Doing business across international borders requires valid export shipping documents. Country- or region- specific documents can include CCC certification to sell goods in China, or CE certification to sell goods in Europe. Product specific documentation can include export licenses for military items or ingredient certifications for agricultural products. The most common exporting document is the commercial invoice. Do your research to determine which documents are required for export and decide if you will complete them yourself or if you want to delegate this task to your freight forwarder. Your shipper or foreign partner may be knowledgeable on export documentation needed for your product. Watch the Exporting Basics video all about export documentation to learn more.
Last Published: 3/24/2017

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Common Export Documents
Commercial Invoice
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.

Export Packing List
Considerably more detailed and informative than a standard domestic packing list, an export packing list 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. In addition, U.S. and foreign customs officials may use the export packing list to check the cargo.

Pro Forma Invoice
A pro forma invoice is an invoice 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.

Transportation Documents
Airway Bill
Air freight shipments require airway bills. Airway bills are shipper-specific (i.e., USPS, Fed-Ex, UPS, DHL, etc.).

Bill of Lading
A bill of lading is 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 also: straight bill of lading and liner bill of lading.

Electronic Export Information Filing (formerly known as the Shipper’s Export Declaration)
Electronic Export Information (EEI) is the most common of all export control documents. It is required for shipments above $2,500* and for shipments of any value requiring an export license. It has to be electronically filed via the AES Direct online system, which is a free service from Census and Customs.

Numerous videos are available on AES Direct, including: Registering for AESDirect, Filing a Shipment in AESDirect, Response Messages from AES, Proof of Filing Citations, AESDirect - The Shipment Manager, and Elimination of the SSN in the AES.

*Note: The 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 EEI except in cases where an export license is required. (Shipments to third countries passing through Canada do need an EEI.)
Temporary Shipment Documents
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 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.

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

Trade Documents