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Common Export Documents

This section covers documents that are commonly used in exporting, but specific requirements vary by destination and product. It is divided into the following subsections: common export documents, transportation documents, export compliance documents, certificates of origin, other certificates for shipments of specific goods, other export-related documents, and temporary shipment documents. Learn more about export documentation. For additional assistance with country-specific documentation requirements, please email the Trade Information Center.

COMMON EXPORT DOCUMENTS

Commercial Invoice

A commercial invoice is a bill for the goods from the seller to the buyer. These invoices 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.

Export Packing List

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 export packing list to check the cargo.

Pro Forma Invoice

A pro forma invoice is an invoice prepared by the exporter before shipping the goods, informing the buyer of the goods to be sent, their value, and other key specifications. It also can be used as an offering of sale or price quotation.

TRANSPORTATION DOCUMENTS

Airway Bill

Air freight shipments require airway bills. Airway bills are shipper-specific (i.e., USPS, Fed-Ex, UPS, DHL, etc.).

Bill of Lading

A bill of lading is a contract between the owner of the goods and the carrier (as with domestic shipments). 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 latter can be bought, sold, or traded while the goods are in transit. The customer usually needs an original as proof of ownership to take possession of the goods. See also: straight bill of lading and liner bill of lading.

Electronic Export Information Filing (formerly known as the Shipper’s Export Declaration)

Electronic Export Information (EEI) is the most common of all export control documents. It is required for shipments above $2,500* and for shipments of any value requiring an export license. It has to be electronically filed via the AES Direct online system, which is a free service from Census and Customs.

Numerous videos are available on AES Direct, including: Registering for AESDirect, Filing a Shipment in AESDirect, Response Messages from AES, Proof of Filing Citations , AESDirect - The Shipment Manager, and Elimination of the SSN in the AES.

*Note: The EEI is required for shipments to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the former Pacific Trust Territories even though they are not considered exports (unless each “Schedule B” item in the shipment is under $2,500).

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.)

EXPORT COMPLIANCE DOCUMENTS

Export Licenses

An export license is a government document that authorizes the export of specific goods in specific quantities to a particular destination. 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 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).

Several videos are available on export licenses, including: Export Compliance Introduction, Exporting Commercial Items: ECCNs and EAR99, The Commerce Control List and Self-Classification, and Exporting EAR99 Items: Screening Your Transaction, Lists to Check and Red Flags.

Destination Control Statement

A Destination Control Statement (DCS) 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, watch relevant videos: Export Compliance Introduction, and Exporting Commercial Items: ECCNs and EAR99.

CERTIFICATES OF ORGIN

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 whether a CO is required with the buyer and/or an experienced shipper/freight forwarder or the Trade Information Center.

Note: Some countries (i.e., numerous Middle Eastern 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 Chamber of Commerce may also provide such services.

For textile products, an importing country may require a certificate of origin issued by the manufacturer. The number of required copies and language may vary from country to 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). Watch our FTA webinar for more information. Some certificate of origin including those required by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the FTAs with Israel and Jordan, are prepared by the exporter. Others including those required by the FTAs with Australia; the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) countries; Chile; and Morocco; are the importer’s responsibility). Click on a specific country below to learn details on how to document origin.

Certificate of Origin for goods not manufactured in the United States

Certificates of origin for goods not manufactured in the United States can be obtained from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce uses EZCertOrigin™, a service provided by ICS Consulting, LLC, to process all requests submitted for certificates of origin (both U.S. and non-U.S.). Exporters can visit EZCertOrigin or call 1-888-885-6650 to obtain the forms required by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and detailed instructions on how to fill out the forms. The fee for each certificate is $40.00 for U.S. Chamber members. The fee for each certificate is $150.00 for non-U.S. Chamber of Commerce members. It costs $5.00 per copy for certified copies of certificates.

USCIB is now issuing electronic Certificates of Origin (eCOs). USCIB's eCOs save time and money, bypassing the delay and expense of employing messengers to obtain certification.  After a few simple steps, and certification by USICB, eCOS can be printed from any computer. We are a trusted name in the United States, and well known among customs administrations around the world. USCIB has over four decades' experience in export documentation. 

OTHER CERTIFICATES FOR SHIPMENTS OF SPECIFIC GOODS

Additional certificates are needed for different purposes. Check with your importer, freight forwarder, or contact the Trade Information Center at tic@trade.gov for further information.

ATA CARNET/Temporary shipment certificate

An ATA Carnet, a. k. a., "Merchandise Passport," is a document that facilitates the temporary importation of products into foreign countries by eliminating tariffs and value-added taxes (VAT) or the posting of a security deposit normally required at the time of importation. Apply for an ATA Carnet.

Certificate of Analysis:

A certificate of analysis can be required for seeds, grain, health foods, dietary supplements, fruits and vegetables, and pharmaceutical products.

Certificate of Free Sale

Certificate of free sale may be issued for biologics, food, drugs, medical devices and veterinary medicine. More information is available from the Food and Drug Administration. Health authorities in some states as well as some trade associations also issue Certificates of Free Sale.

Dangerous Goods Certificate

Exports submitted for handling by air carriers and air freight forwarders classified as dangerous goods need to be accompanied by the Shipper’s Declaration for Dangerous Goods required by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The exporter is responsible for accuracy of the form and ensuring that requirements related to packaging, marking, and other required information by IATA have been met.

For shipment of dangerous goods it is critical to identify goods by proper name, comply with packaging and labeling requirements, which vary depending upon the type of product shipper and the country shipped to.  More information on labeling/regulations is available from the International Air Transportation Association or Department of Transportation - HAZMAT websites.

For ocean exports, hazardous material regulations are contained in the International Maritime Dangerous Goods regulations.

Fisheries Certificate

The National Marine Fisheries Service conducts inspections and analyses of fishery commodities for export.

Fumigation Certificate

The Fumigation Certificate provides evidence of the fumigation of exported goods (especially agricultural products, used clothing, etc.). This form assists in the quarantine clearance of any goods of plant or animal origin. The seller is typically required to fumigate the commodity at his or her expense a maximum of 15 days prior to loading.

Halal Certificate

Required by most countries in the Middle East, this certificate states that the fresh or frozen meat or poultry products were slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law. Certification by an appropriate chamber and legalization by the consulate of the destination country is usually required.

Health Certificate

For shipment of live animals and animal products (processed foodstuffs, poultry, meat, fish, seafood, dairy products, and eggs and egg products). Note: some countries require that health certificates be notarized or certified by a chamber and legalized by a consulate. Health certificates are issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Ingredients Certificate

A certificate of ingredients may be requested for food products with labels that are inadequate or incomplete. The certificate may be issued by the manufacturer and must give a description of the product, contents, and percentage of each ingredient; chemical data; microbiological standards; storage instructions; shelf life; and date of manufacture. If animal fats are used, the certificate must state the type of fat used and that the product contains no pork, artificial pork flavor, or pork fat. All foodstuffs are subject to analysis by Ministry of Health laboratories to establish their fitness for use.

Inspection Certificate

Weight and Quality certificates should be provided in accordance with governing USDA/GIPSA regulations for loading at port and loading at source/mill site as appropriate. A certificate of origin certified by the local chamber of commerce at the load port and a phytosanitary certificate issued by APHIS/USDA and fumigation certificate are to be provided to the buyer. Costs of all inspection, as well as certificates/documents at the load port, are usually the responsibility of the seller. Independent inspection certificates may required in some instances.

Pre-Shipment Inspections

The governments of a number of countries have contracted with international inspection companies to verify the quantity, quality, and price of shipments imported into their countries. The purpose of such inspections is 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 deflect attempts to avoid payment of customs duties. Requirements for pre-shipment inspection are normally spelled out in letter-of-credit or other documentary requirements. Inspections companies include Bureau Veritas, SGS and Intertek. Some countries require pre-shipment inspection certificates for shipments of used merchandise.

Insurance Certificate

Insurance certificates are used to assure the consignee that insurance will cover the loss of or damage to the cargo during transit. These can be obtained from your freight forwarder or publishing house. Note: an airway bill can serve as an insurance certificate for a shipment by air. Some countries may require certification or notification.

Phytosanitary Certificate

All shipments of fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, flour, rice, grains, lumber, plants, and plant materials require a federal phytosanitary certificate. The certificate must verify that the product is free from specified epidemics and/or agricultural diseases. Additional information and forms are available from Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Radiation Certificate

Some counties including Saudi Arabia may require this certificate for some plant and animal imports. The certificate states that the products are not contaminated by radioactivity.

Other (Product-Specific) Certificates

Shaving brushes and articles made of raw hair must be accompanied by a recognized official certificate showing the consignment to be free from anthrax germs. Used clothing requires a disinfection certificate. Grain requires a fumigation certificate, and grain and seeds require a certificate of weight. Many countries in the Middle East require special certificates for imports of animal fodder additives, livestock, pets, and horses.

Weight Certificate

A certificate of weight is a document issued by customs, certifying gross weight of the exported goods.

OTHER EXPORT-RELATED DOCUMENTS

Consular Invoice

Required in some countries, a consular invoice describes the shipment of goods and shows information such as the consignor, consignee, and value of the shipment. If required, copies are available from the destination country's embassy or consulate in the U.S. The cost for this documentation can be significant and should be discussed with the buyer.

Canadian Customs Invoice

Although not required by regulation, this customs invoice is a preferred document by Canadian Customs and customs brokers. It is issued in Canadian dollars for dutiable and taxable exports exceeding $1600 Canadian dollars. Detailed invoice requirements can be obtained at the Canadian Customs website.

Dock Receipt and Warehouse Receipt

A dock receipt and warehouse receipt are used to transfer accountability when the export item is moved by the domestic carrier to 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. However, including a copy of an import license with the rest of your documentation may in some cases help avoid problems with customs in the destination country.

ISPM 15 (Wood Packaging) Marking

The International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures Guidelines for Regulating Wood Packaging Material in International Trade (ISPM15) is one of several International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures adopted by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). The IPPC is an international treaty to secure action to prevent the spread and introduction of pests of plants and plant products, and to promote appropriate measures for their control. The American Lumber Standard Committee (ALSC) and the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) provide phytosanitary certification for wood packaging materials (WPM). APHIS will issue a phytosanitary certificate for wood package materials only if WPM are the cargo.

Shipper’s Letter of Instruction

The shipper’s letter of instruction is issued by the exporter to the forwarding agent and includes shipping instructions for air or ocean shipment.

TEMPORARY SHIPMENT DOCUMENTS

ATA CARNET/Temporary shipment certificate

An ATA Carnet, a. k. a., "Merchandise Passport," is a document that facilitates the temporary importation of products into foreign countries by eliminating tariffs and value-added taxes (VAT) or the posting of a security deposit normally required at the time of importation. Apply for an ATA Carnet.

Customs Certificate of Registration

Customs Form 4455 may be used (often in conjunction with a temporary import bond or ATA Carnet for goods that are leaving the United States on a temporary basis for alteration, repair, replacement, and processing).

Transporting Goods by Truck to Canada

An application to transact bonded carrier and forwarding operation, Form E370, is required to bring goods over the border to Canada, when not already cleared through Customs at the border.