Determining the Right International Documents

Accurate documentation is one of the most important elements in international shipping and customs clearance. Properly completed documentation will help your shipment reach its international destination on time and reduce the risk of it being delayed at customs. Here are some helpful hints.

Where do you want to ship?

Destination country requirements

Your shipment’s destination country will help you determine the proper documentation, special clearance requirements, what duties and taxes will need to be paid, and much more. The Country Snapshots are an overview of essential, country-specific shipping information and regulatory requirements, including demographics, business information and statistics. This resource enables you to research a country upfront before you ship.

Complying with customs-clearance regulations

In addition to understanding the import requirements for your destination country, you'll also need to consider your options for clearing your shipment through customs. Typically a customs broker handles clearance on your behalf — their regulatory expertise and experience ensures your shipment complies with customs-clearance regulations.

And when you ship with FedEx, you choose whether you want us to act as your clearance broker or you prefer to designate your own. If you're already working with your own broker, you can use our broker-select option and specify your preference in your shipping documentation. Learn more about using your own customs broker.

What do you want to ship?

Contents of the shipment will affect documentation required

Determine if the country you’re shipping to considers your product a document or a commodity.

Whenever you ship internationally, you should always begin by determining if the product you're shipping is a document or not. Although the question seems straightforward, different countries classify documents differently, and those classifications can be confusing. 

Generally, a commodity which is typed, written or printed matter with no commercial value is treated as a document. Typically, this type of commodity does not require a Commercial Invoice. If the commodity you're shipping is part of a commercial transaction or has commercial value, it may be considered a nondocument or commodity, thus requiring a Commercial Invoice.

To be sure about your commodity's classification, check the Country Snapshots. For assistance determining the documents needed to accompany your international shipments, use the Find International Documents tool on FedEx Global Trade Manager. 

In addition to finding the right documentation for your international shipments, you can also prepare, store and reuse customs documents online with the FedEx Document Preparation Center on FedEx Global Trade Manager. Your shipment information is even transferred right into FedEx Ship Manager® at so you can quickly complete your shipping label. 

Provide an accurate and detailed description of your product.

One of the most common reasons for customs delays is an inaccurate or vague shipment description. A good description answers the following questions:

  • What is it?
  • How many are there?
  • What is it made from?
  • What is the intended use?
Poor description Good description
Parts Two steel springs for woodworking machine
Gifts Unsolicited gift: One men’s knitted sweater (100 percent cotton)
Samples 200 cm x 400 cm nylon carpet samples for demonstration
Documents 30 pages of legal documents

Provide the proper classification for your product.

Whether you're importing, exporting or both, you need to properly classify your products under the Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) codes to meet the U.S. and foreign governments' customs requirements.

All of the import and export codes used by the U.S. are based on the HTS. The HTS assigns six-digit codes for general categories. Countries that use the HTS are allowed to define commodities at a more detailed level than six digits, but all definitions must be within that six-digit framework. The U.S. defines products using 10-digit HTS codes. Export codes (which the U.S. calls Schedule B) are administered by the U.S. Census Bureau. Import codes are administered by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

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