Frequently Asked Questions

Exporting Basics: Documentation

What documents will I need to export my goods?

Exporting involves a lot of paperwork -- some required by the U.S. government, some by the importing country. All documents must be fully and precisely filled out. Even slight discrepancies or omissions could hold up a shipment on departure or arrival; delay payment; or even risk seizure of the goods. Given the burden and risk, most exporters rely on freight forwarders to handle all the required documentation. They’re specialists in this process. They know what’s needed and how to do it. The following documents are most often required in exporting, either for each export shipment or for certain products only:

Commercial invoice. As in a domestic transaction, the commercial invoice is a bill for the goods from the seller to the buyer. A commercial invoice lists the quantity, weight, unit price and total price of each exported, along with other basic information about the transaction. The buyer needs the invoice to prove ownership and to arrange payment. Some governments use the commercial invoice to assess customs duties.

Shipper's Export Declaration (SED). The SED is required by the U.S. to control exports and compile trade statistics. SEDs must be prepared and submitted to the U.S. customs agent for shipments by mail valued at more than $500 and for shipments by other means valued at more than $2,500. 22

Export packing list. Considerably more detailed and informative than a standard domestic packing list, an export packing list itemizes the material in each individual package and indicates the type of package: box, crate, drum, carton, and so on. It shows the individual net, legal, tare, and gross weights and measurements for each package (in both U.S. and metric systems). Package markings should be shown along with the shipper's and buyer's references. The packing list should be attached to the outside of a package in a waterproof envelope marked "packing list enclosed." The list is used by the shipper or forwarding agent to determine the total shipment weight and volume and whether the correct cargo is being shipped. In addition, customs officials (both U.S. and foreign) may use the list to check the cargo.

Bill of lading. Bills of lading are contracts between the owner of the goods and the carrier (as with domestic shipments). There are two types. A straight bill of lading is nonnegotiable. A negotiable or shipper's order bill of lading can be bought, sold, or traded while goods are in transit and is used for letter-of-credit transactions. The customer usually needs the original or a copy as proof of ownership to take possession of the goods.

Dock receipt and warehouse receipt. These receipts are used to transfer accountability when the export item is moved by the domestic carrier to the port of embarkation and left with the international carrier for export.

Insurance certificate. If the seller provides insurance, the insurance certificate states the type and amount of coverage. This instrument is negotiable.

Consular invoice. Certain countries require a consular invoice, which is used to control and identify goods. The invoice must be purchased from the consulate of the destination country and usually must be prepared in that country’s language.

Certificate of origin. Certain nations require a signed statement as to the origin of the export item. Such certificates are usually obtained through a semiofficial organization such as a local chamber of commerce. A certificate may be required even though the commercial invoice contains the information. A NAFTA Certificate of Origin is required for shipments to Mexico and Canada.

Inspection certificate. Some purchasers and countries may require a certificate of inspection attesting to the specifications of the goods shipped, usually performed by a third party. Inspection certificates are often obtained from independent testing organizations.

Import License - Import licenses are the responsibility of the importer. Including a copy with the rest of you

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