Industry News

Make Sure Your Import Documents Are in Good Order

By Margaret Lange

Getting all your documents in order when importing your goods into the U.S. can be challenging and overwhelming. Like most importers, you are probably relying on your suppliers or vendors to create the documents that will be used to make entry of your goods. Even though you are not creating the documents, you, as the Importer of Record (IOR), are liable for the accuracy of the information presented to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the import of your goods. For this reason, you must understand what documents are needed and what information they should contain.

But again, you are probably not the one creating those documents. So what can you do? As the IOR, you should be providing your foreign suppliers or vendors with direction as to what documents are needed for entry into the U.S., and what information is needed on those documents to facilitate the entry. Not only does this demonstrate Reasonable Care, but it will streamline the entry process and minimize the potential of delays and unexpected costs due to exams, or even worse, penalties for making bad entries.

When your goods arrive in the U.S., the documentation provided to your Broker is used to submit your entry to CBP. The better the documentation, the less likely you will be to experience issues with your entry. The information contained in your documents is used by CBP to determine admissibility and to assess proper duty. So what are the basic documentary requirements to make proper entry?


The Commercial Invoice provides detailed information about your product, and as such, is used by CBP to determine if your goods are allowed to enter the U.S., and most importantly, to determine the assessment of duties. An incomplete or poorly structured commercial invoice will result in delays due to CBP requests for additional information or CBP holds and exams on your goods. None of these are good for your business, so the best thing you can do is to instruct your suppliers or vendors on invoice requirements for U.S. imports.

As defined in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 19 (CFR19) §141 and §142, the commercial invoice must be in English, or have an English translation and contain, at a minimum the following:

  • Buyer and Seller: The full name and address of the parties to the transaction including the seller (i.e. your supplier, vendor, or factory) and the U.S. consignee or buyer name and address.
  • Product Description: A detailed description of the product. Do not abbreviate or truncate descriptions. Trade or product names may not provide enough information about the product.
  • Product Value: The purchase price of each item in the currency of the agreement to purchase. CBP Valuation Regulations (CFR19 152) include certain additions to value or may allow for reductions to the value for agreed-upon discounts or for actual international freight and insurance costs. Any additions or deductions from the invoice value must be clearly defined on the commercial invoice, and you must be able to substantiate the costs declared.
  • Quantities and Weights: The quantity and weight of each line on the invoice are necessary to complete the entry and ascertain proper duties.
  • Country of Origin: Must be the actual country of production or manufacture of the product.
  • Information for Certain Classes of Merchandise: CFR19 141.89 provides additional information needed on the Commercial Invoice for certain products (footwear, apparel, aluminum and alloys, fur products, printed matter, etc.). Review this section of the CFR and ensure any additional product information required is included on the commercial invoice.


The packing list provides information as to how the shipment is packaged. It includes the number of cartons, boxes, pallets, or other packing used. It also includes weights and measures of the product and packaging, which are necessary for the entry. Although this information can be included on the commercial invoice, a packing list is usually cleaner and makes the import process easier. Additionally, if CBP flags an entry for exam, the packing list makes it easier for CBP to target or select specific boxes or packages to review, which minimizes delays in the exam process.


The BOL is issued by the Carrier of the goods to the Shipper and provides all the shipping details including the parties involved in the transportation of the goods. The importer, or consignee, must be stated on the BOL, providing CBP with proof of the importer’s “right to make entry” of the subject goods. Additionally, to ease the entry process, the Broker should be named as the notify party.

Together, these three documents, if all in good order, provide the basic information needed to make proper entry and obtain cargo release.


There are other documents that may be required for your particular import. For instance, if you are claiming a Free Trade Agreement, you will need to provide a certificate or certification of Origin to receive duty-free treatment. Or, if your goods are subject to the regulations of another government agency (Food and Drug Administration-FDA, Fish and Wildlife Service-FWS, etc.), then you may need to provide additional documents, data, testing, or classification information. If your product is subject to Anti-Dumping or Countervailing duties (AD/CVD), or you have U.S. Goods Returned, you will need to make sure your documentation clearly states all required information.

It is not possible to include the multitude of potential documents needed here, but the important point for every importer is to take control of the documentation used for making entry of your goods. Even though you are not creating the documents, you are liable, and therefore, it is in your best interest to direct your suppliers or vendors on creating documents that will reduce any issues on the entry of your goods. Failure to manage your import documents can cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

CBP’s website provides information for Importers to ensure compliance when importing, including A Guide for Commercial Importers and Informed Compliance Publications covering multiple import related requirements. Additionally, our website provides various import related Whitepapers, links, and forms to help importers meet import requirements.