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Documents for customs clearance

Commercial invoice

The commercial invoice is a record or evidence of the transaction between the exporter and the importer. Once the goods are available, the exporter issues a commercial invoice to the importer in order to charge him for the goods.

The commercial invoice contains the basic information on the transaction and is always required for customs clearance.

Although some entries specific to the export-import trade are added, it is similar to an ordinary sales invoice. The minimum data generally included are the following:

  • Information on the exporter and the importer (name and address)
  • Date of issue
  • Invoice number
  • Description of the goods (name, quality, etc.)
  • Unit of measure
  • Quantity of goods
  • Unit value
  • Total item value
  • Total invoice value and currency of payment. The equivalent amount must be indicated in a currency freely convertible to Euro or other legal tender in the importing EU country
  • The terms of payment (method and date of payment, discounts, etc.)
  • The terms of delivery according to the appropriate Incoterm
  • Means of transport

No specific form is required. The commercial invoice is to be prepared by the exporter according to standard business practice and it must be submitted in the original along with at least one copy. In general, there is no need for the invoice to be signed. In practice, both the original and the copy of the commercial invoice are often signed. The commercial invoice may be prepared in any language. However, a translation into English is recommended.

Customs value declaration

A Customs Value Declaration must be presented to the customs authorities where the value of the imported goods exceeds €10 000. The Customs Value Declaration must be drawn up conforming to form DV 1 of which a specimen is provided in Annex 8 to Regulation (EU) 2016/341 the UCC Transitional Delegated Act. This form must be presented with the Single Administrative Document (SAD).

The main purpose of this requirement is to assess the value of the transaction in order to fix the customs value (taxable value) to apply the tariff duties.

The customs value corresponds to the value of the goods including all the costs incurred (e.g.: commercial price, transport, insurance) until the first point of entry in the European Union. The usual method to establish the Customs value is using the transaction value (the price paid or payable for the imported goods).

In certain cases the transaction value of the imported goods may be subject to an adjustment, which involves additions or deductions. For instance:

  • commissions or royalties may need to be added to the price;
  • the internal transport (from the entry point to the final destination in the Community Customs Territory) must be deducted.

The customs authorities must waive the requirement of all or part of the customs value declaration where:

  • the customs value of the imported goods in a consignment does not exceed €20 000, provided that they do not constitute split or multiple consignments from the same consignor to the same consignee, or
  • the importations involved are of a non-commercial nature; or
  • the submission of the particulars in question is not necessary for the application of the Customs Tariff of the European Communities or where the customs duties provided for in the Tariff are not chargeable pursuant to specific customs provisions.

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Freight documents

Depending on the means of transport used, the following documents are to be filled in and presented to the customs authorities of the importing EU country upon importation in order for the goods to be cleared:

Bill of Lading (B/L)

Issued by the shipping company to the operating shipper, confirming that the goods have been received on board. In this way the Bill of Lading serves as proof of receipt of the goods by the carrier obliging him to deliver the goods to the consignee. It contains the details of the goods, the vessel and the port of destination. It evidences the contract of carriage and conveys title to the goods, meaning that the bearer of the Bill of Lading is the owner of the goods.

The Bill of Lading may be a negotiable document. A number of different types of bills 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 this case, the financing bank may refuse to accept the consignor's documents.

FIATA Bill of Lading

A document designed to be used as a multimodal or combined transport document with negotiable status. Developed by the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA).

Road Waybill (CMR)

A document containing the details of 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 CMR Convention). It enables the consignor to have the goods at his disposal during transportation. It must be issued in quadruplicate and 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 forth one must be signed and stamped by the consignee and then 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.

Air Waybill (AWB)

A document which serves as a 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 consists of 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). The copies may be required at the airport of departure/destination, for the delivery and in some cases, for further freight carriers. The air waybill is a freight bill, which evidences a contract of carriage and proves receipt of goods.

A specific type of Air Waybill is the one used by all carriers belonging to the International Air Transport Association (IATA); a bill called the IATA Standard Air Waybill. It embodies standard conditions associated with those set out in the Warsaw Convention.

Rail Waybill (CIM)

A document required for the transportation of goods by rail and 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 duplicate of the original is kept by the consignor and the three remaining copies by the carrier for internal purposes. It is considered the rail transport contract.

ATA Carnet

Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission carnets are international customs documents issued by the chambers of commerce in the majority of the industrialized 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 and the like. Further information: International Chamber of Commerce: ATA carnets

TIR Carnet

Customs transit documents used for the international transport of goods, a part of which has to be made by road. They allow the transport of goods under a procedure called the TIR procedure (1975 TIR Convention, signed under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

The TIR system requires the goods to travel in secure vehicles or containers, all duties and taxes at risk throughout the journey to be covered by an internationally valid guarantee, the goods to be accompanied by a TIR carnet, and customs control measures in the country of departure to be accepted by the countries of transit and destination.

Freight insurance

Insurance covers common risks during handling, storing, loading or transporting cargo, but also rare risks, such as riots, strikes or terrorism.

There is a difference between the goods transport insurance and the carrier's responsibility insurance. The covered risks, fixed compensation and indemnity of the contract of transport insurance are left to the holder's choice. Nevertheless, the hauler's responsibility insurance is determined by different regulations. Depending on the means of transport, indemnity is limited by the weight and value of the goods and is only given in cases where the transporter cannot be held responsible. The insurance invoice is required for customs clearance only when the relevant data do not appear in the commercial invoice indicating the premium paid to insure the merchandise.

The standard extent of the transporter's responsibility is laid down in the following international conventions:

1. Road freight

International transport of goods by road is governed by the Convention for the Contract of the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR Convention) signed in Geneva in 1956.

Under this Convention, the road hauler is not responsible for losses of or damages to the goods if he proves that they arise from:

  • the merchandise's own defect(s);
  • force majeure;
  • a fault by the loader or consignee.

There is no EU regulation regarding indemnifications for road freight.

2. The rail carrier

International transport of goods by rail is regulated by the Convention concerning Intercarriage by Rail (CIM Convention), signed in Bern in 1980.

The rail carrier is not responsible for losses of or damages to the goods if he proves that they arise from:

  • the merchandise's own defect(s);
  • force majeure;
  • a fault by the loader or consignee.

There is no EU regulation regarding compensation. Indemnification is normally limited to a maximum amount per gross kilo lost or damaged. In the majority of cases, therefore, the company is unlikely to receive anything approaching the value of its goods.

3. The shipping company

The 1968 International Convention on Bill of Lading, also known as "The Hague Rules" or the "Brussels Convention" dictates the marine carrier's responsibilities when transporting international goods.

The shipping company is not responsible for losses of, or damage to, the goods if it proves that they arise from:

  • the merchandise's own defects and loss in weight during transport
  • a nautical mistake by the crew
  • a fire
  • the ship being unseaworthy
  • force majeure
  • strikes or a lock-out
  • a mistake by the loader
  • hidden defects on board ship, which went unnoticed during rigorous inspection
  • an attempt to save lives or goods at sea.

There is no harmonisation at EU level regarding compensation. It is normally limited to a certain sum per kilo lost or damaged goods. This system causes the same problems as with rail accidents, namely that the exporter is likely to lose much of the value of the goods.

4. The air carrier

The 1929 Warsaw Convention as well as the Montreal draft Treaty of 1975 state that the air carrier is not responsible for damages or loss of goods if it can be proven that:

  • the carrier and associates took all the measures necessary to avoid the damage or that it was impossible for them to be taken (force majeure);
  • the losses arise from a pilotage or navigation mistake;
  • the injured party was the cause of the damage or contributed to it.

There is no EU standard concerning the injured party's indemnification. Compensation is normally limited to a set amount per gross kilo damaged or lost goods.

The air carrier can state specific reservations at the time of receiving the cargo. These reservations will be written on the air consignment note (ACN) (air transport contract) and will be used as evidence. However, airlines will normally refuse dubious packages or those not corresponding to the ACN.

Packing list

The packing list (P/L) is an inventory of the incoming cargo required for customs clearance and accompanying the commercial invoice and the transport documents.

It generally includes the following:

  • 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 packing list is to be prepared by the exporter according to standard business practice and the original along with at least one copy must be submitted. Generally there is no need for it to be signed. However, both the original and the copy of the packing list are often signed. The packing list may be prepared in any language, although a translation into English is recommended.

Single Administrative Document (SAD)

All goods imported into the EU must be declared to the customs authorities of the respective EU country using the Single Administrative Document (SAD), which is the common import declaration form for all the EU countries. Please see more detailed information in the UCC guidance document on SAD.

The declaration must be drawn up in one of the official languages of the EU, which is acceptable to the customs authorities of the EU country where the formalities are carried out.

The SAD may be presented either by:

  • using an approved computerised system linked to Customs authorities; or
  • lodging it with the designated Customs Office premises.

The main information to be declared is:

  • identifying data of the parties involved (importer, exporter, representative, etc.)
  • customs-approved treatment (release for free circulation, release for consumption, temporary importation, transit, etc.)
  • identifying data of the goods (Taric code, weight, units), location and packaging
  • the means of transport
  • data about country of origin, country of export and destination
  • commercial and financial information (Incoterms, invoice value, invoice currency, exchange rate, insurance etc.)
  • list of documents associated with the SAD (Import licenses, inspection certificates, document of origin, transport document, commercial invoice etc.)
  • declaration and method of payment of import taxes (tariff duties, VAT, Excises, etc)

The SAD set consists of eight copies; the operator completes all or part of the sheets depending on the type of operation.

For imports, generally three copies are used: one is retained by the authorities of the EU country in which arrival formalities are completed, another is used for statistical purposes by the EU country of destination and the last is returned to the consignee after being stamped by the customs authority.

Documents associated with the SAD

According to the operation and the nature of the imported goods, additional documents must be declared with the SAD and presented together with it. The most important documents are:

  • documentary proof of origin, normally used to apply a tariff preferential treatment
  • certificate confirming the special nature of the product
  • transport document
  • commercial Invoice
  • customs value declaration
  • inspections certificates (health, veterinary, plant health certificates)
  • import licenses
  • Community surveillance document
  • Cites certificate
  • documents to support a claim of a tariff quota
  • documents required for Excise purposes
  • evidence to support a claim for VAT relief

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