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Shipping and Export Documents

Airway Bill

Air freight shipments require Airway bills, which can never be made in negotiable form.  Airway bills vary depending on the shipper (i.e. USPS, Fed-Ex,UPS, DHL, etc).

Bill of Lading

This document is a contract between the owner of the goods and the carrier.  For vessels, there are two types: a straight bill of lading, which is non-negotiable, and a negotiable or shipper's order bill of lading. The negotiable bill of landing can be bought, sold, or traded while the goods are in transit.  An original is usually needed as proof of ownership to take possession of the goods.

Commercial Invoice

This is a bill from the seller to the buyer. These invoices are often used by governments to determine the actual value of goods when assessing customs fees. Governments that use commercial invoices to control imports will often specify  requirements such as form, content, number of copies, language to be used, or other details.

Packing List

This document lists seller, buyer, shipper, invoice number, date of shipment, manner of transport, carrier, and itemizes quantity, description, the type of goods, 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.

Electronic Export Information Form (Shippers Export Declaration)

The EEI gets the most widespread use of all export documents. It is necessary for shipments above $2,500 and for shipments of any value requiring an export license. SED has to be electronically filed via AES Direct (free service from Census and Customs) online system.

Generic Certificate of Origin

The Certificate of Origin (CO) is necessary in some countries and depending on the products being shipped. Often, a statement of origin printed on company letterhead will suffice.  The exporter should verify whether a CO is required with the buyer or an experienced freight forwarder or the Trade Information center.
Note: Some countries, specifically in the Middle East, require certificates of origin be notarized, certified by local chamber of commerce and legalized by the commercial section of the consulate of the destination country.

Certificate of Origin for claiming benefits under Free Trade Agreements

Special certificates may be required for countries with which the United States has free trade agreements (FTAs).  Some certificates of origin, including those required by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the FTA’s with Israel and Jordan, are prepared by the exporter. Others including those required by the FTA’s with Australia, CAFTA countries, Chile and Morocco, are the importer’s responsibility.

Export License

This document, used by the government, authorizes the export of specific goods in specific quantities to a particular destination. Its requirement depends on the countries of export and the items shipped.  Examples of export license certificates include those issued by the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security for dual use articles, the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls for defense articles, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for nuclear materials, and the US Drug Enforcement Administration for controlled substances.

Destination Control Statement

This document is required for exports from United States for items on the Commerce Control List that are outside of EAR99 (products for which no license is required). 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.

Dock Receipt and Warehouse Receipt

These documents are used to transfer accountability when the export items are dropped off by the domestic carrier at the port of embarkation and left with the ship line for export.

Import License

Import licenses are the responsibility of the importer and vary depending upon destination and product.  In some cases, having a copy of an import license may help avoid problems with customs in the destination country.

Pre-shipment Inspections

Some countries have contracted with international inspection companies to verify the quantity, quality, and price of shipments imported. These inspections are meant to ensure that the price charged by the exporter reflects the true value of the goods, to prevent substandard goods from entering the country, and to ensure payment of customs duties. Inspections companies include Bureau Veritas, SGS, and Intertek.