Commercial Invoice

The commercial invoice is a record of the transaction between the exporter and the importer. Once the goods are available, the exporter issues a commercial invoice in order to charge the importer for the goods.

The commercial invoice contains the basic information on the transaction and is always required for customs clearance. Although some entries specific to the export-import trade are added, it is similar to an ordinary sales invoice.

The minimum data generally includes the following:

  • Exporter and importer information (name and address)
  • Date of issue
  • Invoice number
  • Description of the goods (name, quality, etc.)
  • Unit of measure
  • Quantity of goods
  • Unit value
  • Total item value
  • Total invoice value and currency of payment. The equivalent amount must be indicated in a currency freely convertible to euro or other legal tender in the importing EU country
  • The terms of payment (method and date of payment, discounts, etc.)
  • The terms of delivery according to the appropriate Incoterm
  • Means of transport

No specific form is required. The commercial invoice is to be prepared by the exporter according to standard business practice and it must be submitted in the original along with at least one copy.

In general, there is no need for the invoice to be signed. In practice, both the original and the copy of the commercial invoice are often signed.

The commercial invoice may be prepared in any language. A translation into English is recommended.

Customs Value Declaration

A Customs Value Declaration must be presented to the customs authorities where the value of the imported goods exceeds €10,000. The Customs Value Declaration must be drawn up conforming to form DV 1.

This form must be presented with the Single Administrative Document (SAD). The main purpose of this requirement is to determine the value of the transaction in order to fix the customs value (in other words the taxable value) to apply the tariff duties.

The customs value corresponds to the value of the goods including all the costs incurred (e.g. commercial price, transport, insurance) until the first point of entry in the European Union.

The usual method to establish the customs value is using the transaction value (the price paid or payable for the imported goods). In certain cases the transaction value of the imported goods may be subject to an adjustment, which involves additions or deductions. For instance:

  •  commissions or royalties may need to be added to the price
  • internal transport (from the entry point to the final destination in the Community Customs Territory) must be deducted

The customs authorities must waive the requirement of all (or part of) the customs value declaration if one or more of the following applies:

  • the customs value of the imported goods in a consignment does not exceed €20,000 provided they do not constitute split or multiple consignments from the same consignor to the same consignee
  • the importations involved are of a non-commercial nature
  • the submission of these type of documents is not necessary for the Customs Tariff of the European Communities to be applied
  • where the customs duties described in the tariff are not chargeable because of specific customs provisions

See also:

Freight documents

Depending on the type of transport used, the following documents are to be filled in and presented to the customs authority of the importing EU country upon importation in order for the goods to be cleared:


Bill of Lading (B/L)

This is issued by the shipping company to the operating shipper, confirming that the goods have been received on board. In this way the Bill of Lading serves as proof of receipt of the goods by the carrier obliging him to deliver the goods to the consignee.

It contains:

  • the details of the goods
  • the vessel
  • the port of destination

It also gives proof of the contract of carriage and conveys title to the goods, meaning that the bearer of the Bill of Lading is the owner of the goods.

The Bill of Lading may be a negotiable document. A number of different types of bills of lading can be used.

  1. Clean Bills of Lading state that the goods have been received in an apparent good order and condition.
  2. Unclean or Dirty Bills of Lading indicate that the goods are damaged or in bad order, in this case, the financing bank may refuse to accept the consignor's documents.

FIATA Bill of Lading

This is a document designed to be used as a shipping contract when multimodal or combined transport is used.

This document does not identify any principal type of transport, meaning the forwarding agent holds all responsibility for the transport of the goods, even if third parties are involved.

It was developed by the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations and has negotiable status.

Road Waybill (CMR)

A document containing the details of the international transportation of goods by road, set out by the Convention for the Contract of the International Carriage of Goods by Road 1956 (the CMR Convention).

The convention enables the consignor to have the goods at his disposal during transportation. It must be issued in four copies and signed by the consignor and the carrier.

  1. The first copy is intended for the consignor.
  2. The second remains in the possession of the carrier.
  3. The third accompanies the goods and is delivered to the consignee.
  4. The forth one must be signed and stamped by the consignee and then returned to the consignor.

Usually, a CMR is issued for each vehicle. The CMR note is not a document of title and is non-negotiable.

Air Waybill (AWB)

This document which serves as proof of the transport contract between the consignor and the carrier's company. It is issued by the carrier's agent and falls under the provisions of the 1929 Warsaw Convention on international carriage by air.

A single air waybill may be used for multiple shipments of goods; it consists of three originals and several extra copies. One original is kept by each of the parties involved in the transport (the consignor, the consignee and the carrier).

The copies may be required

  • at the airport of departure/destination
  • for the delivery and in some cases
  • occasionally for further freight carriers

The air waybill is a freight bill, which evidences a contract of carriage and proves receipt of goods.

A specific type of air waybill is the one used by all carriers belonging to the International Air Transport Association (IATA); a bill called the IATA Standard Air Waybill. It contains thestandard conditions associated with those set out in the Warsaw Convention.

Rail Waybill (CIM)

This document is required when transporting goods by rail. It is regulated by the Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail 1980 (COTIF-CIM).

The CIM is issued by the carrier in five copies:

  • the original accompanies the goods
  • the duplicate of the original is kept by the consignor
  • the three remaining copies are kept by the carrier for internal purposes

It is considered the rail transport contract.

ATA Carnet

Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission carnets are international customs documents to allow the temporary importation of goods, free of customs duties and taxes. They are issued by the chambers of commerce in the majority of the industrialized world.

ATA carnets can be issued for the following categories of goods:

  • commercial samples
  • professional equipment
  • goods for presentation or use at trade fairs, shows, exhibitions, etc.

TIR Carnet


The TIR Carnet is a customs transit document used for the international transport of goods, a part of which must be made by road. They allow the transport of goods under a procedure called the TIR procedure(1975 TIR Convention).

The TIR system requires:

  • goods to travel in secure vehicles or containers
  • all duties and taxes at risk throughout the journey to be covered by an internationally valid guarantee
  • the goods to be accompanied by a TIR carnet
  • customs control measures in the country of departure to be accepted by the countries of transit and destination

Freight insurance

Insurance covers common risks during handling, storing, loading or transporting cargo, but also rare risks, such as riots, strikes or terrorism.

There is a difference between the goods transport insurance and the carrier's responsibility insurance. The covered risks, fixed compensation and indemnity of the contract of transport insurance are left to the holder's choice. Nevertheless, the hauler's responsibility insurance is determined by different regulations.

Depending on the means of transport, indemnity is limited by the weight and value of the goods and is only given in cases where the transporter cannot be held responsible.

The insurance invoice is required for customs clearance only when the relevant data do not appear in the commercial invoice indicating the premium paid to insure the merchandise.

The standard extent of the transporter's responsibility is laid down in the following international conventions:

1. Road freight

International transport of goods by road is governed by the Convention for the Contract of the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR Convention).

Under this convention, the road hauler is not responsible for losses of or damages to the goods if he proves that they arise from:

  • the merchandise's own defect(s)
  • force majeure
  • a fault by the loader or consignee

There is no EU regulation regarding indemnifications for road freight.

2. The rail carrier

International transport of goods by rail is regulated by the Convention concerning Intercarriage by Rail (CIM Convention).

The rail carrier is not responsible for losses of or damages to the goods if he proves that they arise from:

  • the merchandise's own defect(s)
  • force majeure
  • a fault by the loader or consignee

There is no EU regulation regarding compensation. Indemnification is normally limited to a maximum amount per gross kilo lost or damaged. In the majority of cases, therefore, the company is unlikely to receive anything approaching the value of its goods.

3. The shipping company

The International Convention on Bill of Lading, also known as The Hague Rules or the Brussels Convention dictates the marine carrier's responsibilities when transporting international goods.

The shipping company is not responsible for losses or damage to the goods if it proves that they arise from:

  • the merchandise's own defects and loss in weight during transport
  • a nautical mistake by the crew
  • a fire
  • the ship being unseaworthy
  • force majeure
  • strikes or a lock-out
  • a mistake by the loader
  • hidden defects on board ship, which went unnoticed during rigorous inspection
  • an attempt to save lives or goods at sea

There is no harmonisation at EU level regarding compensation. It is normally limited to a certain sum per kilo lost or damaged goods. This system causes the same problems as with rail accidents, namely that the exporter is likely to lose much of the value of the goods.

4. The air carrier

The Warsaw Convention as well as the Montreal draft Treaty state that the air carrier is not responsible for damages or loss of goods if it can be proven that:

  • the carrier and associates took all the measures necessary to avoid the damage or that it was impossible for them to be taken (force majeure)
  • the losses arise from a pilotage or navigation mistake
  • the injured party was the cause of the damage or contributed to it

There is no EU standard concerning the injured party's indemnification. Compensation is normally limited to a set amount per gross kilo damaged or lost goods.

The air carrier can state specific reservations at the time of receiving the cargo. These reservations will be written on the air consignment note (ACN) (as air transport contract) and will be used as evidence. However, airlines will normally refuse dubious packages or those not corresponding to the ACN.

Packing list

The packing list (P/L) is an inventory of the incoming cargo required for customs clearance and accompanying the commercial invoice and the transport documents.

It generally includes the following:

  • the exporter, the importer and the transport company
  • date of issue
  • number of the freight invoice
  • type of packaging (drum, crate, barrel, etc.)
  • number of packages
  • content of each package(description of the goods and number of items per package)
  • marks and numbers
  • net weight, gross weight and measurement of the packages

No specific form is required. The packing list is to be prepared by the exporter according to standard business practice and the original along with at least one copy must be submitted.

Generally there is no need for it to be signed. However, both the original and the copy of the packing list are often signed.

The packing list may be prepared in any language, although a translation into English is recommended.

Single Administrative Document (SAD)

All goods imported into the EU must be declared to the customs authorities of the respective EU country using the Single Administrative Document (SAD). The SAD is the common import declaration form for all the EU countries, laid down in Commission Regulation (EC) No 2286/2003. Please see more detailed information in the SAD guidelines.

The declaration must be drawn up in one of the official languages of the EU, which is acceptable to the customs authorities of the EU country where the formalities are carried out.

The SAD may be presented either by:

  • using an approved computerised system linked to Customs authorities
  • lodging it with the designated Customs Office premises

The main information to be declared is:

  • identifying data of the parties involved (importer, exporter, representative, etc.)
  • customs-approved treatment (release for free circulation, release for consumption, temporary importation, transit, etc.)
  • identifying data of the goods (Taric code, weight, units), location and packaging
  • the means of transport
  • data about country of origin, country of export and destination
  • commercial and financial information (Incoterms, invoice value, invoice currency, exchange rate, insurance etc.)
  • list of documents associated with the SAD (Import licenses, inspection certificates, document of origin, transport document, commercial invoice etc.)
  • declaration and method of payment of import taxes (tariff duties, VAT, Excises, etc)

The SAD set consists of eight copies; the operator completes all or part of the sheets depending on the type of operation.

For imports, generally three copies are used:

  • one is retained by the authorities of the EU country in which arrival formalities are completed
  • another is used for statistical purposes by the EU country of destination
  • the last is returned to the consignee after being stamped by the customs authority

Documents associated with the SAD

According to the operation and the nature of the imported goods, additional documents must be declared with the SAD and presented together with it. The most important documents are:

  • documentary proof of origin, normally used to apply a tariff preferential treatment
  • certificate confirming the special nature of the product
  • transport document
  • commercial Invoice
  • customs value declaration
  • inspections certificates (health, veterinary, plant health certificates)
  • import licenses
  • Community surveillance document
  • CITES certificate
  • documents to support a claim of a tariff quota
  • documents required for Excise purposes
  • evidence to support a claim for VAT relief
 See also:

EU Regulation 2913/92 establishing the Community Customs Code

EU Regulation 2454/93 on the implementation of the Community Customs Code