What Documents Do I Need for Customs Clearance?

Compliance Knowledge Base | Customs Controls

Posted by: Rosie Anderson Published: Fri, 19 Jul 2019 Last Reviewed: Fri, 19 Jul 2019
What Documents Do I Need for Customs Clearance?

Customs Clearance Procedure is upheld by the customs duty office. This system is designed to prevent illegal and prohibited items from entering the country, as well as to determine the number of duties to be paid when importing foods that are subjected to taxation under the local law. There are many documents required for customs clearance. The type of goods you have will determine the types of documents you need for importing and exporting them. Documentation may also vary depending on the country of origin or destination. Here are some examples of the documents you might need for customs clearance:

Commercial Invoice

This is a record of the transaction between the exporter and the importer. A commercial invoice is an official statement of the value of the goods and contains the basic information on the transaction. As a minimum, a commercial invoice must include the following details:

  • Name and address of the exporter and importer
  • Date of issue
  • Invoice number
  • Description of goods - This must be quite specific, so you should avoid general terms such as 'clothes' and describe the clothes exactly; for example, '1 x white t-shirt'
  • Unit of measure
  • Quantity of goods
  • Total item value
  • Total invoice value and currency of payment - You should also include the equivalent amount in a currency freely convertible to Euro or another legal tender in the importing Member state
  • The terms of payment - This means the method and date of the payment, including any discounts
  • The terms of delivery according to the appropriate incoterm
  • Means of transport

There is no specific form for the commercial invoice, therefore they're generally prepared by the exporter according to their business' standard practice. You should keep the original and send a few copies with your shipment.

Import and Export Licences

There are import and export controls on many goods, which means you might need a licence. There are controls on exports of:

  • Military or paramilitary goods
  • Technology
  • Artworks
  • Plants and animals
  • Medicines and chemicals

There are also controls on imports including:

  • Firearms
  • Plants and animals
  • Foods
  • Medicines
  • Textiles
  • Chemicals

The potential use of the item and where you're exporting it to/importing it from determining the licence requirements.

Customs Value Declaration

If the value of the goods you're importing exceeds 20,000 euros (which is about £17, 952), you must have a Customs Value Declaration. This document is required to assess the value of the transaction in order to fix the customs value to apply tariff duties. The customs value is the total value of the goods including all the costs incurred until the first point of entry in the European Union. For example, the customs value considers commercial price, transport and insurance. You can use the transaction value to work out the customs value.

What Documents Do I Need for Customs Clearance?

Freight Documents (Transport Documentation)

These documents vary depending on the transport used. The documents include:

  • Bill of Landing - This is a document issued to the operating shipper by the shipping company, acknowledging that the goods have been received on board. The Bill of Landing serves as proof of receipt of the goods by the carrier, meaning that they're obliged to deliver the goods to the consignee. Details of the goods, the vessel and the port of destination must be included.
  • FIATA Bill of Landing - This document was designed as a combined transport document with negotiable status. It was developed by the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA).
  • Road Waybill (CIM) - This document contains details regarding 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 purpose of this document is to allow the consignor to have the goods at his disposal during transportation.
  • Air Waybill (AWB) - This serves as proof of the transport contract between the consignor and the carrier's company. You can use a single air waybill for multiple shipments of goods.
  • Rail Waybill (CIM) - This document relates to the transportation of goods by rail and is considered the rail transport contract.
  • ATA Carnet - These are international customs documents issued by the chambers of commerce. They are designed to allow the temporary importation of goods, free of customs duties and taxes. ATA carnets can be issued for commercial samples, professional equipment and goods for presentation or use at trade fairs, shows and exhibitions.
  • TIR Carnet - These are customs transit documents used for the international transport of goods if part of it has been made by road. The TIR procedure requires the goods to travel in secure vehicles or containers. All the duties and taxes at risk throughout the journey must be covered by an internationally valid guarantee and the goods should be accompanied by a TIR carnet. It is also important that customs control measures in the country of departure are accepted by the countries of transit and destination.

Freight Insurance

Insurance is very important in the transport of goods because of how high the risks are. There's significant potential for things to go wrong during the handling, storing, loading and transporting of goods. There are also other risks to consider, such as riots, strikes and terrorism. You only need the insurance invoice for customs clearance when the relevant data isn't already in the commercial invoice.

Packing List

This is a commercial document that must accompany the commercial invoice and the transport documents. The purpose of a packing list is to provide information on the imported items and the packaging details of each shipment. Packaging details include weight, dimensions and handling issues. You usually need to include the following information:

  • Information about the exporter, the importer and the transport company
  • Date of issue
  • Number of the freight invoice
  • Type of packaging
  • Number of packages
  • Content of each package
  • Marks and numbers
  • Net weight, gross weight and measurement of the packages

Like the commercial invoice, there is no specific form to fill in and the packing list can be prepared according to your standard business practice.

Why are these documents important?

It is incredibly important to complete customs clearance documents properly in order to avoid delays in customs clearance. Exporting and importing goods is an integral part of maintaining a seamless supply chain between countries. We need customs clearance to be as efficient as possible, to ensure the transactions are legal and ethical. It's important to ensure that you complete all relevant documentation accurately, as failure to do so can have significant consequences for both you and the customs clearance process. For example, improper completion of documents can result in delays at customs, or in some cases, the goods being sent back to the sender. You could also be suspected of deliberately withholding important information, which can lead to fines or a criminal investigation.

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