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Paper Trail: Preparing Export Documentation for a Smooth Shipment

14.06.2024 | 17:40 |
 Paper Trail: Preparing Export Documentation for a Smooth Shipment

Exporting goods opens doors to exciting international markets, but navigating the world of customs regulations can be daunting. Proper documentation is crucial for a smooth and successful export journey. This article delves into the essential export documents you need to prepare, along with payment methods and resources to guide you through the process.

Essential Export Documents:

Before your shipment sets sail (or takes flight!), ensure you have the following documents in order: Commercial Invoice This is the heart of your export documentation, acting as a detailed bill of sale for your goods. It should include:

o Seller and buyer information (names, addresses, contact details)

o Invoice number and date

o Product description (including HS code * – a standardized product classification system)

o Quantity of each item

o Unit price and total value of the goods

o Currency used for the transaction

o Terms of sale (e.g., Incoterms – a standardized set of international trade terms)

o Country of origin

Packing List

This document provides a detailed breakdown of the contents of your shipment, ensuring accurate customs clearance. It should include:

o Invoice number

o Description of each item (including quantity, weight, and dimensions)

o Number of packages and their type (boxes, crates, etc.)

o Total weight and volume of the shipment

Certificates of Origin (CO):

A CO is a document issued by a government agency or authorized body, certifying that the goods originated in a specific country. It's often required for preferential tariff treatment under trade agreements. There are different types of COs, such as:

oGeneralized System of Preferences (GSP) Certificate: Grants duty-free or reduced-duty entry for certain products from developing countries to developed countries

o Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Certificate: Required for products to qualify for preferential tariffs under a specific free trade agreement


Imagine you're a Turkmenistan-based company exporting handcrafted wooden furniture to a buyer in Germany. You'll need to prepare a commercial invoice detailing the furniture pieces (including HS codes), their quantity, unit price, and total value. The packing list will specify the number of crates, their weight, and a breakdown of the furniture within each crate. Depending on the trade agreement between Turkmenistan and Germany, you might need a specific Certificate of Origin to qualify for preferential tariffs.

Additional Documents (Depending on the Specific Goods):

Export License: Certain goods may require an export license from your government agency to control their export due to safety, security, or environmental concerns.

Inspection Certificates: Some countries may require specific inspection certificates to ensure the goods meet their safety or quality standards (e.g., phytosanitary certificates for agricultural products).

Payment Methods:

Choosing the right payment method depends on your level of trust with the buyer and the value of the transaction. Here are some common options:

Letter of Credit (LC): A financial instrument issued by the buyer's bank guaranteeing payment to the seller upon fulfillment of certain conditions (e.g., presentation of required documents). LCs offer a high degree of security for the seller but involve additional costs.

Cash in Advance (CIA): The buyer pays for the goods upfront before shipment. This method minimizes risk for the seller but may be unattractive to buyers.

Open Account: The seller extends credit to the buyer, allowing them to pay after receiving the goods. This method requires a strong relationship and creditworthiness of the buyer.

Documentary Collections: The seller sends documents (usually the commercial invoice and bill of lading) to a bank for collection from the buyer. This offers some security for the seller but is less secure than an LC.

Resources for Export Documentation:

Navigating export regulations can be complex. Here are some valuable resources to assist you:

International Trade Administration (ITA): The U.S. government's ITA website provides a wealth of information on export documentation, regulations, and markets:

Small Business Administration (SBA): The SBA offers resources and guidance for small businesses exporting goods:

Your Local Chamber of Commerce: Many chambers offer export assistance programs and can connect you with local resources.

Customs Broker: A customs broker can provide guidance on completing export documentation and navigating customs regulations. They can also handle the entire export process for you for a fee.

Export documentation may seem like a hurdle, but with proper preparation and the right resources, you can navigate this step smoothly. Remember, proper documentation protects your business interests and paves the way for building strong international relationships.

So, get informed, gather your documents, and embark on your global business adventure with confidence!


International Trade Administration,

International Chamber of Commerce,

International Trade Administration,


HS code (Harmonized System code) is a coding used in international trade to identify and classify goods. The HS code was developed by the International Customs Organization (WCO) and is a standard for customs authorities and other participants within international trade.

How the HS code is formed: HS includes more than 5,000 product items, each of which has its own unique code. The code consists of 10 digits, where the first 2 digits are the main product group, and the first 4 digits indicate the product group. The next two digits are a common code for all countries and are a more detailed description of the product itself. Each subsequent number describes the product in more detail. HS codes are used to classify goods by type, category, materials, purpose and other characteristics.

CN code (Combined Nomenclature) is a coding used in EU countries also to classify goods. The CN code is developed on the basis of the Harmonized System of Classification and Description of Goods (HS code) and is used to identify goods in international trade and simplify customs procedures.

All these abbreviations mean the same thing, so if your company needs to know the customs code of a product for export or import, then you should contact one of these classifiers or send a request to the competent authority or freight forwarders.


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