4. Certificates of Origin
Some countries require a certificate of origin to identify in what country the goods originated. These certificates of origin usually need to be signed by some semi-official organization, like a chamber of commerce or a country’s consulate office. A certificate of origin may be required even if you’ve included the country of origin information on your commercial invoice.
Usually a chamber of commerce will charge you a fee to stamp and sign your certificate or require you to be a member of the chamber.
More and more companies are foregoing the time-consuming process of relying on expensive courier services or taking the time to hand-deliver a certificate of origin to a chamber of commerce for certification and are relying on electronic certificates of origin (eCO) for their shipments. An eCO is often quicker to turn around, allows you the option of delivering the certificate electronically to the importer, and can be registered with the International Chamber of Commerce to provide added credibility.
In addition to the generic certificate of origin form, there are also country-specific certificates of origin. The United States currently has signed 14 free trade agreements with 20 different countries in which U.S. goods are eligible for reduced or zero duty rates when imported into those countries. Some free trade agreements, including the United States-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), cover multiple countries, including the U.S. In our article When to Use a Certificate of Origin Form for Your Exports, you’ll find links to country-specific certificates.
On , the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) replaced the NAFTA agreement between the three countries. You’ll find the differences between the two free trade agreements in the article NAFTA vs. USMCA: The North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
5. Certificate of Free Sale
Sometimes called a “Certificate for Export” or “Certificate to Foreign Governments,” a Certificate of Free Sale is evidence that goods-such as food items, cosmetics, biologics or medical devices-are legally sold or distributed in the open market, freely without restriction, and approved by the regulatory authorities in the country of origin (the United States).
A Certificate of Free Sale is used when you are registering a new product in a country. You’re essentially informing the customs authority in that country, “This is a new thing I’m going to start importing, and here are my support documents that confirm this product(s) is legal to sell in the country of manufacture.”
If your international customer requests a Certificate of Free Sale, you can easily apply for a certificate online (there’s no cost or obligation for registering).
6. Shipper’s Letter of Instruction
Depending on your agreed-upon terms of sale-remember, that’s typically the Incoterm you choose-either you hire a freight forwarder to work for you, the exporter, or, in the case of a routed export transaction, the buyer hires a freight forwarder.
Regardless of who hired the forwarder, it’s important you provide a Shipper’s Letter of Instruction (SLI) with all the information needed to successfully move your goods. (Here are several good reasons why a letter of instruction is necessary.)
I often describe the SLI as a cover memo for your other export paperwork. Depending on whether or not the forwarder works for you, the SLI may include a limited Power of Attorney, providing authority to act on your behalf for this shipment. Learn more about how to fill out an SLI here.
Depending on who hired the forwarder, the SLI may also grant the forwarder permission to file the export information electronically through the Automated Export System (AES). Most exports valued at more than $2,500 per item must be submitted to customs via AES, which makes filing through AES an important consideration for many exporters.