Export Shipping Documents Part 1


Export Shipping Documents   

Although there are many export documents, you may only need to get familiar with a few.  In this section we will cover all the basic documents and some specific documents.  Most products require a commercial invoice (an invoice), and an airway bill. Below you will find a list of the most common documents used for exporting from the United States.  Please know that there are many other required documents not listed, which are specific to certain products and product requirements (i.e. Department of Defense licenses for the export of Firearms).

Export Commercial Invoice

The commercial invoice is simply an invoice for the product you’re selling. It provides important information regarding the products and additional shipping information to all parties involved. The invoice is used by the destination government (Customs) to arrive at the value of the goods upon importation when assessing customs duty. There are several requirements to a commercial invoice and we will cover this document in a separate section and podcast.

If properly prepared, it can provide all of the information which a Custom’s official needs:

  • Seller and Buyer information as well as the shipper and recipient.  It may include an Invoice number (shipper reference) as well as a Purchase Order (PO), which is the buyer’s reference. Many invoices will include the conveyance (how the shipment is moving, whether by truck, air cargo or ocean vessel).

The invoice must also have an itemized list of the products being exported.  It is best if the identification is a clear description of the shipment with the correct HTSUS number.

All Invoices require a date and signature.

Packing List for Export Shipments

A packing list is a detailed list of what is in the shipment being exported. The export-packing slip/list should include all of the above information, plus the following information (much of it is also contained on the invoice but without the cost of the product or terms):

  • Mode of transportation (how are you shipping the product)
  • Carrier (this should be the specific and actual carrier not different forwarder or integrated carrier)
  • Itemize quantity and description of goods (No $$ or cost amount)

Packaging type (carton, crate, drum, box)

  • Quantity breakdown of a product in each box as well as the total quantity and number of packages in the shipment
  • Total net weight and total gross weight in pounds and kilograms (the matrix system is observed globally)
  • Any specific marks on the box/create/drum
  • Dimensions of each box

There is no specific required format for a packing list. Please do note that the packing slip/list should never be a substitute for the commercial invoice. Both the US and the destination customs official may use export-packing lists to contents of the cargo. Please also note that a packing list may not be required on all shipments.

Destination Control Statement

A destination control statement (DCS) is required on exports. If you are exporting commodities that are on the commerce control list, you will have various additional requirements by the controlling or governing agency of the commodity that you are exporting for example if you are exporting prescription medication, you will need to identify the requirements and limitations for those specific medications that you are exporting. The controlling department will be the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Administration) there are several departments that also require licensing.

If you are exporting or planning on exporting commodities from these departments you may also be required to include a “destination control statement” on your documentation. Each statement is specific to the requirements of the governing department issuing the export permit. For non-regulated products the statement should be “These commodities, technology, or software were exported from the United States in accordance with the Export Administration Regulations. Diversion contrary to US law prohibited.” 

If you are exporting unregulated (non-controlled) commodities, which fall outside of the commerce control list (CCL), you will not need an export permit.  These commodities are designated by the Export Administration Regulation as EAR99.  However, you will need to check with the Department of Commerce if you are exporting EAR99 items to embargoed countries or individuals and/or entities on the denied parties list.

When filing the automated export system (AES), which we will discuss in more detail in a separate section and podcast, you will need to enter EAR99 in block 28 and NLR (no license required) in block 27.

Pro Forma Invoice

A pro forma invoice is very much like a commercial invoice. It should have all the information of the commercial invoice.

So why use a pro forma invoice?

The pro forma invoice is used for quoting. It provides all the information the importer needs to request an import license when required or financing via a local financial institution. The pro forma provides a financial institution with the shipment details, such as buyer, goods being purchased, cost or value and other shipping details. This is not a required document for shipping.


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