Preparing your international shipments to ensure they are on time and penalty-free can feel overwhelming. That’s understandable — there’s quite a bit that needs to get done in order to deliver your international shipments. However, having a successful customs clearance experience is all about having the right information; as long as you have that, your customers will receive your packages on time without a delay or additional costs.

To help set you up for success with international exporting, we’ve compiled three simple steps you need to take in order to have a smooth customs clearance experience. If you’re shipping internationally, here’s how to get started:

1. Become familiar with the country you’re shipping to

Not all products and all countries have the same customs process. When making an international shipment, you must be familiar with the customs process of the country you're shipping to for your specific product.

This is because the level of policies in the customs process varies from country to country. For example, a specific product might be restricted in one country and may simply need additional documentation in another.

Another example is that one country may require pro forma during customs clearance processing and another may only accept the freight with the original stamped commercial invoice. But don’t fret about the freight! The next two steps should help you better understand best practices for international shipping.

2. Write a thorough export declaration

Having a thorough export declaration prepared is crucial because inconsistent details on export documents may lead to issues during customs clearance. For example, it’s important to keep in mind that the same product has different names in different countries. If the customs officer has any cause to doubt your shipment, this may prolong the clearance process, cause additional fees, or even make it so that your shipments cannot be returned to you.

To ensure that your shipments get to the right place at the right time, the export declaration form should include the following information:

● Shipper's details: contact information and tax/VAT/EORI number

● Authorized personnel in the sending company: contact information

● Buyer's details: contact information and tax/VAT/EORI number

● Authorized personnel in the recipient company: contact information

● Product name in the local and English language

● Product's declaration of origin

● Product quantity

● Product net weight and package gross weight

● Purpose of shipment: commercial, sample, etc.

● Product details, including material

● HS Code of product

● Shipment details: package quantity, dimensions, package type, etc.

3. Collect the required documents

Once you’ve prepared an export declaration form for an overseas shipment, all you need to do is fill out the required export documents. There are three basic required documents for import-export customs clearance.

You will need to prepare a commercial invoice. The invoice must mention the country of origin if it isn’t included with the shipment. Including the HS Code on the product invoice is not required but it doesn’t hurt and will likely help the customs process go faster.

We highly suggest that you have a packing list prepared. A few examples of what you should include on your list are shipper’s details, date, invoice number, product net weight, packaged gross weight, and package dimensions.

If your cargo is shipped by air, you will need a document called the Air Waybill and if it is shipped by road it’s called the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR). These documents are known as the Bill of Lading. The Bill of Lading is extremely important when it comes to international shipping. Why? Well, it’s because you are not allowed to modify the document after sending it off with the export goods.

There are plenty of instances where you can export goods with just the commercial invoice, packing list, and Bill of Lading. However, that’s not always the case. Additional documents that are frequently required include insurance certificates, certificate of origin, movement certificates, electronic export information, and more.

Knowing which documents are necessary is all about doing your research before you begin the shipping process. Once you complete your commercial invoice, packing list, and Bill of Lading, get to know the product and the country at hand in order to prepare for your international shipment.

At the end of the day, the best thing you can do to achieve a smooth customs clearance is be prepared. From knowing which documents are required to understanding a country’s specific rules and regulations, planning ahead and being informed is the best way to avoid delays and additional charges. Happy exporting and good luck with your next international shipment!

Joseph Cabrera is the Managing Partner at ShipERP, the multi-carrier shipping software for enterprises around the world. Cabrera has over 25 years in logistics management, project management, and software development to transform your digital supply chain. Learn more at