Which Documents are Required to do International Shipping Exporting & Importing?

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Doing export and import may sound like a glamorous activity, but the truth is that it is more about legality and logistics than anything else. The part where you get to go to a new country searching for innovations or great products sounds excellent, even though it can be a total fraud if you are not aware of what you are doing. However, when it comes to regulations, there are certain types of documents you need to have handy to ship your merchandise. The lack of these documents may turn your adventure into a nightmare.

The information has not been altered or manipulated from its source; It has the same content and statements due to the legal load about imports and exports. We always suggest requesting the help of a professional custom agent or export/import licensed broker.

Commonly Used Export Documents

Commercial Invoice

 A commercial invoice is required for the export and import clearance process. It is sometimes used for foreign exchange purposes. In the buyer’s country, it is the document that their customs officials use to assess import duties and taxes.  

Before completing a commercial invoice for a new export destination, it is advisable to consult reliable sources for country-specific requirements. For example, a few countries require the invoice to be on a specific form, but for most countries, the seller or exporters version is acceptable as long as all the pertinent information is included.   

In addition to the information included on the pro forma invoice, the invoice may consist of the U.S. schedule B number or the harmonized tariff classification number to the sixth digit only. This can speed up the export clearance process and the import clearance in the buyer’s country since it provides a universal description of goods for duty and tax purposes.                  

Another item that should be included in the destination control statement. Even though it is not required for all exports, it is a statement that provides additional protection for the exporter in case the buyer re-exports the shipment to a prohibited destination or prohibited end-use.

Packing List

A packing list itemizes the contents of each package (box, pallets, etc.). It includes weights, measurements, and detailed lists of the goods in each package. The packing list should be included in a carton or package and can be attached to the outside of a package with a copy inside.  

Freight forwarders use this document to determine weights and freight costs. It’s also used by the U.S. and/or foreign customs officials to check the contents of a specific package or carton.

It can also be used to:
  • Create a bill of landing based on the information listed
  • Receive a letter of credit from the bank
  • Custom use this list to verify specific packages

Transportation Documents 

Air Waybill 

Airfreight shipments require airway bills.  An air waybill accompanies goods shipped by an international air carrier. The document  provides  detailed information about the shipment and allows it to be tracked.  Air waybills are shipper-specific  and are not negotiable documents (instead of “order” bills of lading used for vessel shipments).

Bill of Lading 

A bill of lading is a contract between the owner of the goods and the carrier (as with domestic shipments). For ocean shipments, there are two common types: a straight bill of lading, which is non-negotiable, and a negotiable, or shipper’s order bill of lading. The latter can be used to  buy, sell or trade the goods  while  in transit. The customer usually needs an original  bill of lading  as proof of ownership to take possession of the goods  from the ocean carrier.

Export/ Import Licenses 

An  export/Import license  is a government document that authorizes the export or import of specific goods in specific quantities to a particular destination for a particular end-use. This document may be required for most or all exports or imports to some countries or for other countries only under special circumstances. Examples of export-license certificates include those issued by the  U.S. 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).   

Destination Control Statement 

A  Destination Control Statement  (DCS found in part 758.6 of the BIS Export Administration Regulations, or EAR) 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, visit the Bureau of Industry and Security website.

Certificate of Origin

This document verifies the country of origin of the goods being exported. It may be required to determine eligibility for preferential trade agreements or to comply with import regulations of the destination country.

Insurance Certificates

 Proof of insurance coverage for the goods during transit is often required. Insurance certificates provide details of the coverage and can be obtained from an insurance provider.


While not a document itself, the use of International Commercial Terms (Incoterms) is essential for defining the rights and responsibilities of buyers and sellers in international trade. Incoterms specify the delivery terms, transportation costs, and the point at which the risk transfers from the seller to the buyer.

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