The export process is made more complex by the wide variety of documents that the exporter needs to complete to ensure that the order reaches its destination quickly, safetly and without problems. These documents range include those required by the South African authorities (such as bills of entry, foreign exchange documents, export permits, etc.), those required by the importer (such as the proforma and commercial invoices, certifcates of origin and health, and pre-shipment inspection documents), those required for payment (such as the South African Reserve Bank forms, the letter of credit and the bill of lading) and finally, those required for transportation (such as the bill of lading, the airwaybill or the freight transit order). Documentation requirements for export shipments also vary widely according to the country of destination and the type of product being shipped. Most exporters rely on an international freight forwarder to handle the export documentation because of the multitude of documentary requirements involved in physically exporting goods and it is strongly recommended that you also make use of a freight forwarder to help you work your way through the maze of documentation. Click here for a list of freight forwarders that you can approach to help you.

The benefits of documentation

Documentation is a key means of conveying information from one person or company to another, and also serves as permanent proof of tasks and actions undertaken throughout the export process. Documentation is not only required for your own business purposes and that of your business partner, but also to satisfy the customs authorities in both countries and to facilite the transportation of and payment for goods sold.

One value of documentation is that copies can be made and shared with the parties involved in the export process (although you should always ensure that you make identical copies from an agreed-upon master – it is no use making changes without the other party’s agreement and then presenting these as the “latest” copies). If the documentation is complete, accurate, agreed upon by the parties involved and signed by each of these of these parties (or their representatives), the document will represent a legally binding document.

Function of export documentation

Export documentation may serve any or all of the following functions:

  • An attestation of facts, such as a certificate of origin
  • Evidence of of the terms and conditions of a contract if carriage, such as in the case of an airwaybill
  • Evidence of ownership or title to goods, such as in the case of a bill of lading
  • A promissory note; that is, a promise to pay
  • A demand for payment, as with a bill of exchange
  • A decalaration of liability, such as with a customs bill of entry
  • A receipt for goods received.


Source: JCCI Exporter’s Manual

Broad categories of export documentation

There are five broad categories of documentation you will encounter when exporting. These are:

1. Documents involving the importer

  • The proforma invoice
  • The export contract
  • The commercial invoice
  • The packing list
  • Letter of credit
  • Certificate of origin
  • Certificates of health
  • Fumigation certificate
  • Pre-shipment inspecti
  • on certificate
  • Transport documents

3. Documents required for transportation

  • Bill of lading
  • Air waybill
  • Freight transit order
  • Road consignment note
  • Export cargo shipping instruction

4. Documents required for payment

  • Commercial invoice
  • Letter of credit
  • Transport documents

5. Insurance documents

  • Marine insurance