The Section covers to documents that are commonly used in exporting, but specific requirements vary by destination and product. It is divided in the following sections: common export-related documents, certificates of origin, other certificates for shipments of specific goods, Export licenses and Temporary shipment documents.


Airway Bill
Air freight shipments require Airway bills, which can never be made in negotiable form (see sample). Airway bills are shipper-specific (i.e. USPS, Fed-Ex,UPS, DHL, etc).
Bill of Lading
A contract between the owner of the goods and the carrier (as with domestic shipments). For vessels, there are two types: a straight bill of lading, which is non-negotiable, and a negotiable or shipper's order bill of lading. The latter can be bought, sold, or traded while the goods are in transit. The customer usually needs an original as proof of ownership to take possession of the goods (see Sample Short Form Bill of Lading and Sample Liner Bill of Lading).
Commercial Invoice
A bill for the goods from the seller to the buyer. These invoices are often used by governments to determine the true value of goods when assessing customs duties. Governments that use the commercial invoice to control imports will often specify its form, content, number of copies, language to be used, and other characteristics (see Sample).
Export Packing List
Considerably more detailed and informative than a standard domestic packing list, it lists seller, buyer, shipper, invoice number, date of shipment, mode of transport, carrier, and itemizes quantity, description, the type of package, such as a box, crate, drum, or carton, the quantity of packages, total net and gross weight (in kilograms), package marks, and dimensions, if appropriate. Both commercial stationers and freight forwarders carry packing list forms. A packing list may serve as conforming document. It is not a substitute for a commercial invoice.
Electronic Export Information Form (Shippers Export Declaration)
The EEI is the most common of all export documents. Required for shipments above $2,500* and for shipments of any value requiring an export license. SED has to be electronically filed via AES Direct (free service from Census and Customs) online system.
*Note: EEI is required for shipments to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the former Pacific Trust Territories even though they are not considered exports (unless each “Schedule B” item in the shipment is under $2,500).
Shipments to Canada do not require an SED except in cases where an export license is required. (Shipments to third countries passing through Canada do need an SED.)


Generic Certificate of Origin
The Certificate of Origin (CO) is required by some countries for all or only certain products. In many cases, a statement of origin printed on company letterhead will suffice (download generic certificate or see sample with explanation). The exporter should verify whether a CO is required with the buyer and/or an experienced shipper/freight forwarder or the Trade Information center.
Note: Some countries (i.e. Middle East) require that certificate of origin be notarized, certified by local chamber of commerce and legalized by the commercial section of the consulate of the destination country.
For textile products, an importing country may require a certificate of origin issued by the manufacturer. The number of required copies and language may vary from country to country.
Certificate of Origin for claiming benefits under Free Trade Agreements
Special certificates may be required for countries with which the United States has free trade agreements (FTAs). Some certificate of origin including those required by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the FTA’s with Israel and Jordan, are prepared by the exporter. Others including those required by the FTA’s with Australia, CAFTA countries, Chile and Morocco, are importer’s responsibility). Click on a specific country below to learn details on how to document origin.
  • Australia (CO samples)
  • Bahrain (importer to check with Govt. of Bahrain on format/information)
  • CAFTA (Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras CO sample)
  • Chile (CO sample)
  • Israel (sample Note: Green form needs to be purchased from Vendor or US-Israel Chamber of Commerce or a publishing house )
  • Jordan (notarized generic certificate of origin required)
  • Morocco (importer makes a claim on the basis of supporting evidence)
  • NAFTA (Mexican, Canada, sample)
  • Singapore (no certificate of origin is required. However, the importer is required to produce the necessary permits together with an invoice, at the time of cargo clearance.)


ATA CARNET/Temporary shipment certificate
An ATA Carnet a. k. a. "Merchandise Passport" is a document that facilitates the temporary importation of products into foreign countries by eliminating tariffs and value-added taxes (VAT) or the posting of a security deposit normally required at the time of importation. Apply for an ATA Carnet.
Certificate of Analysis:
A certificate of analysis is required for seeds, grain, health foods, dietary supplements, fruits and vegetables, and pharmaceutical products.
Certificate of Free Sale
Certificate of free sale may be issued for biologics, food, drugs, medical devices and veterinary medicine. More information is available from the Food and Drug Administration. Health authorities in some states as well as some trade associations also issue Certificates of Free Sale.
Dangerous Goods Certificate
Exports submitted for handling by air carriers and air freight forwarders classified as dangerous goods need to be accompanied by the Shipper’s Declaration for Dangerous Goods (sample) required by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The exporter is responsible for accuracy of the form and ensuring that requirements related to packaging, marking, and other required information by IATA have been met.
For shipment of dangerous goods it is critical to identify goods by proper name, comply with packaging and labeling requirements (they vary depending upon type of product shipper and country shipped to).  More information on labeling/regulations is available from the International Air Transportation Association or Department of Transportation - HAZMAT websites.
Inspection Certificate
Weight and Quality certificates should be provided in accordance with governing USDA/GIPSA regulations for loading at port and loading at source/mill site as appropriate. A certificate of origin certified by local chamber of commerce at load port and a Phytosanitary certificate issued by APHIS/USDA and Fumigation certificate are to be provided to buyer. Costs of all inspection, certificates/ documents at the load port are usually the responsibility of the seller.
Insurance Certificate
Used to assure the consignee that insurance will cover the loss of or damage to the cargo during transit (Sample). These can be obtained from your freight forwarder or publishing house. Note: an airway bill can serve as an insurance certificate for a shipment by air. Some countries may require certification or notification.
Steamship or Airline Company Certificate
A declaration attached to a bill of lading or airway bill stating that the shipper will not stop at an unscheduled port, attesting to the accuracy of the shipping route and providing other shipping information such as name of vessel/plane, nationality of vessel/plane, owner of vessel/plane, names of ports of call including port of leading and discharge.
Other (product-specific) certificates
Shaving brushes and articles made of raw hair must be accompanied by a recognized official certificate showing the consignment to be free from anthrax germs. Used clothing requires a disinfection certificate. Grain requires a fumigation certificate, and grain and seeds require a certificate of weight. Many countries in the Middle East require special certificates for imports of animal fodder additives, livestock, pets, and horses.
Weight certificate
Certificate of weight is a document issued by customs, certifying gross weight of the exported goods.


Export license is a government document that authorizes the export of specific goods in specific quantities to a particular destination. This document may be required for most or all exports to some countries or for other countries only under special circumstances. Examples of export license certificates include those issued by the the 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 US Drug Enforcement Administration (controlled substances and precursor chemicals).
Destination Control Statement
Destination Control Statement (DCS) is required for exports from United States for items on the Commerce Control List that are outside of EAR99 (products for which no license is required). 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.


Consular Invoice
Required in some countries, it describes the shipment of goods and shows information such as the consignor, consignee, and value of the shipment. If required, copies are available from the destination country's Embassy or Consulate in the U.S.
Import License
Import licenses are the responsibility of the importer and vary depending upon destination and product. However, including a copy of an import license with the rest of your documentation may in some cases help avoid problems with customs in the destination country.
Pre-shipment Inspections
The governments of a number of countries have contracted with international inspection companies to verify the quantity, quality, and price of shipments imported into their countries. The purpose of such inspections is to ensure that the price charged by the exporter reflects the true value of the goods, to prevent substandard goods from entering the country, and to deflect attempts to avoid payment of customs duties. Requirements for pre-shipment inspection are normally spelled out in letter-of-credit or other documentary requirements. Inspections companies include Bureau VeritasSGS and Intertek. Some countries require pre-shipment inspection certificates for shipments of used merchandise.
Shippers Letter of Instruction
Issued by the carrier or the forwarder includes shipping instructions for air or ocean shipment (sample)


ATA CARNET/Temporary shipment certificate
An ATA Carnet a. k. a. "Merchandise Passport" is a document that facilitates the temporary importation of products into foreign countries by eliminating tariffs and value-added taxes (VAT) or the posting of a security deposit normally required at the time of importation. Apply for an ATA Carnet.
Customs Certificate of Registration
Customs Form 4455 may be used (often in conjunction with temporary import bond or ATA Carnet for goods that are leaving the United States on temporary basis for alteration, repair, replacement, and processing.