Doing business internationally requires meeting various regulatory and compliance standards through valid export shipping documents. For example, U.S. export documents may involve a commercial invoice, an export license for military items, or ingredient certifications for agricultural products. Foreign requirements also vary, and can include in-country or region-specific standards such as CCC certification to sell goods in China, or CE mark certification to sell goods in Europe. Start by determining the documents and steps required for exporting your product. To ensure compliance with the export documentation process, reach out to your local U.S. Commercial Service office or freight forwarder. Your shipper or foreign partner may also be able to assist. To learn more, view Export Documentation, the fifth of five videos in the Make the Export Sale set. Then read through our web pages below.
Last Published: 12/18/2017

Export Shipping Documents

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Quick Links:    Back to first video in set |  How to Export Video Series

Common U.S. Export Documents

  • A pro forma invoice is prepared by the exporter before shipping the goods, informing the buyer of the goods to be sent, their value, and other key specifications. It also can be used as an offering of sale or price quotation.

  • A commercial invoice is 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.
  • A Certificate of Origin is required by some countries for all or only certain products. In many cases, a statement of origin printed on company letterhead will suffice. The exporter should verify whether the Certificate is required with the buyer and/or an experienced shipper/freight forwarder. Certificate procedures and requirements may vary by product or country. For example, for U.S. exporters claiming benefits under free trade agreements, special Certificates may be required for U.S. FTA partner countries.
  • ​More detailed than a standard domestic packing list, an export packing list lists seller, buyer, shipper, invoice number, date of shipment, mode of transport, weight, quantity, description of items, and other elements. Commercial stationers and freight forwarders carry packing list forms. A packing list may serve as conforming document, but not as a substitute for a commercial invoice; U.S. and foreign customs officials may use the export packing list to check cargo.
  • Air freight shipments require airway bills. Air Waybills are shipper-specific (e.g.,USPS, Fed-Ex, UPS, DHL, etc.).

  • A bill of lading is a contract between the owner of the goods and the carrier. 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 also: straight bill of lading and liner bill of lading. 

  • Export forms and documents can be obtained through your shipper, freight forwarder or customs broker. 

U.S. Government Required Export Documentation

Applies to value of goods over $2500, and products requiring an export license

  • Electronic Export Information Filing or EEI
    (EEI is the most common of all export control documents).

    • EEI is required for the vast majority of shipments when the value of goods is over $2500 per Schedule B number or HTSUSA commodity classification code, with some exemptions (see Subpart D) such as Canada. 

    • EEI also applies for shipments of any value requiring an export license. (Does your product need an export license?) Learn more by viewing our webpage and video on U.S. Export Licensing from the Plan Your Market Entry Strategy video set.

  • How to Register and File  

    • For EEI, U.S. exporters may electronically file via the ACE AESDirect portal, a free service from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

    • AESDirect is now hosted in the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE). Register and file in the ACE for an Exporter Account, and view a series of educational videos, articles and webinars. 

    • EEI Reporting Requirements (Section 30.2(a): 

      • United States to Foreign Countries
      • United States to Puerto Rico
      • United States to U.S. Virgin Islands
      • Puerto Rico to United States
      • Puerto Rico to Foreign Countries
      • Puerto Rio to U.S. Virgin Islands
      • U.S. Virgin Islands to Foreign Countries 
      • U.S. Foreign Trade Zones to Foreign Countries
      • U.S. Foreign Trade Zones to Puerto Rico    

Foreign Country Requirements for Exporting Regulated Products

  • As noted in the above video, many countries require proof that imports of regulated products (examples, cosmetics, medical devices, agricultural goods) meet U.S. regulatory requirements. These requirements which protect human health, safety, and the environment often vary from country-to-country.

  • In some cases, countries will recognize imported products as meeting their regulatory requirements if they can be legally sold in the U.S. or if they are made using standards developed by U.S.-domiciled standards development organizations. In such instances, this may eliminate the need for additional testing and certification before the product can be placed on the foreign market. For more details, see our web page and video on Foreign Regulations from the Plan Your Market Entry Strategy video set. 

  • A list of selected U.S.-issued documents for meeting foreign product requirements is available, as well as information on EU regulatory requirements

Temporary Shipment Documents

  • ATA CARNET/Temporary shipment certificate 
    An ATA Carnet or "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.

    • All Carnets require a security deposit equal to 40 percent of the value of the General List. However, there are a few exceptions: Carnets issued for Brazil require a security deposit equal to 60 percent of the value of the General List; road vehicles covered by a Carnet require 100 percent security for corporations or 150% if the holder is an individual; and all vehicles visiting China require a minimum of 100% security deposit.

    • Businesses may prefer to opt for a ATA Surety Bond instead of the cash (security) deposit. The surety bond is an insurance premium in lieu of a cash deposit. For example, a $200 premium for Surety bond (keeping in mind variables on conditions and surety premiums rates) would currently cover a product worth $50,000, as opposed to paying $20,000 or a 40 percent deposit).         

    • Apply for an ATA Carnet.

  • Customs Certificate of Registration
    Customs Form 4455 may be used (often in conjunction with a temporary import bond or ATA Carnet for goods that are leaving the United States on a temporary basis for alteration, repair, replacement, and processing).

  • Transporting Goods by Truck to Canada 
    An application to transact bonded carrier and forwarding operation, Form E370, is required to bring goods over the border to Canada, when not already cleared through Customs at the border.

Get Help, the U.S. federal government’s export assistance portal, links businesses to many resources, including the following:    

  • Locate a trade expert and learn about the services of the U.S. Commercial Service’s global office network.   

  • Shipping Basics, the third of five videos in our Making the Export Sale series, provides additional information on freight forwarders.

  • Webinars on “Documentation and Regulations” offer additional insight into export requirements.

  • Country Commercial Guides provide the latest market intelligence on more than 140 countries from U.S. embassies worldwide.

Prepared by the International Trade Administration. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting

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