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10 Common Export Documents You Should Know About
April 20, 2017 Office of Small Business

Great job! You have secured the international sale and your next step is to prepare for the shipment of goods to your foreign buyer.  Most importantly, including specific terms on how the goods will be shipped is needed in the agreement for the benefit of the various people and organizations that will help facilitate the movement of goods. Exports of physical goods that move between bodies of water can be expensive and risky if not done properly; therefore, in every scenario, the exporter must be aware of the export documents used to ship the goods. Understanding these common documents is crucial to your success abroad:

  1. Bill of Lading

The bill of lading is usually the first common document used in international shipment and it is a contract between the owner of the goods and the carrier. It will state what goods are shipping, where they are going and where the shipment started. In addition, once the shipment is picked up, the bill of lading serves as a receipt issued by the carrier.

  1. Certificate of Manufacturer

This is a notarized document certifying that the goods have been produced by the manufacturer, fulfills the general product requirements and is ready for shipment.  

  1. Certificate of Origin

This document is prepared  by the manufacturer and is certified by a government entity or chamber of commerce. It’s used to identify the country of the manufacturer where the goods were made. For example, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration requires a certificate of origin for every product imported  to the US.

  1. Commercial Invoice

When the international sale is complete and goods are ready to be shipped out, a commercial invoice is the document used to describe the entire export transaction from beginning to end including the shipping terms. It is one of the most important documents because it provides critical information and instructions to all parties involved: buyer, freight forwarder, U.S. and foreign customs, import broker, banks, carriers, etc. Many countries may require specific invoices or licenses, so if not done correctly, U.S. businesses will incur fees or delays in shipments.

  1. Consular Invoice

A consular invoice is a form available through a consular representative of the country you’re shipping to and it certifies the shipment of goods. It is not required in every country, but is used to help many emerging nations facilitate customs and collection of taxes.

  1. Dock Receipts

The purpose of this receipt is to provide the exporter with proof that the delivery of goods to the international carrier was successful and in good condition.

  1. Inspection Certificate

These inspections are usually done with industrial equipment, perishable merchandise and meat products. It certifies the items were received in good condition and that  the shipment contained the correct quantity.

  1. Insurance Certificate

For export shipments, this document certifies you have bought an insurance policy for cargo on board. Insurance may be purchased because liability and large losses are a concern to the exporter.

  1. Packing List

A packing list is similar to a shipping list in that it lists the goods being shipping, information on how it was packed, how the goods are numbered, and weight/height dimensions. Even though it’s not always required, it’s an important document used by freight forwarders to prepare a bill of lading and to understand how much cargo is needed.

10. Electronic Export Information (EEI)

A required government online form for all exports in excess of $2,500 or ones that require an export license. The EEI must be filed with the U.S. Census Bureau to collect trade statistics and apply export controls.

Learn More

If you’re new to the world of shipping and export documents, you can find more information on If you would like learn more about EXIM programs to support your export business and hear from an expert on how to make sure you have the right export documentation, sign up for our FREE WEBINAR on Wednesday, May 3rd from 2-3pm EST:

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EXIM’s Blog postings are intended to highlight various facets of exporting, but the postings are not legal advice, and are not intended to summarize all legal requirements associated with exporting.