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The number and kind of documents required on export shipments vary with the country of destination. Ordinarily they include a commercial invoice, with packing list, an exporter's declaration, a bill of lading, a marine insurance policy or certificate, and a draft; also, in a good many cases, a visaed consular invoice, a sanitary certificate, and sometimes a certificate of origin, which may or may not require consular visa, according to the country of destination.

Because of the liability to penalty for failure to send the correct documents or to fill them out properly, the matter of documentation of his goods is frequently a great bug-a-boo to the inexperienced exporter. Even the expert shipper must keep advised as to the current requirements if he is not to run into difficulties with the customs at the other end. A comparatively few countries require no consular visas and make no special demands as to the kind or number of documents to accompany imports. A great many require special consular invoices which must be filled out with meticulous care and must bear the consular visa to be acceptable; others require a special certificate of origin, also visaed, to be presented either in lieu of the consular invoice or in addition to it, and perhaps also a signed and sworn commercial invoice; while most of the British countries (but not the United Kingdom, the Irish Free State, or Canada) either prefer or require some form of the standard imperial invoice, which needs no consular visa. The bill of lading may or may not require consular visa, according to the country concerned.


Outstanding among the countries requiring special consular invoices are most of the countries of Latin America, though there are a number of other countries for which consular documents are necessary. Special blanks are provided, usually to be purchased from the consul who later must affix his visa, though in some cases the blanks may be obtained from stationers specializing in commercial papers. Nothing may be omitted from the invoice; each space must be filled in accurately. Some countries impose fines for the most trivial omission or inexactness, even penalizing the use of ditto marks or the spreading of data over two adjacent columns instead of repeating it in the parallel columns. An example of this last error is the two parallel columns on the Brazilian form which are headed “Country of origin" and "Country from which sent." The words "United States of America" must not be written across both columns but must appear separately in each of the two columns.

The number of copies of the consular invoice which must be presented when a visa is requested will vary considerably with the country and the set-up of its consular and customs offices. The consul always keeps certain copies, partly for his own files and partly to be forwarded to the customs officers at place of destination, the number depending upon the country. The copies which he returns to the shipper are for the exporter to forward to the importer for presentation to the customs when he declares his goods. They should arrive at as nearly the same time as the goods as possible-preferably not later than the boat bearing the shipment. Delay in receipt of documents is frequently heavily penalized by the customs of the importing country.


A special certificate of origin is required by certain countries; this. may be the only special document necessary (as in the case of the Irish Free State), or it may be a combined consular invoice and certificate of origin, as in the case of France, or a separate form in addition to the consular invoice, as now demanded by Argentina. A number of countries have apportioned space on the consular invoice to show the country of origin of each item on the invoice, which obviates the necessity for a separate certificate.


As already intimated, most of the British countries, other than the mother country, the Irish Free State, and Canada, have adopted the standard imperial invoice in one or another form, although it is not always required on non-British goods. Some of these countries expect the adopted form to accompany goods subject to ad valorem rates, while it may be omitted on goods dutiable on a specific basis. Still 'others demand the form which they have adopted on all goods, whether the goods are of British or non-British origin and whatever the basis of duty: Since the information on the required form of invoice is that which the importer must use in declaring his shipment, and since a preference as to the form best suited to the individual customs of the different areas has been expressed in the adoption of a special form, it is believed that it is good trade practice to make use of the exact form preferred by the country of destination of the goods, although they may at present accept another form on non-British goods.

Canada has her own special forms of invoice (Forms M and N) which must be used according to whether goods are sold prior to shipment or are shipped on consignment.

The forms of invoice for the various British areas may all be prepared locally and may be printed, written, or typed on the billheads of the exporting firm.


A commercial invoice should always be sent in addition to the other documents. A number of countries make the sending of the commercial invoice obligatory and require an oath that the values shown are entirely in accordance with the facts to be signed at the foot of the paper. (See figs. 5 and 6.)

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