Exporters should seriously consider having the freight forwarder handle the formidable amount of documentation that exporting requires as forwarders are specialists in this process. The following documents are commonly used in exporting; but which of them are necessary in a particular transaction depends on the requirements of the U.S. government and the government of the importing country.
- Air freight shipments are handled by air waybills, which can never be made in negotiable form.
- 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 nonnegotiable 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 for a Short Form Straight Bill of Lading and for a Liner Bill of Lading).
- 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.
- A consular invoice is a document that is required in some countries. It describes the shipment of goods and shows information such as the consignor, consignee, and value of the shipment. Certified by the consular official of the foreign country stationed here, it is used by the country's customs officials to verify the value, quantity, and nature of the shipment.
- A certificate of origin is a document that is required in certain nations. It is a signed statement as to the origin of the export item. Certificate of origin are usually signed through a semiofficial organization, such as a local chamber of commerce. A certificate may still be required even if the commercial invoice contains the information.
- A NAFTA certificate of origin is required for products traded among the NAFTA countries (Canada, the United States, and Mexico).
- Inspection certification is required by some purchasers and countries in order to attest to the specifications of the goods shipped. This is usually performed by a third party and often obtained from independent testing organizations.
- A dock receipt and a 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.
- A destination control statement appears on the commercial invoice, and ocean or air waybill of lading to notify the carrier and all foreign parties that the item can be exported only to certain destinations.
- A Shipper's Export Declaration(SED) is used to control exports and act as a source document for official U.S. export statistics. SEDs must be prepared for shipments through the U.S. Postal Service when the shipment is valued over $500. SEDs are required for shipments not using the U.S. Postal Service when the value of the commodities, classified under any single Schedule B number, is over $2,500. SEDs must be prepared, regardless of value, for all shipments requiring an export license or destined for countries restricted by the Export Administration Regulations. SEDs are prepared by the exporter or the exporter's agent and delivered to the exporting carrier (for example, the post office, airline, or vessel line). The exporting carrier will present the required number of copies to the U.S. Customs Service at the port of export. Often, the SED is prepared as a by-product of another document, the Shipper's Letter of Instructions.
- 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.
- An export packing list considerably more detailed and informative than a standard domestic packing list. It an itemizes the material in each individual package and indicates the type of package, such as a box, crate, drum, or carton. It also 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 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, U.S. and foreign customs officials may use the list to check the cargo.
- An insurance certificate is used to assure the consignee that insurance will cover the loss of or damage to the cargo during transit.
Documentation must be precise because slight discrepancies or omissions may prevent merchandise from being exported, result in nonpayment, or even result in the seizure of the exporter's goods by U.S. or foreign government customs. Collection documents are subject to precise time limits and may not be honored by a bank if the time has expired. Most documentation is routine for freight forwarders and customs brokers, but the exporter is ultimately responsible for the accuracy of its documents.
The number and kind of documents the exporter must deal with varies depending on the destination of the shipment. Because each country has different import regulations, the exporter must be careful to provide all proper documentation. The following sources also provide information pertaining to foreign import restrictions:
- Export Assistance Centers.
- The Trade Information Center (1-800-USA-TRADE).
- Foreign government embassies and consulates in the United States.