International Marketing
Exporter Resources & Education

Common Export Documents

The following documents are those that are most common in international shipments. To view sample documents, click the document name. Keep in mind that documentation requirements vary depending on the product as well as the importing country. The importer will often be able to assist with the requirements specific to the product that they are purchasing.

Pro Forma Invoice
A document that details all information that would be included on a commercial invoice. It is a quotation in the form of an invoice that can easily be converted to a commercial invoice if an order results. The document includes all basic items of a commercial invoice including terms of sale and terms of payment. The preparer should take care to clearly note all included and excluded charges as well as an expiration date for the quote.

Commercial Invoice
In international transactions, a commercial invoice is used by customs to determine the value of commercial goods. The document should clearly identify the buyer and seller, the terms of sale, the quantity and weight of the goods, the type of packaging and complete description of the goods, the unit value and the total value of the goods, and any insurance, shipping, or other charges. A certification and signature should also be included.

Consular Invoice
A commercial invoice prepared in the language of the buyer’s country and certified by a consulate of the importing country. Some countries require the consular invoice in addition to the commercial invoice in order to facilitate payment and provide a level of confidence that the seller will not overcharge the buyer.

Shipper’s Letter of Instruction
A letter from the shipper to a forwarder that details specific information regarding the shipment of the products. This document gives the forwarder permission to handle the product and prepare associated documentation in the manner outlined in the letter. The letter should explain all details of the transaction that would be required in order to properly fulfill the buyer’s order, distribute documentation, and collect payment.

Letter of Credit
Parties in an international transaction may choose to use a letter of credit in order to guarantee that the buyer’s payment will reach the seller. The letter of credit is issued by a financial institution that is responsible for payment in the event that the buyer does not fulfill payment obligations.

Electronic Export Information Form (Shipper’s Export Declaration)
The Electronic Export Information (EEI) has replaced the Shipper’s Export Declaration required for all exports with a value that exceeds 2,500 US dollars. Shipments to Canada do not require the EEI to be filed unless an export license or permit is required for the shipment. The EEI is filed online with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Canadian Customs Invoice
Required for all commercial shipments into Canada, the Canadian Customs Invoice includes the buyer and seller, the terms of shipment, the terms of sale, the currency of settlement, the quantity and weight of the goods, the type of packaging and complete description of the goods, the unit value and the total value of the goods, and any insurance, shipping, or other charges. A certification and signature should also be included.

Certificate of Free Sale
Issued for products grown or processed in Idaho to certify that the products are distributed generally throughout the State of Idaho and the United States and are in accordance with Idaho health laws and sanitary regulations.

Certificate of Origin
States that the products in a shipment are wholly obtained, produced, manufactured, or processed in a particular country. Certificates of origin may be required by importing countries or may be required in order to obtain preferential treatment as part of a trade bloc.

NAFTA Certificate of Origin
Required in order to receive reduced or eliminated duties as agreed upon in NAFTA. The form indicates the preference criterion based on NAFTA as well as the country of origin that allows the goods to be eligible for preferential treatment. The form must be attached to an invoice for all shipments valued over 1,000 U.S. dollars if shipped to Mexico, valued at over 2,500 U.S. dollars if shipped to the U.S., or valued at over 1,600 Canadian dollars if shipped to Canada.

Export Packing List
Provides a much higher level of detail than a domestic packing list, indicating the seller, buyer, shipper, date of shipment, mode of transport, and carrier. It also details the quantity of items, description of the items, type of packaging, number of packages, net and gross weight, package dimensions, and package marks. The packing list is used by both customs and the buyer to verify the contents of the shipment.

Bill of Lading
A negotiable instrument that serves as a contract of carriage, proof of title, and acknowledgement of receipt of goods. The bill of lading indicates the parties involved in the transaction, the vessel on which the goods will be shipped, ports of departure and destination, an itemized list of goods being shipped, and other instructions and information particular to the shipment.

Air Waybill
A non-negotiable instrument that serves as a receipt for the shipper, confirming that the airline has received the goods. It also acts as a contract of carriage between the shipper and the carrier, specifying the conditions of carriage, the carrier’s limits of liability, a description of goods and applicable charges. An air waybill differs from a bill of lading in that it does not serve as a document of title for the goods and the original documents are not required to be presented in order to release the goods.

Information about these documents and other certificates or licenses that may be required is available on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s website.

For further information about food export certificates and importing country requirements, visit the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service’s website.

 The International Trade Administration (ITA) is also a useful source for answers to specific export questions. To contact the ITA, call (800) USA TRAD(E) or (800) 872-8723.

Useful Tools for Completing Documentation:

Schedule B/ Harmonized System (HS) codes


Import Duty Rate

Universal Currency Converter