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Planning to import products from China, India or Vietnam? Shipping and product documentation is required for all product categories but to a varying extent. In this guide, I will explain which documents you need to obtain when importing products to the United States, Europe, Australia, and Canada.
Is this guide relevant to all products?
Many of the documents listed in this guide are mandatory when importing the following products:
Clothing and textiles
Watches and jewelry
Shipping and Customs Documents
Shipping and customs documents form the paper trail needed to transport your goods from the manufacturing country to a location in your country – while also ensuring that you pay the correct amount of import duties and other taxes.
Note that all of these documents are provided by either your freight forwarder or supplier.
a. Bill of Lading
The Bill of Lading is the primary freight document issued by your freight forwarder. The Bill of Lading is a receipt confirming that the shipping company has received the cargo. The document includes information about the importer (consignee), shipping company, incoterm, and product type.
The Bill of Lading also has a unique number, which can be used for tracking the shipment online.
Bill of Lading number
How do I get a bill of lading?
The Bill of Lading is issued by the freight forwarder and can be sent by express mail or faxed (telex release), together with all other shipping and customs documents.
Note: You will receive an airway bill when booking air freight.
b. Commercial Invoice
The Commercial Invoice is used to declare the customs value of the shipment, which in turn is used to calculate import duties, VAT (EU) or GST (Australia) and other import taxes. The Commercial invoice also includes product description, quantity, unit cost, and total value.
How do I get a commercial invoice?
The Commercial Invoice is issued by the supplier and sent to your freight forwarder and can be sent by express mail or faxed (telex release), together with all other shipping and customs documents.
Recommendation: Calculate the customs value according to the valuation method in the destination country. Notice that the customs value may also include shipping costs, prototype and tooling costs and paid services provided by the supplier.
c. Packing List
A packing list is a document detailing products, quantity, and a number of cartons included in the shipment. It’s primarily used by the freight forwarder to keep track of the shipment while it’s in transit.
Quantity per product
Number of cartons
How do I get a packing list?
The packing list is issued by the freight forwarder and can be sent by express mail or faxed (telex release), together with all other shipping and customs documents.
d. Certificate of Origin (CO or Form A)
Many countries, such as Australia, offer preferential import duties, sometimes as low as zero, to certain countries. Such reductions can be negotiated as part of a free trade agreement, or offered by developed countries to support poor and developing nations.
In order for such rates to apply, you may need to obtain a Certificate of Origin (sometimes called Form A).
Transportation method and route
How do I get a certificate of origin?
The supplier must apply for the certificate of origin from the local authorities in the manufacturing country. Your supplier cannot ‘self certify’ the country of origin. In addition, the customs authorities in the destination country will require that the certificate is stamped by the authorities in the origin country.
Product Compliance Documents
Product compliance documents are not necessarily part of the shipping and customs clearance process per se, even though that’s sometimes the case. That said, you are responsible for ensuring that your product is correctly lab tested and documented.
Lacking the mandatory documentation can result in your cargo being confiscated by the customs authorities, or subject to a forced recall much later.
a. Lab test reports
The purpose of a test report is to demonstrate that a product is compliant with one or more product safety standards and substance regulations. A test report must include information about the product, applied standards/regulations, test description, and the result.
For example, a REACH test report verifies that the tested product, for example, a t-shirt, is REACH compliant. As such, the product can be sold in the European Union, assuming the product passed the test.
Why do I need a lab test report?
Notice that the customs authorities may or may not request your test reports, but better safe than sorry. That said, market surveillance authorities in your country may request a test report as proof of compliance months or even years after you’ve imported the products.
Amazon is also increasingly strict when it comes to testing reports, and can reject your listing if you don’t have the required test reports.
Product Certificates, such as a Declaration of Conformity (DoC) or a Children’s Product Certificate (CPC), must either be issued by the importer or an accredited third party. The purpose of this document is to certify that a specific product is compliant with certain product regulations and standards.
Why do I need a product certificate?
Product Certificates (not be confused with test reports) are mandatory for various products, especially in the United States and the European Union. Here are a few examples:
How do I get a test report?
Product certificates are, in most cases, either issued by the importer or by an accredited third party.
c. Technical Documentation
Technical product documentation includes product design drawings, bill of materials, label photocopies, user manual photocopies and other data demonstrating compliance with one or more product regulations.
Why do I need technical documentation?
Technical documentation (not be confused with test reports or product certificates) are mandatory for various products, especially in the United States and the European Union. Here are a few examples:
Bill of materials
User manual photocopies
How do I get technical documentation?
Technical documentation is generally created by the importer.
d. Factory Certification
Factory certificates, such as ISO 22000 and HACCP, is mandatory when importing certain types of supplements, food products, and food contact material products (e.g. kitchen appliances). As such, you are limited to suppliers that can already provide relevant factory certificates.
When it comes to other products, such as wooden handicrafts and furniture, the supplier must be listed on an ‘approved supplier list’.
Why do I need a factory certificate?
Factory certification is mandatory for certain products in the United States and the European Union.
How do I get a factory certificate?
You must request the factory certificate from your supplier, and verify its authenticity and validity.
Import licenses or other permits are normally not required when importing consumer products to the United States, Europe, Canada or Australia. Import licenses are generally only required when importing the following products:
Live plants and animals
Tobacco and alcohol
Planning to import products from Asia?
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Asia Import Platform
An all-in-one platform that can help you go from idea to product manufacturing in China, Vietnam, or India. The platform is used by more than 2000 importers worldwide.
Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.
Hey there, I’m Fredrik!
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