International Logistics: Getting your export documentation right

International Logistics: Getting your export documentation right

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When sending goods overseas, you will need to complete a suite of ‘export documentation’ which will enable your goods to traverse international barriers and arrive safely at their destination.

To avoid delays in customs clearance and to comply with documentary letters of credit that specify conditions such as precise product descriptions, packing lists and attestations including quarantine certificates and certificates of origin, you will need to supply documents that are 100% error-free. Electronic documentation has made a complex process much easier, but mistakes can be expensive. The importance of understanding the export documentation process and ensuring that documents are prepared with meticulous accuracy cannot be overstated!

Here is a checklist of the most common export documents you need to include with your shipment when sending goods to another country:/

  • Export declaration – An export declaration is a type of form submitted at the port, providing details about the goods that are bound for export. The export declaration is required each time goods are exported overseas (or outside a customs union) and the document is used by the customs authority to control exports.
  • Commercial invoice – A document which sets out the buyer, the seller and the terms of the sale. The commercial invoice provides information for the customs authorities, which helps them assess if the goods can move in or out of a country and what, if any, controls are needed. It also helps them determine duties and taxes. Every shipment must have its own commercial invoice. Your HS Code and Incoterms are among the details that must be included on the commercial invoice.
  • Consignment note – a document that shows the details of goods that have been sent from a seller to a buyer, and that travels with the goods. It is prepared and signed by the person sending the shipment, and is countersigned by the carrier of the shipment as proof of receipt.
  • Air waybill – A document that functions as proof of goods being received for shipment by an air carrier – like a ticket for a passenger.
  • Packing list – A packing list outlines the details of your freight. It typically describes how a shipment is packed and what kind of material is used to pack the goods, the detail of the weight, as well as the dimensions of each item, crate or pallet. Ensuring that a packing list accompanies your shipment can save a significant amount of time and money during an inspection process. 
  • Export license – An export license is a government document that authorises or grants permission to conduct a specific export transaction (including the export of technology). Export licenses are issued by the appropriate licensing agency after a careful review of the facts surrounding the given export transaction.
  • Certificate of origin – A certificate of origin (COO) is a declaration that specifies the country or countries your goods were made in. If the country of import or export has a free trade agreement (FTA) with your country,the COO can help you avoid duty charges.
  • Any country-specific free trade agreements or declarations – You will want to ensure you take advantage of the terms in any free trade agreement between your home country and the country to which you are exporting.

The exact list of documents you need to provide depends on the goods you are shipping, the destination country and export controls – laws and regulations to manage the export of certain items like technology, chemicals or military goods. Sometimes you will need to include additional ones as well.

If you’re unsure whether you’ve prepared your export documentation correctly, it’s best to consult with a chamber of commerce or trade body responsible for export documentation for the country you’re shipping to.

Make sure you read through the seven steps a successful international shipment before you launch your goods overseas!

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Business Beyond Borders: Take Your Company Global

Business Beyond Borders: Take Your Company Global is the latest book from international business strategist, Cynthia Dearin. Get your copy today!

The Manufacturers Ultimate Guide to International Expansion [2024]

Everything you need to know about taking your business global in 2024 and beyond.

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