A commercial invoice is required for all commodity exports. Most non-document shipments are considered a commodity shipment. A commercial invoice is needed for customs clearance, and it serves as a receipt of sale and a contract between the buyer and seller.
Oftentimes the commercial invoice is included in the exporter’s shipping software. If not, commercial invoices are available online from carriers or government sites. Simply contact the necessary carrier or site to get the appropriate commercial invoice.
The commercial invoice should include the following:
The exporter’s name, address, and contact information
The buyer’s name, address, and contact information
A description of the items being shipped
The quantity and unit of measure
The total value of the goods
The terms of sale
The currency of payment
The freight, insurance, and other transportation charges
The country of origin
Any applicable HS codes
A commercial invoice is typically the first document requested by a foreign customs authority when clearing goods into their country.
The U.S. uses a classification system specific to U.S. exports known as Schedule B codes. Schedule B codes are required for all U.S. exports. The U.S. uses a term of Schedule B codes that is known as harmonize system code (or similar) in other countries. The basic HS code contains six digits, known as a subheading. The Schedule B is a 10-digit code built upon the first six digits of the HS code. Additionally, the Schedule B code is a U.S.-specific coding system used to monitor U.S. exports (e.g., for export compliance and trade data collection).
The U.S. Census Bureau publishes the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS), which is used to classify goods imported into and exported from the U.S. Schedule B codes are used to provide a more detailed description of the product being exported, which helps to ensure that the goods are properly declared and that the appropriate duties and taxes are applied. Additionally, Schedule B codes help to identify any potential restrictions the import of certain goods may have. The Census Bureau works with other government agencies, including the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), to ensure that exporters are in compliance with all applicable export regulations.
You can determine your HS or Schedule B number via export.gov. Or you can complete the following steps:
Search the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the U.S. (HTSUS).
Search the list by product name, keyword, or Schedule B code.
Once you have found the correct code for your goods, you can then include it on your commercial invoice and other documentation related to the shipment.
These codes are used by customs officials around the world to determine the proper duties and taxes that should be applied to shipments. As a U.S. exporter, you should include the correct Schedule B code on your commercial invoice and any other documentation related to the shipment.
Zonos Classify is an online tool that helps U.S. exporters obtain Schedule B codes. The tool uses artificial intelligence to match items to the correct Schedule B codes. It also provides guidance on how to complete the necessary paperwork for international shipments. This makes it easier for exporters to comply with rules and regulations related to international trade.
A packing list may be required for U.S. exporters when shipping goods to another country, it is not always needed. The packing list should be created by the exporter and must include the following:
The quantity and description of the goods being shipped
The weight of the shipment
Any special instructions for handling the goods
The HS code for the goods should be included, as this is required for customs clearance
The packing list should be included with the other documents in the shipment, such as the commercial invoice and any other necessary forms.
U.S. exporters typically need a BOL or AWB when shipping goods internationally. This document is used to provide a record of the goods shipped, their destination, and the cost of the shipment. It is also used to prove ownership of the goods and may be required for customs clearance.
U.S. exporters can acquire a bill of lading or air waybill from the carrier (shipping company) transporting the goods. To do so:
Provide the carrier with the necessary information about the shipment, such as the destination, weight, and value of the goods.
The carrier generates the BOL or AWB.
A BOL or AWB serves as a contract between the exporter and the carrier. Furthermore, this document serves as a receipt of the goods, which can be used to prove that the goods have been delivered to the buyer.
U.S. exporters are generally required to have an ECCN. An ECCN is used to classify goods for export control purposes and is based on the nature of the goods being exported. An ECCN must be obtained prior to export for most goods, as it is required for obtaining the necessary export licenses and documents.
Most companies obtain their own ECCN, but there are three ways to get an ECCN:
Self-classify the item by reviewing the Commerce Control List (CCL)
Contact the manufacturer, as they may know the ECCN of the item
Submit an official commodity classification request to BIS electronically using SNAP-R.
ECCNs are important for U.S. exporters because they are used to determine the export control restrictions that apply to the goods being exported. ECCNs are used to determine if an export license is required and if any export restrictions apply. ECCNs are also used to track exports for compliance with U.S. export control regulations.
The U.S. government requires export licenses for the export of certain goods and technologies that are deemed sensitive or have national security implications.
The process of obtaining an export license varies depending on the type of product being exported and the destination country. To acquire an export license:
Determine that your goods require an export license: Refer to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), and the U.S. Department of Commerce, BIS regulations to determine if your goods require an export license.
Determine the destination country: The destination country can also affect whether an export license is required. Some countries may be subject to restrictions on certain types of goods or technologies (this information can be found in the import guide of the country you intend to export to).
Submit a license application: If an export license is required, you will need to submit a license application to the appropriate agency (listed in step number one).
Wait for approval: It is important to apply well in advance of the planned export date to allow for processing time.
More details about export licensing can be found in the Export license section of the Legal requirements guide.
U.S. exporters may be required to register with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) if they are exporting defense articles or services. This registration is known as ITAR registration.
Note that the DDTC is the U.S. State Department.
U.S. exporters can complete ITAR registration by doing the following steps:
Submit Form DS-2032 to the DDTC.
The DDTC will then issue the exporter their ITAR registration.
ITAR registration determines the export control restrictions that apply to the goods being exported and if an export license is required. Additionally, ITAR registration tracks exports for compliance with U.S. export control regulations.
U.S. exporters typically need a freight forwarder's cargo receipt for their exports when the goods are shipped by sea. This document provides a record of the goods shipped, proof of ownership, and proof of delivery to the destination port. The freight forwarder's cargo receipt is also used to prove that the goods were shipped in accordance with the terms of the contract.
U.S. exporters can obtain a freight forwarder's cargo receipt from the freight forwarder or shipping company transporting the goods. To do so:
Provide the freight forwarder with the necessary information about the shipment, such as the destination, weight, and value of the goods.
The freight forwarder generates the cargo receipt.
This document also provides evidence of the shipment for customs clearance.
Insurance certificate is needed when a letter of credit is involved in the purchase of the goods. Most express or ground shipments do not need an ins certificate and certainly an ecommerce shipment does not need one. This document provides proof of insurance coverage for the goods in the event of loss or damage. Insurance certificates are also required in order to obtain financing for the shipment.
U.S. exporters can obtain insurance certificates from an insurance company. To do so:
Provide the insurance company with the necessary information about the shipment.
The insurance company then issues the certificate.
The exporter can then provide the certificate to the carrier transporting the goods and the buyer at the destination.
Insurance certificates provide evidence of the shipment for customs clearance and can be used to obtain financing for the shipment.
A certificate of origin is typically only needed to acquire preferential treatment, and they are uaully requested by customs, banks, private stakeholders, and importers. This document is used to identify the good's country of origin, which is often required to take advantage of certain trade agreements and to receive preferential tariffs.
U.S. exporters can obtain a certificate of origin from the local chamber of commerce or a similar organization. To do so:
Provide the necessary information about the shipment, such as the country of origin, the value of the goods, and the type of product to your local chamber of commerce.
The chamber of commerce will then generate the certificate of origin.
Certificates of origin can come in paper or electronic form.
U.S. exporters are generally required to have an EIN if they are a corporation, partnership, or limited liability company (LLC). Additionally, some exporters may need an EIN in order to open a bank account to process transactions or to obtain a business license. EINs are required for most business transactions, including opening a bank account, filing taxes, and registering with foreign countries.
U.S. exporters can acquire an EIN by completing the following steps:
EINs are important for U.S. exporters because they are used to identify the exporter for tax and legal purposes. Additionally, EINs track exports for compliance with U.S. export control regulations.
The ITN is required when a U.S. exporter (also known as the U.S. Principal Party in Interest, or USPPI) files Electronic Export Information (EEI) with the U.S. Census Bureau. Common instances when a ITN is required include the following:
Obtain an EIN: You will need one of these identification numbers to file EEI in the Automated Export System (AES).
Register for an account with the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) at https://www.cbp.gov/trade/automated: This is the system used to access AESDirect, where you will file your EEI.
Create an ACE exporter account: After registering with ACE, you will need to create an exporter account. This account allows you to access the AESDirect system to file your EEI.
File the EEI in AESDirect: Log in to your ACE account and access the AESDirect system. Provide the required information about your shipment, including details about you (as the shipper), the consignee, and the Schedule B number.
Submit the EEI and receive your ITN: After submitting your EEI, the AES will process the information, and if approved, assign an ITN to your shipment. This ITN serves as proof that you have
An ITN is important for U.S. exports because it is needed to remain compliant with U.S. export regulations, it’s needed for customs clearance, it helps for tracking, monitoring, and risk management purposes, and it makes it easier to collect statistical data.
U.S. exporters may be required to have a Dun & Bradstreet Number (DUNS) when engaging in business with the U.S. government or when applying for certain grants and loans. Additionally, some exporters may need a DUNS in order to open a bank account to process transactions.
Submit an online request to Dun & Bradstreet.
The exporter will then be issued a DUNS by Dun & Bradstreet.
DUNS are important for U.S. exporters because they identify the exporter for business activities with the U.S. government. DUNS are used to track exports for compliance with U.S. export control regulations and may also be required for certain grants and loans.
U.S. exporters should consult with a qualified export control specialist or freight forwarder to ensure they have all the necessary documentation and numbers for their export. The following resources can help you find qualified export control specialists or freight forwarders in the U.S.:
Export.gov: A website of the U.S. Department of Commerce with information on export control laws and regulations.
Bureau of Industry and Security: U.S. Department of Commerce agency responsible for overseeing export control regulations.
Export Control Reform Initiative: U.S. Department of State website with information on export control reform initiatives.
Office of Defense Trade Controls: U.S. Department of State agency responsible for oversight of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS): U.S. Department of State program to assist other countries in strengthening their export control systems.
International Air Transport Association (IATA): Global trade association of airlines that facilitates air cargo movement.
U.S. exporters are required to provide a number of different documents and numbers when exporting goods, depending on the type of goods, the destination country, and other factors. These documents and numbers include the commercial invoice, an HS code, a packing list, a BOL or AWB, an ECCN, an export license, ITAR registration, a freight forwarder's cargo receipt, an insurance certificate, a certificate of origin, an EIN, and a DUNS. Each of these documents and numbers plays a vital role in the export process.
See Zonospolicies and agreements.
Learn about the documentation U.S. exporters must complete in order to export their goods.
The specific documentation or identification numbers required from U.S. exporters can vary depending on the goods being exported and the destination country. However, here is a list of common documents and numbers that U.S. exporters may be required to provide:
Commercial invoice: A document that provides details of the goods being exported, including a description of the goods, quantity, unit value, and the total value of the shipment.
Harmonized System (HS) code: A number used to classify goods for customs purposes based on the internationally recognized HS.
Packing list: A document that provides a detailed list of the shipment's contents, including the quantity, weight, and dimensions of each item.
Bill of lading/air waybill (BOL/AWB): A document that serves as a contract between the exporter and the carrier, providing shipment details, including the names of the consignor and consignee, the origin and destination of the shipment, and the terms of the shipment.
Export Control Classification Number (ECCN): A five-character alphanumeric code used to classify certain goods and technologies for export-control purposes.
Export license: A document issued by the U.S. government that authorizes the export of certain controlled goods, services, or technologies.
International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) Registration: A registration required for U.S. companies that manufacture or export defense articles or services covered by the ITAR.
Freight forwarder's cargo receipt: A document issued by a freight forwarder that acknowledges receipt of the shipment and provides details of the shipment.
Insurance certificate: A document that provides details of the insurance coverage for the shipment.
Certificate of origin: A document that certifies the exported goods' country of origin.
Employer Identification Number (EIN): A unique number assigned to businesses by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax purposes.
Internal Transaction Number (ITN): A unique identification number assigned by the Automated Export System (AES) to track export shipments from the United States.
Dun & Bradstreet Number (DUNS): A unique nine-digit identification number that tracks business credit and financial information.
Note that this list is not exhaustive, and additional documentation or numbers may be required depending on the specific circumstances of the export transaction. It's always a good idea for U.S. exporters to consult with a qualified export control specialist or freight forwarder to ensure that they have all of the necessary documentation and numbers for their specific export (refer to the Resources section below).