Common types of export documents and their uses

In international trade, using correct and compliant export documentation for shipments is vitally important.  Incorrect documents can cause shipment delays and it can end up costing time and money to resolve issues that arise.  The different documents used for export and import shipments to and from different countries can vary a great deal.  Below, we explain the common types of export documents and their uses, along with what information they should contain or evidence;

Proforma Invoice

A Proforma Invoice is best described as an estimated invoice.  Essentially, it shows what the seller is going to ship and how much they will invoice for, once the order has been shipped.  A Proforma Invoice is sent to the buyer by the seller in advance of shipment.  It details the goods being supplied, quantities, unit prices and total order value including other charges such as freight costs, insurance charges etc.  If the importer is making payment in advance of shipment, then a Proforma Invoice may need to be issued to facilitate the payment.  A Proforma Invoice is often required by the buyer to initiate the import process or open a letter of credit in the destination country.

Commercial Invoice

A Commercial Invoice is the most common document used in international trade. It is required by customs authorities in the destination country.  It is required for all export shipments outside of the EU.  (A Commercial Invoice may be required for EU shipments after the U.K leaves, depending on the customs arrangement that is agreed).  This document is used to establish the value of imported goods so the applicable duties and taxes can be calculated.  A Commercial Invoice should;

  • Include the details of the seller and the buyer
  • be dated
  • show the terms of sale (Incoterms)
  • have a description of goods and quantity
  • show the weight of the shipment and type of packing
  • detail the unit value and total value
  • detail other charges (as applicable) e.g. freight, insurance etc.
Packing List

A Packing List will usually show an itemised list of the goods that have been shipped.  This will normally detail the contents including quantity, description and weight of each shipment package.  A Packing List is generated by the seller and sent to the consignee to allow easy reconciliation of the delivered goods. It is sometimes also known as a Packing Slip, Despatch Note or Delivery Note.

European Community Certificate of Origin

This is a document that certifies a shipment’s country of origin (or ‘nationality’).  It evidences where the last substantial economic processing of the goods took place.  A Certificate of Origin is usually requested to make use of certain benefits given to goods whose origin is of a particular country.  A Certificate of Origin is most often issued by the Chamber of Commerce in the exporting country.  Some buyers will, however, accept a manufacturer or supplier Certificate of Origin as a substitute.

Arab British Chamber of Commerce Certificate of Origin

Some Arab League countries will request a Certificate of Origin specifically issued by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce.  Although we have seen an increasing trend towards such countries now accepting European Community Certificates of Origin.  An AB C of O serves the same purpose though i.e. to certify the country of origin of the goods.


An EUR1 is a type of Movement Certificate.  Its purpose is to allow importers in certain countries to import goods at reduced or sometimes zero rates of duty.  An EUR1 can be utilised if there is a trade agreement between the EU and the importing country.  It is only applicable, however, if the goods in question meet the preferential origin rules.  These origin rules are different to those applied to Certificates of Origin.  Preferential origin rules relate to the amount of non-EU material within a shipped product.  The rules can also vary depending on the destination country in question.  An EUR1 must not be issued unless the goods meet the applicable preferential origin rules.


This is another type of Movement Certificate, specific to Turkey.  An A.TR document allows goods to be imported into Turkey at beneficial rates of duty.  An A.TR evidences that either;

  • The goods in question originate in the EU, or,
  • The goods have been imported into the EU with all applicable duties and taxes paid and are in ‘free circulation’.

An A.TR must not be issued unless the goods meet the relevant criteria.

ATA Carnet

This is thought of as a ‘Merchandise Passport’.  An ATA Carnet allows duty and tax-free imports in over 70 countries that participate in the scheme.  This can be particularly beneficial for goods being temporarily exported and then re-imported.   Examples would be goods used for exhibition, temporary displays, demonstrations etc.  An ATA Carnet avoids the need to complete more complex customs formalities for temporary goods admission.  It also removes the need for other export documents.

Transport document

If the exporter of the goods is arranging and pre-paying the freight, a transport document will form part of the export documents.  This will most commonly be a Bill of Lading (sea freight) or Air Waybill (air freight), evidencing the shipment of the goods.  In circumstances where the buyer is arranging the freight, a Certificate of Receipt, Forwarder’s Cargo Receipt etc. would be the correct document.  This is not a transport document.  It confirms that the goods have been handed over (delivered) at the agreed place, in good order and condition for shipment.

The above lists the most common types of export documents and their uses for international shipments.  There can be many other documents requested that vary depending on the country, trade term and individual buyer requirements.  Insurance Certificates, Certificates of Conformity, Pre-shipment Inspection Certificates to name just a few.  Depending on payment type, you may also need Bills of Exchange (also referred to as Drafts) to facilitate payment.  Export License documents may also be required as necessary.

We have vast experience in all types of international trade documentation.  At Access to Export, we can advise and produce export documents on your behalf depending on your requirements.  We can also arrange any Chamber of Commerce attested documents through our membership.  Where needed, we can also arrange for documents to be legalised. (Legalisation is separate to attestation and is done by the destination country’s Embassy in the U.K.)

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need help with your export documents!