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Customs Documents

Customs Documents

Prepare accurate, detailed customs documents to help keep your international shipments on track.

Prepare accurate, detailed customs documents to help keep your international shipments on track.


The Commercial Invoice is required for all international commodity shipments and serves as the foundation for all other international shipping documents. It’s the primary document used by most foreign customs agencies for import control, valuation and duty determination. Foreign buyers require this document in order to prove ownership and arrange for payment.

As the shipment’s exporter, you’re responsible for preparing the Commercial Invoice form. Since it serves as the foundation for all other international shipping documents, it’s the first one you should complete. Customs officials use this document (and any other documents your shipment requires) to process your shipment, so it’s important to ensure that all of the information you provide is thorough and accurate. The information that you provide on other international shipping documents, including the shipping label, must be consistent with the information you provide on the Commercial Invoice.


When do I need a Commercial Invoice?

The Commercial Invoice is required for all international commodity shipments. In other words, it’s required for any international shipment with commercial value. Most non-document shipments are classified as commodity shipments.

How do I complete and submit it?

Since the Commercial Invoice serves as the foundation for all other international shipping documents, it’s the first one you should complete. It’s important to ensure that all the information you include is consistent and accurate.

You can choose from three ways to complete and submit your Commercial Invoice:

  • Select to create the document with FedEx Ship Manager® at fedex.com while creating your shipping label online. Then print the Commercial Invoice and attach to your package along with the shipping label. 
  • Fill out your Commercial Invoice manually and then attach it your package along with the shipping label 
  • Fill out your Commercial invoice manually and then upload it to FedEx Ship Manager at fedex.com while you are creating your shipping label. You will need to enable FedEx Electronic Trade Documents in the preferences setting of the FedEx Ship Manager at fedex.com application to use this feature. 


For assistance filling out documents manually or deciding which documents you need for your international shipments, use FedEx International Shipping Assist to talk to an expert today. 

If you’d like to print a Commercial Invoice and complete it yourself, you can download it here.


A Certificate of Origin (sometimes referred to as a CO) is an important document which states the origin of the exported commodity and serves as a declaration by the exporter. Nearly every country in the world considers the origin of imported goods when determining the duty that will be applied. In some cases, the country of origin may impact whether or not the goods can be legally imported.


When do I need a Certificate of Origin?

Depending on commodity and destination, your export shipments may require a Certificate of Origin. A Certificate of Origin is frequently required for textiles exported to the European Union. If you are not sure whether or not your shipment requires a Certificate of Origin, go to FedEx International Shipping Assist, use Find International Documents on FedEx® Global Trade Manager or call FedEx International Customer Service at 1.800.Go.FedEx 1.800.463.3339 (say "international services").

For shipments to Canada valued at less than CAD $1,600, the following statement can be written on the Commercial Invoice in place of the NAFTA Certificate of Origin: "I certify that the goods referenced in this invoice/sales contract originate under the rules of origin specified for these goods in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and that further production or any other operation outside the territories of the parties has not occurred subsequent to production in the territories.



How do I complete and submit it?

You can complete a Certificate of Origin manually with the help of FedEx International Shipping Assist, or use FedEx Ship Manager® at fedex.com and FedEx Global Trade Manager to generate the document.

You can then attach to your package along with the shipping label or upload the document(s) to FedEx Ship Manager at fedex.com to be sent electronically when you enable Electronic Trade Documents in the preferences setting of the FedEx Ship Manager at fedex.com application.

If you prefer, FedEx can help prepare your Certificate of Origin for a fee. Please call 1.866.684.6023 or email us at preparecoo@mail.fedex.com for further assistance.

If you’d like to print a Certificate of Origin and complete it yourself, you can download it here.


An export license grants you permission to export certain types of commercial products that may fall under restrictions due to potential uses or security concerns. This license can be obtained from the appropriate licensing agency after a careful review of the details of the given export transaction.

Export restrictions and licenses are issued by a variety of federal departments and indicate additional customs considerations for particular types of commodities. For example, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration uses export licenses to regulate the trade of controlled substances and precursor chemicals. This is just one example; licenses are also issued by the Department of State, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Department of Agriculture and others.

In most cases, export transactions don’t require specific approval in the form of government licenses.


When is an export license needed?

You can find out whether or not your shipment needs an export license by looking for your product’s Export Control Classification Number (ECCN) on the Commerce Control List. When you look below the main category heading of that control number, you’ll see a “Reason for Export Control” section, which indicates why your foreign buyers and export shipments require a closer look. These reasons each have a two-letter abbreviation, such as “EI” for “Encryption Item” or “FC” for “Firearms Control.”

Once you’ve identified the specific reason for the control on your product, you can cross-reference it with the Bureau of Industry and Security’s Commerce Country Chart to determine if you need a license when exporting it to specific destinations.

If I need an export license, how do I obtain one?

If you’ve determined that your shipment requires an export license, you can apply for one via the Department of Commerce’s SNAP-R website. This process requires your Corporate Identification Number (CIN), which you may have to obtain if you don’t already have one.  The export licensing process may take between 4 and 6 weeks. You can use your CIN to check your license status during that time. 


If your product doesn’t fall into any of the categories on the Commerce Control List, it falls under the classification of EAR99 and, in most cases, can be shipped under the designation of NLR (No License Required). However, an EAR99 designation doesn’t mean that you’re free to ship to anyone, anywhere, without export clearance. Some products can’t be sold to embargoed or sanctioned countries without a license, and others are prohibited altogether.

As an exporter, you are also responsible for knowing who you’re selling to overseas and making sure that your recipient isn’t selling your product to a prohibited end-user, or any company or individual on any of the denied parties lists of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of State. You can use FedEx Global Trade Manager to screen shipment recipient/customer information against a consolidated Denied Parties list.

If you aren’t sure whether or not you can ship a particular product internationally, please contact FedEx Customer Service at 1.800.Go.FedEx 1.800.463.3339 for further assistance.

Depending on your shipment’s contents, destination and other details, it may require additional customs documents to pass through customs. Find out more about what purposes these documents serve (and why you may need them) below.

Export Packing List

The Export Packing List provides the exporter, international freight forwarder and ultimate consignee with information about your shipment, the packing details and the marks and numbers noted on the outside of the boxes. It’s also used as a supporting document in the event of a dispute between the carrier and the exporter regarding the measurement and weight of the cargo.

Information on the Export Packing List includes:

  • A reference to the relevant commercial invoice number and/or item number
  • The type of package(s); e.g. box, carton, vials, etc.
  • The net and gross weights of each package, stated in pounds or tons and converted into a metric equivalent (except where buyer or government regulations require otherwise)
  • The legal measurements expressed in inches and cubic feet and converted into a metric equivalent (except where buyer or government regulations require otherwise)
  • Package markings
  • Buyer and seller references


Insurance Certificate

An insurance certificate is used to assure the consignee that insurance will cover loss of or damage to cargo during transit. The insurance certificate will detail what is covered and for how much.


How can I learn more about these documents?

Find out which customs documents your shipment requires by using FedEx International Shipping Assist. Just fill out some information about your shipment and we’ll provide blank copies of the customs documents you need, along with your Harmonized System Code and estimated duties and taxes.

Shipper’s Letter of Instruction

The Shipper's Letter of Instruction (SLI), while not required by any regulatory agency, serves a very important function. It conveys specific instructions from the exporter to his agent, who is usually an international freight forwarder. The document represents the exporter granting permission to the forwarder to act as the authorized forwarding agent for U.S. export control and customs.

Inspection Certificate

Depending on your shipment’s destination country, for some purchases you may be required to include an inspection certificate. The inspection is usually performed by a third party or independent testing organization.

Electronic Export Information (formerly known as Shipper’s Export Declaration)

The Electronic Export Information (EEI) is used for compiling the official U.S. export statistics and for export control purposes. The U.S. Census Bureau is responsible for collecting, compiling and publishing export trade statistics for the United States. The Foreign Trade Regulations (FTR) authorize the secretary of commerce, along with the secretary of state and the secretary of homeland security, to publish regulations mandating that anyone required to report export information, file such information through the Automated Export System (AES).

Tips for Accurate Descriptions

Including an accurate description of your shipment’s contents is essential for timely customs clearance. Inaccurate or vague shipment descriptions are one of the most common reasons for customs delays. Include consistent, detailed descriptions on all documents to help keep your shipment on track.

A good description answers the following questions about the contents of your shipment:

  • What is it?
  • How many are there?
  • What is it made from?
  • What is the intended use?


Please note: Separate descriptions must be provided for each type of commodity. For example, if you are shipping 15 identical sweaters and 30 identical pairs of sneakers, you would need to include separate descriptions for the group of sweaters and the group of sneakers.



international shipping description checklist
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Two steel springs for woodworking machine

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One men's knitted sweater (100% cotton)

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200cm x 400cm nylon carpet samples

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30 pages of legal documents

Quick Links

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FedEx Electronic Trade Documents (ETD)
Submit customs document ahead of shipping.

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FedEx® Global Trade Manager
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FedEx International Shipping Assist
Automated tool for planning international shipments.

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International Terms and Definitions
Definitions of popular international shipping terms.

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