Common Export Documents

February 28, 2012
By Michelle Kelley

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Your cargo rides on paper. Check with your customer to find out what forms are required and use a freight forwarder to help you prepare the forms. The following are commonly used export documents that may be required depending on the rules of the U.S. government or importing country.

Bill of Lading
A receipt and contract for the transportation of the goods, as well as a title document. There are several types of bills of lading.

Straight B/L (nonnegotiable)
-requires the cargo to be delivered to the named consignee only.

Shipper’s Order B/L (negotiable)-can be bought, sold, or traded while the goods are in transit. In order to take possession of the goods, the foreign buyer will need the original B/L as proof of ownership.

Air Waybill-a nonnegotiable document used for air shipments.

Ocean B/L-a document issued by the ocean carrier.

Truck B/L-a document used for inland shipments to Canada and Mexico.

Certificate of Origin
Used by the exporter to certify the country of origin of the exported goods. The certificate of origin is legalized by a local chamber of commerce. See Consular Documents if needed to be legalized by the embassy.

Commercial Invoice
The key accounting document for the goods from the seller to the buyer. Used to determine the true value of goods for assessing Customs duties and to clear the shipment through Customs. It must be completed in full and the correct number of copies supplied. It should include (not comprehensive):

  • country of origin (manufacture)
  • Incoterms rule
  • complete description of the goods
  • invoice quantity
  • net and gross weights
  • total number of packages
  • value
  • currency
  • destination control statement
  • certifications
  • authorized exporter signature
  • the following statement plus signature; “I hereby certify that this invoice is true and correct.”

Consular Documents
Required by some foreign customs services, these documents are special forms/certifications that confirm the value, quantities, consignor, consignee, etc. They are certified prior to export by the Foreign Consulate Office stationed in the US. The embassy will legalize the commercial invoice, certificate of origin, and other supporting shipping documents.

Destination Control Statement
Indicated on the commercial invoice and ocean bill of lading/air waybill, this statement notifies the carrier and all foreign parties that the item can only be exported to certain destinations.

BIS Destination Control Statement. These commodities, technologies, or software were exported from the United States in accordance with the export administration regulations. Diversion contrary to U.S. law prohibited.

Diversion Statement for ITAR regulated goods.
 These commodities are authorized by the U.S. government for export only to (Country) for use by (End User). They may not be transferred, transshipped, on a non-continuous voyage, or otherwise be disposed of in any other country, either in their original form or after being incorporated into other end-items, without prior written approval of the U.S. Department of State.

Dock Receipt
A receipt showing that the shipment was received at the steamship terminal. This form is supplied by the steamship line and completed by the exporter or their freight forwarder.

Electronic Export Information (EEI)
Required for all export shipments, this electronic export data must be filed in the Automated Export System (AES). It replaced the Shipper’s Export Declaration (SED).

Export License
A permit issued by the U.S. government that grants approval for the USPPI to export specific commodities, in given quantities/values, to a named destination.

Export Packing List
Used to conduct Customs examinations, to verify that all goods were shipped and received, to determine the total shipment weight and volume, and for insurance claims. It’s more detailed than a domestic packing list or commercial invoice, although it does not show any pricing. It’s recommended to always include an export packing list with the contents of each package, including marks, weights, dimensions (in U.S. and metric measurements); type of package; shipper’s reference number; and buyer’s purchase order number.

Free Trade Documentation
Required to receive favorable tariff treatment and based on the rules of origin determined for the exported product. Documentation varies by the country accepting the exported goods. The U.S. has free trade agreements with 17 countries. For some agreements (Israel, CAFTA-DR and NAFTA), a specific form must be completed. Other agreements have a simplified certification process, requiring a free form statement of ten data elements.

NAFTA. A certificate of origin is required for goods that qualify under the NAFTA rules of origin and are shipped within the borders of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.

Inspection Certification
Requested by the importer and arranged by the exporter in order to certify merchandise grade, material contents, and quantities. Inspections are performed by a certified third party agency like Societe Generale de Surveillance, Bureau Veritas, or Cotecna.

Insurance Certificate
Provides proof to the buyer that the goods are insured against loss or damage while in transit. It can be in the form of a policy or a certificate.

Shipper’s Letter of Instruction
Used to control exports and as a source document for the authorized agent to prepare the Electronic Export Information (EEI) filing on behalf of the U.S. Principal Party of Interest (USPPI).

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