Export business relies heavily on documentation. When shipping your goods to foreign markets, documents play a key role in getting them to your buyer and ensuring that you get paid. Furthermore, they can prove that procedures have been followed, should the need to claim from an insurance policy arise. In this article, we discuss how to determine what documents are required, as well as the documents you need to prepare as you go through the export administration process.
Sorting out Essential Export Documents
Two important aspects to consider when determining the documents needed are relevance and accuracy.
Relevance entails either completing, or acquiring from other people, e.g., a forwarding and clearing agent, all the correct documents for your transaction, and ultimately providing your buyer with all original and copy documents requested. Bear in mind that certain products require specific documents. For example: products produced for human or animal consumption must be accompanied by special documents and export certificates to prove that the goods meet health and safety standards.
Accuracy means ensuring that there are no discrepancies in your documents – this means that your company name, address, and all other details must be consistent across all your documents.
Vital Documents Required
At the beginning of the export process, the buyer will send an enquiry requesting a quotation, which often takes the form of a pro forma invoice. The role of the pro forma invoice is to protect the parties involved. It spells out all the details applying to the sale of goods and specifies which country’s law will govern the contract of sale. If the buyer is happy with your offer, and accepts your quotation, they will provide you with a purchase order. Your written confirmation of the purchase order will result in a contract of sale coming into being.
Should the importing company require a licence in order to import your goods, they will immediately apply for it, as the import licence will be required by the foreign customs authority for clearance purposes.
The next set of documents you will need to sort out are certificates: the credit insurance certificate, the cargo insurance certificate, certificates of origin (e.g., where your country has a preferential trade agreement, such as the UK – SACU+M EPA, with the buyer’s country) and in some cases, special certificates which are issued by various government departments.
There are several invoices that you may be required to produce, the most important of which is the commercial invoice. On the commercial invoice, the contact details of both the importer and exporter are stated, along with a description of the products and all the agreed conditions of the sale. Some importing countries may also require a consular invoice which must be legalised at the importing country’s consulate, situated in or near your country.
When preparing your documents, you should ensure, not only that you have acquired all the documents likely to be needed by the customs authorities in both the exporting and the importing countries, but also that the information contained in your documents is accurate and consistent in its presentation. This will ensure that you avoid additional costs and inconveniences further along the export administration process.
The TFSA School of Export’s Module 4: ‘Understanding the Export Administration Process’, which has been developed by Trade Forward Southern Africa (TFSA) in partnership with the International Trade Institute of Southern Africa (ITRISA) covers the various documents you will need to either acquire or complete in order to effect delivery of your goods. Click here in order to sign up for the TFSA School of Export’s training modules free of charge.
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