Some of Po Campo’s first customers were located in Germany and Japan, so I had to figure out the whole exporting thing early on. Each country seems to require different documents for importing (Thailand is the worst!), but there are two export documents that you’ll need to prepare regardless of which country you are shipping to: the Packing List and the Commercial Invoice.
You probably already have a packing list and invoice template that you use for your domestic shipping but the export versions look a little different and require some additional information. The first time we exported something, I downloaded templates of export documents off of the internet and just kept tweaking them until I found a solution that seemed to make everybody happy. This version is what I am sharing with you now. That said, I hereby absolve myself of any issues you may have with using my commercial invoice template or packing list template.
Both of these templates are in Excel, which makes for easy editing. Download the Packing-List-Template and Commercial Invoice template to get started.
Most of the things on this template are pretty straightforward, like invoice # and PO #. Below are a few lines that might need a little explanation. Download the Packing List template.
- This should be where the products are shipping from. If your warehouse is separate from your office, use the warehouse address.
- B/L Number, or Bill of Lading Number. This will be given to you by the shipping company or freight forwarder.
- Item number or SKU number
- Material content. This is important for duty calculation.
- G.W. and N.W. refer to gross weight (includes the carton) and net weight (product only), respectively. The weight should be in kilograms. The Excel file will calculate the totals based on the number of cartons that you are shipping.
- CBM is CuBic Meter and refers to how much volume your shipment takes. It is calculated based on your carton dimensions in centimeters. The Excel file will calculate this automatically for you, or you can use this online cbm calculator.
The total number of cartons, weights and volume are automatically calculated and noted at the bottom of the spreadsheet.
Again, most things on this template are pretty straightforward. Download the Commercial Invoice template.
- Shipper/Exporter is you, and this should be your business address (which may be different than the warehouse address)
- Consignee is the company receiving the shipment, most likely your customer
- Shipper is the company actually transporting the goods. My customer typically selects the shipper, and then I put that company’s info here (i.e. Kuehne + Nagel).
- Commercial Invoice # and PO # MUST match the numbers on the Packing Slip or pandemonium ensues.
- B/L (Bill of Lading) or AWB (Airway Bill) number will be given to you by the freight forwarder.
- Country of Origin is where the product was made and can affect duty rates with NAFTA. If you imported materials but made the product in the USA, I think it is alright to put USA in this field. But I’m not an expert! So have your reasoning ready in case someone should ask you about it.
- Terms of Payment is whatever you decided with your customer. This could say “Prepaid” or “Net 30” or “Due on receipt”, for example.
- Embarkation Port is the port where the product leaves our country. If you don’t know this, you can leave it blank.
- Exporting Carrier/Route is the path the shipment will take to go from you to the customer. Sometimes this appears on the B/L. If you don’t know it, you can leave it blank.
- Export Reference. I honestly don’t know what this is but it’s on every commercial invoice form so I just left it in there. I always leave it blank and haven’t been questioned about it. Fake it ’til you make it!
- Forwarding Agent is if there is another person or company involved in the shipment that is helping to arrange everything, like a freight forwarder. In my experience, usually the customer (consignee) handles everything and we don’t use a third party, in which case you can just leave this blank.
- Make sure these prices match what your customer is expecting. It seems that sometimes the customer prepares their own sets of documents and it can cause a lot of confusion if the prices don’t match.
Shipment Labeling and Handling of Export Documents
After you have export documents prepared, email a PDF of each to both your customer and shipping company to make sure they are satisfied with what you will be providing.
If you are shipping your product on skids, load all your boxes onto the pallets and wrap with shrink wrap. Attach the packing slip to the pallet using a packing slip envelope or just tuck it behind the plastic wrap. Print labels for each skid with the following information:
- Exporter (you)
- Consignee (your customer)
- PO #
- Pallet # (1 of 3, 2 of 3, etc)
If you are shipping your cartons loose, print carton labels for each box with the above information, but label the cartons 1 of 15, 2 of 15, etc, rather than the pallets. The packing slip should be adhered to the outside of the #1 carton.
Print two copies of the Bill of Lading given to you by the shipping company. Have the driver of the shipping company sign and date one of the copies for your records and send the other along with him.
Other Useful Tidbits
- You may think that it is better to ship on a pallet, but that is not always the case. Many countries insist on fumigating all wooden pallets to kill off any invasive species, which is insanely expensive, so often times it is best to ship loose boxes. If you decide to go the pallet route, I recommend plastic pallets, which cost about $35 each.
- Depending on the country and company, sometimes the shipping company or freight forwarder will send you more documents to fill out. If you don’t understand what to do with them, call and ask for assistance. You probably won’t be the first person to ask and it’s best to get it right.
- You might need to know the harmonization code for your product. This refers to the tariff code that classifies products. The U.S. International Trade Commission has a decent HTS Online Reference tool that you can use to look up your code. I use the code 4202.22.3500 for handbags with outer surface of textile materials.
Did I leave anything out? Do you do anything differently? Please share in the comments below.