Common Export Documents
When it comes to selling and shipping your products outside of the United States, there are standard documents used for exporting. To know which documents are needed for an export shipment, the best place to start is your foreign customer/importer or a freight forwarder. By obtaining correct information, you are helping your customer efficiently clear the goods with customs in the target market.
Commonly Used Export Documents
A proforma invoice is an important document used as a negotiating tool between the seller and the buyer prior to an export shipment. This document should be used by the seller to quote at the beginning of an export transaction and it will eventually become the final commercial invoice used when goods are cleared through customs in the importing country. The document contains a description of goods (e.g., quantity, price, weight, kind and other specifications) and is a declaration by the seller to provide the products and services to the buyer at the specified date and price.
The commercial invoice is a legal document between the exporter and the buyer (in this case, the foreign buyer) that clearly states the goods being sold and the amount the customer is to pay. The commercial invoice is one of the main documents used by customs in determining customs duties. A commercial invoice is a bill for the goods from the seller to the buyer. These documents are often used by governments to determine the true value of goods when assessing customs duties. Governments that use the commercial invoice to control imports will often specify its form, content, number of copies, language to be used and other characteristics.
Considerably more detailed and informative than a standard domestic packing list, an export packing list lists seller, buyer, shipper, invoice number, date of shipment, mode of transport, carrier, and itemizes quantity, description, the type of package, such as a box, crate, drum, or carton, the quantity of packages, total net and gross weight (in kilograms), package marks and dimensions, if appropriate. Both commercial stationers and freight forwarders carry packing-list forms. A packing list may serve as conforming document. It is not a substitute for a commercial invoice. In addition, U.S. and foreign customs officials may use the packing list to check the cargo so the commercial invoice should reflect the information shown on the packing list.
Air freight shipments require airway bills. An air way bill accompanies goods shipped by an international air carrier. The document provides detailed information about the shipment and allows it to be tracked. Air waybills are shipper-specific and are not negotiable documents (as opposed to “order” bills of lading used for vessel shipments).
Bill of Lading
A bill of lading is a contract between the owner of the goods and the carrier (as with domestic shipments). For ocean shipments, there are two common types: a straight bill of lading, which is non-negotiable, and a negotiable, or shipper's order bill of lading. The latter can be used to buy, sell or trade the goods while in transit. The customer usually needs an original bill of lading as proof of ownership to take possession of the goods from the ocean carrier.
Export Compliance Documents
Electronic Export Information Filing (EEI) is the electronic export data as filed in the Automated Export System (AES). This data is the electronic equivalent of the export data formerly collected as Shipper's Export Declaration (SED) information. The EEI must be electronically filed via the Automated Export System online, which is a free service from Census and Customs. It is required for any shipments with items per Schedule B number exceeding $2,500* in value and for shipments of any value requiring an export license.
A complete guide to filing electronic export information in the Automated Commerce Environment (AESDirect) is an excellent resource. See EEI and AESDirect. To sign up and log into the ACE system directly, visit the portal at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
*Note: The EEI is required for shipments to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the former Pacific Trust Territories (unless each “Schedule B” item in the shipment is under $2,500) even though they are not considered exports. Shipments to Canada do not require an EEI except in cases where an export license is required. (Shipments to third countries passing through Canada do need an EEI.)
The USPPI, a required field in the EEI, as defined in the Foreign Trade Regulations ("FTR"), is the person in the United States that receives the primary benefit, monetary or otherwise, of the export transaction. The attached article describes responsibilities of the USPPI, and offers a handy checklist to assure compliance with U.S. export regulations.
An export license is a government document that authorizes the export of specific goods in specific quantities to a particular destination for a particular end-use. This document may be required for most or all exports to some countries or for other countries only under special circumstances. Examples of export-license certificates include those issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (dual use articles), the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (defense articles), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (nuclear materials), and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (controlled substances and precursor chemicals).
Destination Control Statement
A Destination Control Statement (DCS found in part 758.6 of the BIS Export Administration Regulations, or EAR) is required for exports from the United States for items on the Commerce Control List that are outside of EAR99 (products for which no license is required) or controlled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). A DCS appears on the commercial invoice, ocean bill of lading, or airway bill to notify the carrier and all foreign parties that the item can be exported only to certain destinations. For more information, visit the Bureau of Industry and Security website.
Certificates of Origin
Generic Certificate of Origin
The Certificate of Origin (CO) is required by some countries for all or only certain products. In many cases, a statement of origin printed on company letterhead will suffice. The exporter should verify with the buyer that a CO is required.
Note: Some countries require that certificate of origin be notarized, certified by local chamber of commerce and legalized by the commercial section of the consulate of the destination country. For certain Middle Eastern countries, the National U.S.-Arab Center of Commerce may provide such services.
For textile products, an importing country may also require a certificate of origin issued by the manufacturer. The number of required copies and language may vary from country.
Note: You may also be required to provide a product-specific document, such as certificate of ingredients, halal certificate or many others. You need to know this before you ship!