. Research suggests that the majority of businesses will not work with transport carriers if they do not have an SCAC code.

Understanding the SCAC Code

The freight business is large, extensive and complex. It is easy for shippers to lose their cargo if they do not have a reliable form of identification for it. That is where the Standard Carrier Alpha Code comes in. The “Alpha” part of the name is related to the fact that the code consists of letters. These are between two-and-four letters, and each code is unique. These codes are used to identify transport carriers and are useful to various players in the industry, including regulatory authorities, customs, shippers and brokers, among others. The National Motor Freight Association or NMFA issues SCAC codes and has instilled confidence in the industry and received positive feedback from various stakeholders. But SCAC codes are not just about trust; the code system is also extremely efficient.

SCAC codes can be used to track cargo while it is still in transit, which helps make the supply chain more efficient. The NMFA even introduced a web service for SCAC codes to help streamline services. On the website, clients can track the location of a container in transit using its SCAC code in the comfort of their homes or offices. This has effectively reduced the costs associated with following up on cargo in transit.

Getting a Code

The first step prior to performing an SCAC lookup is to apply for the code. You can apply on the organization’s website or apply in mail or in person to the NMFTA located in Alexandria, VA. You can contact them at (703) 838-1831 for details. There's a $66 application fee which you pay using your credit card.

Structure of SCAC Code Explained

There is a simple structure to how the code works. Every SCAC number that is issued begins with the first letter of the first name of the applying company. If your company is Happy Cargo Transportation Company, for example, then the Standard Carrier Alpha Code will begin with the letter H. If, however, the name of the company includes your personal name, then the rules change a bit. The SCAC code will begin with the first letter of your last name.

If your legal name isn’t the same as your trade name or the doing business as (dba) name, then it is your trade name that will appear on the certification issued to you by the NMFA. Your legal name will be omitted from the certification. As an applicant, you have the option to decide whether you would like to apply for multiple codes from the service to cater to different operations you will undertake. If, for example, you are operating both as a freight forwarding business and as a motor carrier business, then you can apply separately for FF and MC SCAC numbers.

If your company has USDOT, MC, FF, or MX numbers, then the names should match the ones you submitted to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. If the names do not match, you will have to get them corrected. You can do that by contacting the National Motor Freight Traffic Association and giving them the appropriate corrections. The application process is quite swift, and applications are typically approved in a maximum of two weeks.

If you made your application through the website, then your confirmation letter and SCAC number should be delivered through email. If you applied via regular postal mail, then you should expect your confirmation letter in your mailbox. This is a way to streamline the whole application process so that applicants do not end up having to wait too long to receive their SCAC codes.

If you forgot your SCAC number, the steps to finding your SCAC code are relatively simple and straightforward.

Confirmation Documents

The first step is to check your confirmation documents. These are documents that are supplied to you after you have applied for an SCAC number from the National Motor Freight Traffic Association. The documents indicate that if you applied for your code through the association’s website, you would receive your confirmation via email. You should, therefore, be sure to check all the various official emails you use for your business as well as paper documents to find the confirmation documents, especially if you don’t remember exactly how you applied for the SCAC numbers.

Shipping Documents

You can also search moving or shipping documents to find your forgotten SCAC code. The SCAC code is unique for every freight carrier. As a result, shippers will refer to this code when they prepare billing and shipping documents to specify the freight carrier that will be handling goods. This includes such things as freight bills, packing lists, purchase orders and bills of lading, all of which will most likely feature your SCAC code.

If you used a freight carrier for a move, then all the paperwork related to the move will contain your SCAC code. You should comb through all your moving and shipping documents to find this number. It shouldn’t be hard to find since it appears at the top of the documents.

Check with the National Motor Freight Traffic Association

The third method to find a forgotten number is to check directly with the National Motor Freight Traffic Association. The organization maintains a comprehensive master directory of all SCAC numbers that it has issued. You will find this directory either online on the organization’s website, or offline in print, in which case you would ask for it from the organization, usually for a small fee.

If you are unable to find your number, especially if you have checked online, then you can call the National Motor Freight Traffic Association directly on their customer service line (703-838-1810).

You can also contact regulatory agencies to find your lost SCAC code. These include customs and border control, as well as other regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction over freight carriers. You have to register your SCAC number with several regulatory agencies. The United States Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, mandates that SCAC numbers should be used for their Automated Commercial Environment, their Automated Manifest and their Pre-Arrival Processing. The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, requires these numbers to be used in their Prior Notice System Interface which tracks imported food. All government agencies require these codes when doing business with private carriers as well.

Since all of these agencies require you to register your SCAC number with them before shipping or transporting goods, they can easily provide you with your SCAC code.

If you would like to find another carrier’s SCAC code, you can get it from the National Motor Freight Traffic Association in print form or online for a fee.