What special international shipping forms are needed most often when exporting?

An exporter is responsible for several documents. Some freight forwarders (including us) will do much of the paperwork for a customer, but the shipper is ultimately responsible for making sure the documents are correct. The forms most commonly required for an export shipment include:

Shipper's Export Declaration (SED) (this form is for US Exporters only), Commerce Form 7525-V:  Used for compiling the official U.S. export statistics and for export control purposes. It must be prepared and submitted to a customs agent for shipments by mail valued at more than $500 and all other shipments by any other means valued at more than $2,500. The form includes details on the company exporting the product, the company receiving the goods, the product being shipped, and its value. The SED can be completed electronically by the exporter. The SED can also be completed by a freight forwarder for the exporter. Privately printed SEDs must conform in every respect to the official form. The SED can also be downloaded from the U.S. Census Bureau and printed on buff (yellow) or goldenrod colored paper. Customs will not accept SEDs on white paper. 

Bill of lading:  Represents a contract between the owner of the goods and the carrier. There are two types: a straight bill of lading, which is non-negotiable, and the negotiable/shipper's order bill of lading, which can be bought, sold, or traded while goods are in transit and is used for letter-of-credit transactions. The customer usually needs a copy as proof of ownership to take possession of the goods.  

Certificate of origin: Signed by the exporter and witnessed by a semi-official agency, like a Chamber of Commerce, indicates that the goods were truly produced in the country claimed by the exporter. There's no hard and fast worldwide rule as to when a certificate of origin is required or what it must contain. Each country sets its own rules. Proof of origin is critically important when countries have reciprocal trade agreements that grant lower tariff rates to products coming from certain locations. Canada, Mexico, and the United States have agreed upon a common form and set of rules for a NAFTA Certificate of Origin.  

Commercial invoice: As in domestic transactions, this invoice represents a bill for the goods issued by the seller. A commercial invoice should include a description of the goods, addresses of the shipper and seller, and the delivery and payment terms. The buyer needs the invoice to prove ownership and arrange payment. Some government agencies use the invoice to assess customs duties. 

Export packing list: Itemizes the material in each individual package, and shows the individual net, legal, tare and gross weights in U.S. and metric values. Package markings should be shown along with the shipper's and buyer's references. The packing list attaches to the outside of the package in a clearly marked waterproof envelope. The list can be used to determine the total shipment weight and whether the correct cargo is being shipped. Customs officials may use it to check the cargo at inspection points. 

Consular invoice: Required by some countries to identify and track goods shipped to their countries. Exporters purchase the invoice from the consulates of the countries requiring the invoices. It must be prepared in the languages of those countries. Your company's freight forwarder should be able to tell you which countries require consular invoices. 

Certificate of inspection:  Some purchasers and countries may require these forms, attesting to the specifications of the goods shipped. Inspections are usually performed by a third party and obtained from independent testing organizations.

Phytosanitary inspection certificate: This is a formal document issued by an exporting country's agricultural authorities to verify a shipment has been inspected and is free from harmful pests and plant diseases.
Insurance certificate:  State the type and amount of coverage.

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