Complying with administrative formalities is a significant challenge for exporting companies. Find out early which commercial documents you will need. From contracts and transport forms to pro forma invoices and customs formalities: here are the main ones.
All commercial transactions begin with a balanced contract which sets out the different agreements - the rights and obligations - of the contracting parties. The contract should also list the court competent to decide a dispute if one of the parties doesn’t comply with their contractual obligations.
It’s best to let experienced lawyers take care of preparing these commercial contracts. They will research the rules applicable according to the legal system in effect in your export destination. Otherwise, you can take your cue from the model contracts of the International Trade Centre (ITC).
You will need different customs documents depending on the destination country and the applicable customs legislation. The Market Access Database will provide you with an immediate overview of the documents required for the destination country you select. Here are the most common ones:
1. Certificates of origin
The certificate of origin is a document which establishes the “nationality” of the product. You will it need to export outside of the European Union (EU). The certificate facilitates importing into the destination country. If there is a trade agreement between the EU and your export destination, you will benefit from a preferential regime thanks the product's “preferential origin”.
2. Single Document
The single document is an electronic declaration form used for customs procedures between EU and non-EU countries. The single document is filled in by customs agents, shippers and the transport company among others using specialised software and entered via the “Paperless Customs and Excise” (PLDA) application.
3. Weight, health and inspection certificates
These certificates list the exact gross and net weights of your products, confirm that they are not hazardous to health and that they correspond to the data on the purchase contract.
4. TIR carnet (International Road Transport)
This document facilitates the transport of goods to countries outside of the EU and transit via a country that is not part of the EU or of the European Free Trade Association (Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland) for merchandise intended for another EU country. It reduces formalities and reduces waiting times at the border. In Belgium, the TIR carnet is issued by the Fédération royale belge des transporteurs et prestataires de services logistiques (Febetra).
5. Pro forma invoice
In many countries, customs require the presentation of pro form invoices which attest to the value of the loads. They facilitate the setting of customs duties. The document resembles a final invoice, but does provide for the obligation to pay.
Prepare transport documents in accordance with commonly accepted Incoterms (International Commercial Terms). They determine the tasks, responsibilities and administrative obligations of the two contracting parties. The term “ex-works” indicates that the buyer is liable for (nearly) all transport activities. The term “Delivery Duty Paid” indicates that the seller is liable.
There are different types of transport documents. The exact type of document you will need will depend on the transport method used:
- Road transport: CMR Transport Document or TIR Carnet
- Maritime transport: Bill of Lading
- Air transport: Air Waybill (AWB)
- Rail transport: Rail Transport Document (CIM)
All international commercial transactions require an export invoice. This document is created for different purposes. It can be used as a reference document for customs, as a contractual document, as a document of origin or as a legal proof.
Pay particular attention to the following when preparing your export invoices:
- Language: companies in the Brussels region can choose between French and Dutch – including for foreign customers - and can also attach a copy in another language.
- Form: digital invoices have the same probative value as paper versions.
- VAT: the requirement to invoice VAT varies depending on whether the sale is inside or outside of the EU.