Additional customs clearance documents

During the process of trading goods internationally, it is important to prepare a number of key documents necessary for customs clearance. These usually include, among others, the commercial invoice, Authorised Economic Operator status, proof of originBinding Tariff InformationBinding Origin Information, relevant certificates or licences, and VAT and export records.

However, depending on the means of transport, typically additional documents must be filled in and presented to the customs authorities of the country of destination for the goods to be cleared. This section presents more detailed information on the following additional types of documents

  • Bill of Lading (Shipping)
  • FIATA Bill of Lading (Combined Transport)
  • Road Waybill (Transport by Road)
  • Air Waybill (Air Freight)
  • Rail Waybill (Rail Freight)
  • ATA Carnet (All Forms of Transport)
  • TIR Carnet (Combined Road and Other Transport)
  • Packing List

For a description of the overall import and export process as well as the general steps to take, you can also consult our step-by-step guides.

Bill of Lading

The Bill of Lading (B/L) is a document issued by the shipping company to the operating shipper, acknowledging that the goods were received on board. As such, the Bill of Lading serves as proof that the carrier has received the goods. It obliges them to deliver the goods to the consignee. It contains the details of the goods, the vessel and the port of destination. It shows the contract of carriage and conveys the title to the goods. This means that the bearer of the Bill of Lading is now the owner of the goods.

The Bill of Lading may be a negotiable document. A number of different types of bill of lading can be used. 'Clean Bills of Lading' state that the goods have been received in an apparent good order and condition. 'Unclean or Dirty Bills of Lading' indicate that the goods are damaged or in bad order. In such cases, the financing bank may refuse to accept the consignor's documents.

FIATA Bill of Lading

The FIATA Bill of Lading is a document designed by the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA). It is used for various different modes of transport (multimodal) and can be applied as a combined transport document, with negotiable status. The specific mode of transport is not specified. Legal responsibility for the goods can be transferred during a journey.

Road Waybill (CMR)

The road waybill is a document containing details of the international transportation of goods by road. It is set out by the Convention for the Contract of the International Carriage of Goods by Road 1956 (the CMR Convention). It enables the consignor to have the goods at their disposal during transportation. There must be four copies of the document, and they all must be signed by the consignor and the carrier. The first copy is intended for the consignor; the second remains in the possession of the carrier; the third accompanies the goods and is delivered to the consignee; and the fourth must be signed and stamped by the consignee, before being 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. Legal ownership cannot be transferred.

Air Waybill (AWB)

The air waybill is a document that 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 Warsaw Convention (Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules relating to International Carriage by Air, 12 October 1929). A single air waybill may be used for multiple shipments of goods. It contains 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). Copies may be required at the airport of departure/destination, during delivery, and in some cases, by further freight carriers. The air waybill is a freight bill showing a contract of carriage. It proves receipt of goods.

The IATA Standard Air Waybill is a specific type of air waybill used by carriers belonging to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). It generally contains the standard conditions set out in the Warsaw Convention.

Rail Waybill (CIM)

The rail waybill (CIM) is a document required for the transportation of 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 consignor keeps a duplicate of the original. The carrier keeps the three remaining copies for internal purposes. The CIM is considered the rail transport contract.

ATA Carnet

ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) carnets are international customs documents issued by chambers of commerce in the majority of the industrialised world to allow the temporary importation of goods, free of customs duties and taxes. ATA carnets can be issued for the following categories of goods: commercial samples, professional equipment, and goods for presentation or use at trade fairs, shows, exhibitions, etc. Consult the International Chamber of Commerce website for further information. 

TIR Carnet

TIR carnets are customs transit documents used for the international transport of goods, when part of the journey has to be made by road. They allow the transport of goods under a procedure called the TIR procedure. The TIR procedure was established in the 1975 TIR Convention and signed under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).The TIR system requires goods to travel in secure vehicles or containers. All duties and taxes liable to be paid on the goods are covered by an internationally valid guarantee. The TIR carnet stipulates that this guarantee must be accepted by the countries of transit and destination.

Packing List

The packing list (P/L) is a commercial document accompanying the commercial invoice and the transport documents. It provides information on the imported items and the packaging details of each shipment (weight, dimensions, handling issues, etc.).

It is required for customs clearance as an inventory of the incoming cargo.

The packing list generally includes

  • information on the exporter, the importer and the transport company
  • date of issue
  • number of the freight invoice
  • type of packaging (drum, crate, carton, box, barrel, bag, 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 exporter prepares the packing list according to standard business practice. The original document and at least one copy must be submitted. Generally, there is no need for it to be signed. However, in practice, the original and a copy of the packing list are often signed. The packing list may be prepared in any language. However, a translation into English is recommended.

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