Shipping Documentation

Complete and accurate documentation helps a shipment leave the US legally and enter the destination country smoothly. This is especially important if the item is intended to be a temporary import that will return to the U.S.

A carrier or forwarder/broker can help with documentation, but remember that MIT as shipper of record (referred to as the "Principal Party in Interest") is responsible for what the documentation says, that the carrrier or forwarder may not have the familiarity with the item you're shipping to determine the correct export control classification or tariff code, and that errors can lead to delays, expense, or legal issues. It will be necessary to provide the shipment address, item descriptions (including export classification, tariff code, and value), the purpose of the shipment, export control authorization, and declaration control statement. 

International documentation: a commercial invoice (for sales) or pro forma invoice (for shipments not related to a sale, but containing essentially the same information) is the central document that typically accompanies an international shipment.

U.S. Government documentation: an export of tangible items must be documented through an Electronic Export Information (EEI) filing to the Automated Export System (AES) if certain criteria are met, including:

  1. If an export license is required
  2. If the ECCN is 9x515 or nx6nn (items formerly subject to the ITAR)
  3. If the Strategic Trade Authorization (STA) license exception is being used
  4. If the value is over $2,500 under a single tariff code (Schedule B or HTS)

The key elements of a typical commercial invoice are similar to the data required for an EEI filing:

Category Commercial invoice AES
Date X X
Sender X X
Recipient X X
Destination port of entry X  
Waybill number X  
Item Description X X
Item Quantity X X
Item country of origin X  
Item value X X
Item tariff code (Schedule B or HTS) X X
Export control authority   License, exception, or NLR; ECCN may be required
Destination control statement All but EAR99  
Shipper representation of compliance   X

The value is the selling price, or if no money is changing hands the fair market value. Noncommercial samples for research material can be valued as “Samples with no commercial value; value for Customs purposes only: $xxxx” with a nominal value. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Agreement on the Importation of Educational Scientific and Cultural Materials provides for duty-free import of books, publications, and educational, scientific and cultural materials, including scientific instruments or apparatus for non-commercial use. This will be reflected in each country's import duty schedule, and may require advance approval and special labeling, as in Irish Tax and Customs' Relief from Customs Duty on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials. More information is available in the Customs Valuation Encyclopedia.

The EEI filing needs to provide the license number, applicable license exception, or NLR (no license required), and often the Export Control Classification Number.

The US Government requires a Destination Control Statement to be entered on the invoice and waybill, unless the items are classified EAR99 or being exported with the baggage (BAG) or gift (GFT) exceptions:

The EEI requires the shipper to represent that the shipment is in compliance with the export control regulations, that the EEI statements are in conformity with any license, and that the EEI information is true, complete and accurate .

Need help?

Contact the MIT Export Control Compliance Team at, or by phone at 617-253-2762 (Janet Johnston).