Documents required for an international sale can vary significantly
from transaction to transaction, depending on the destination and
the product being shipped. At a minimum, there will be two
documents: the invoice and the transport document. The buyer
will usually provide the seller with a list of documents needed to
get the goods into his country as expeditiously and inexpensively
as possible. Some documentary requirements are not open to
negotiation, as they are needed by the importer to clear customs
at the port of destination. This presentation discusses
documentation in relation to export letters of credit.
When the letter of credit payment method is used for an export
sale, each document presented under the terms and conditions of
the letter of credit must:
1) Conform to all L/C terms and conditions.
2) Comply with the UCP 500.
3) Agree with the data content of every other document.
For the following documents listed, the number in parenthesis
refers to the relevant UCP 500 article.
THE BILL OF EXCHANGE / DRAFT (UCP Article 9)
Almost every letter of credit presentation and documentary
collection is accompanied by a draft. This demand for payment is
drawn by the seller on the payee. The payee on a letter of credit
draft is almost always a bank. For a documentary collection it
would be the buyer.
COMMERCIAL INVOICE (UCP Article 37)
The accounting document claiming payment from the buyer.
Normally an export invoice would include:
- Seller’s name and address
- Buyer’s name and address
- Issue Date
- Invoice Number
- Shipping marks and numbers
- Term of Sale: e.g. FOB, etc.
- Shipping information
- Info required by L/C
- Country of Origin
- L/C number
- Merchandise description, P.O. number, unit price, and total price
CONSULAR INVOICE / VISAED INVOICE (UCP Articles 20, 21)
For exchange control and balance of payments reasons, some
countries do not allow the import of merchandise unless
accompanied by a certificate issued by one of its officials in the
exporter’s country. These certificates evidence that the shipment
meets certain statutory or other regulations of the importing
country. A visaed invoice is an original or copy of an invoice,
which has been originally signed and/or stamped by a consulate
INSURANCE POLICY OR CERTIFICATE (UCP Article 34, 35, 36)
Every export sale should be covered by insurance. Who provides
the coverage depends on the INCOTERM used. Insurance
coverage on exports is a complicated issue that we can not fully
cover on this site. For more information on export insurance, we
suggest that you contact your business insurance agent or freight
forwarder as to who can provide insurance on an as needed
basis” or “by blanket policy” on an annual basis.
When a letter of credit calls for a document to be issued as a
“certificate”, that document must be signed. Certificates come in a
many different forms depending on the product and the country of
destination. L/C’s often require that certificates be issued by
reputable third party inspection surveyors such as the Societe
Generale de Surveillance (SGS) or the US Department of
Agriculture. It is important to remember that each certificate
required by an L/C will increase the cost of goods sold. Some of
the most common certificates are discussed below.
Certificates should always be issued before the goods are
shipped. Certificates issued after the goods arrived in the country
of import defeat the purpose of the letter of credit.
CERTIFICATE OF ORIGIN (UCP Articles 20, 21)
A signed statement certifying the country of origin of the goods
being sold is sometimes required by regulation in the buyer’s
country. This document may be as simple as a certificate signed
by the seller. Certain countries may require it to be issued by a
third party such a Chamber of Commerce, or be notarized,
legalized, or visaed by their Embassy or Consulate.
INSPECTION CERTIFICATE (UCP Articles 20, 21)
An independent firm would usually conduct the inspection to
ensure that the merchandise conforms to the buyer’s criteria.
Inspection certificates should be based on quantifiable criteria.
When an L/C is the method of payment, the criteria should be
specifically spelled out in the letter of credit.
WEIGHT LIST OR CERTIFICATE (UCP Articles 38, 20, 21)
Not synonymous to a packing list. This document breaks down the
shipment by weight. This is generally needed only if a “certificate”
USDA INSPECTION CERTIFICATE (UCP Articles 20, 21)
This certificate is issued by the US Department of Agriculture and
covers grade and condition for agricultural products. It provides
evidence that the produce was in good condition at the date and
time of inspection and can be useful in the event of a damage
PHYTOSANITARY CERTIFICATE (UCP Articles 20, 21)
Numerous foreign governments and buyers require a “phyto” for
fresh plants and plant products. This certificate states that the
product has been inspected and is free of harmful pests and plant
diseases. They are issued by the USDA Animal and Plant Health
PACKING LIST (UCP Articles 20, 21)
A mirror of the merchandise covered by the invoice, the packing
list omit prices, but itemizes the merchandise by number of
cartons, packages, etc., and the contents of each. It generally
does not have to be signed unless called for in the L/C.
OTHER MISCELLANEOUS DOCUMENTS (UCP Articles 20, 21)
UCP 500 ARTICLE 21: “WHEN DOCUMENTS OTHER THAN
TRANSPORT DOCUMENTS, INSURANCE DOCUMENTS AND
COMMERCIAL INVOICES ARE CALLED FOR, THE CREDIT
SHOULD STIPULATE BY WHOM SUCH DOCUMENTS ARE TO BE
ISSUED AND THEIR WORDING OR DATA CONTENT. IF THE
CREDIT DOES NOT SO STIPULATE, BANKS WILL ACCEPT
SUCH DOCUMENTS AS PRESENTED, PROVIDED THAT THEIR
DATA IS NOT INCONSISTENT WITH ANY OTHER STIPULATED
SELECTED REFERENCES TO DOCUMENTS IN THE UCP 500
DOCUMENT TOPIC UCP 500 ARTICLES
Authentication requirements - UCP 20
Copies of - UCP 20
Conforming - UCP 14
Content of - UCP 21
Documents v. Goods/ Services/ Performance - UCP 4
Dated prior to L/C issuance - UCP 22
Discrepancies - UCP 14
Examination - UCP 13
Fraudulent Documents - UCP 15
Issuer, ambiguity about - UCP 20
Lost Documents - UCP 16
Non-stipulated Documents - UCP 13
Originals - UCP 20
Required Documents - UCP 5
Signature on - UCP 20
Stale Documents - UCP 43