What Do You Need to Know

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What you need to know…

…if your shipment is about to be shipped from a foreign country.

The freight forwarder in the foreign country will need to provide shipping documents to the importer and to your customs broker of the details.

As the shipment is about to arrive into the USA or to its final destination; proper documentation must be submitted to Customs and any other government agency that may be involved.

Importing products can seem easy at times, but don’t be fooled. Rules and regulations are constantly changing, and you need to always be up to date.

Your shipment can be seized, denied entry, or you can be penalized a monetary amount for not knowing the most current laws.

If it is an ocean shipment we must have the Import Security Filing (ISF) form completed with a copy of the invoice. The ISF form and invoice must be received no later than 72 hours prior to the vessel departing from the last port bound to the USA. The ISF must be submitted to Customs to avoid any penalties.

The ISF is mandatory for ocean shipments arriving in the USA. Freight arriving to the USA by any other means, such as air, rail or truck, the ISF is not submitted.

To expedite the clearance of your shipment the following documents must be properly filled out. Properly filled out documents will enable Customs to process the clearance faster, help avoid delays and get your shipment delivered faster.

Documents Needed

Commercial invoice

The commercial invoice is the main document Customs uses to determine the classification, evaluation and, the duty fees on each imported product.

  1. Must be in English or at least translated to English. It must be prepared carefully, clearly. Allow sufficient space between lines. Keep the data within each column.
  2. The name and complete address of the company or individual making the invoice must be included.
  3. The name and address of the buyer must be included.
  4. A unique invoice number and date of the invoice
  5. The description of the merchandise must be detailed; it must have the marks and numbers for each item. The more detailed the better so the customs agent can easily determine what is in the shipment. If the customs agent or we cannot determine what the products are, and are unable to classify them, it will only delay clearing the shipment.
  6. The quantities must be listed
  7. The values must be itemized, and the type of currency used as well as terms of sale must be included. If the sellers price on the invoice for the product includes anything besides the cost of the product; those charges must be listed separately. The charges must be itemized by name and amount of each charge. Some of those charges can be deducted from the dutiable value lowering the duty you end up paying.
  8. Any services provided to the buyer of the products that are not included on the price must be listed; such as dies, molds, tools, engineering work, etc. If any of these services are provided in the USA they are excluded.
  9. Country of origin of the merchandise
  10. FDA registration number for the company if it applies. * For “shelf stable acidified foods and low-acid canned foods in a hermetically sealed container” the manufacturer’s FCE and the products’ SID number must be listed on the invoice (http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/AcidifiedLow-AcidCannedFoods/default.htm)

Packing List

The packing list must in English, all items must be included in the detailed that they are in, in each individual package. The marks and numbers of each package should be included.

Keep in mind that if a Customs inspector is looking for one particular item he or she must be able to find it easily. The easier you make it for the inspector to find the product the faster the shipment will be released. If the shipment is an ocean shipment the lower the examination charges will be for you.

The weights and measures of products must be included. If the shipment includes food items or if it has to be reported to FDA the packing for each item must be detailed from the largest package to the smallest.


You have four crates of olive oil, each crate has 12 boxes, there are 24 bottles in each box, and each glass bottle has 1 liter (33.84 oz) of olive oil. For FDA we must know what touches the product so that must be included.

Bill of Lading

The bill of lading is a document that is given by the carrier as a type of receipt for the merchandise. The bill of lading indicates the name of the vessel on which your shipment has been placed. It indicates the final destination of the goods. It has the pieces and weight of the shipment and if the freight has been put in a container and type of container used.

The bill of lading should be consigned to you and to notify Cap Intl, Inc. This way the carrier will send us the arrival notice. If we are not the notify party most of the steamship lines will refuse to give us any information on the shipment. The arrival notice will give us the location of where the goods will arrive, terms of transport and other technical information needed to clear the shipment. By having Cap Intl as the notify party it makes easier for you.

Air Waybill

Just like the bill of lading the Air Waybill is a document that is given by the airline as a type of receipt for you merchandise.

If the shipment is consigned to you and you notify Cap International, the airline will automatically give the documents to our messenger service. By getting the documents direct from the airline it can make clearing the shipment faster.

The information provided here is for general purposes only. If you have questions or need more information, please contact us by email or call us at 281-548 1003.

Customs resources:

19 CFR § 141.86 Contents of invoices and general requirements.

You can go on the same website/PDF to:

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