Export Overview

Sale Contract

It is essential that there is a clear written contract between buyer and seller, specifying what has to be delivered and the terms of sale. This is especially important in the international sale of goods.

The contract should cover payment, including the currency of payment, due date and place of payment. The contract should provide for a method of payment. There are a number of means of payment that offer a measure of protection to the seller against the risk of the buyer’s default.

The sale contract should set out where the goods are to be delivered. The responsibility of the parties in relation to delivery, carnage an insurance should be clearly defined. It should specify who is responsible for every stage of the journey, including custom clearance and any insurance that is required.  It should specify who is to pay for each cost.

The internationally agreed “Incoterms” are usually used to specify the responsibility of the parties.  They cover matters such as who is responsible for transport and insurance, the point of delivery, the passing of risk, who insures, who handles customs procedures, who arranges transport, who pays taxes and duties.

Normally the exporter is responsible for Irish Customs procedure and the importer looks after customs in their own country.

EU and Free Circulation of Goods

If goods are in lawful free circulation in the European Union, they can usually be moved from one country to another without custom controls or charges. This requires that the good have been produced in the EU or that they have been imported into the EU and that all VAT, customs and other requirements have been completed and paid for them.

Imports into the EU must be declared to Revenue in a single administrative document (SAD). This is almost invariably undertaken electronically Details must be given of the commodity code which determines the rate of import duty. Freight forward and custom agencies usually handled customs clearance. The customs and other duties on them must be paid.

If goods are being exported out of the European Union, it is necessary to declare the exports to the Revenue. This is usually done electronically. The declaration includes details of the classification of the goods being exported and particular of the country to which thee goods are going.

The exported of goods is not usually subject to charges in the EU. There are limited exceptions. It is necessary to keep copies of outlay, invoices, and proof of export.

The goods may be subject to customs and other duties in the country of import. usually zero rated. It is necessary to check documentation required in the customers country. A commercial invoice issuing documents such as an airway bill may be required. A certificate of origin may be required.


There are few licenses required in international trade. The vast majority of goods do not require a licence. Certain types of goods require export and / or import licences. The requirement is based on the nature of the goods (typically sensitive or dangerous goods) and their destination.

It is generally permitted to import and export from and to other EU states without restriction. Even within the EU, some limited categories of goods require export licences or are subject to regulation.

Consent may be required to exports for defence and security reasons, such as in the case of military equipment or goods which could be used for making weapons.  There are controls on the export of cultural and heritage items.

Controls exist for different policy reasons. Licence requirements may apply because the export is to a particular third country which is subject to controls or sanctions.

Food, plants and products of animal origin are highly regulated for public health reasons. The transportation of live animals is regulated for animal welfare reasons. Products of animal origin from within the EU must usually be accompanied by a Health Certificate.  Products imported from outside the EU must be inspected at an approved border inspection post.


An exporter must be familiar with VAT which is administered by the Revenue Commissioners.   Exports to other VAT registered EU traders are usually zero rated. The EU importer must self-account for VAT.

Exports to non-VAT registered traders and consumers are subject to Irish VAT. Where there is a high level of exports within the European Union it may be necessary to complete a more detailed VAT return.    In the case  of distance sales, it may be necessary to register for VAT in another EU State.

Exports outside the EU will be generally zero rated for VAT. There are exceptions.   Details of export sales must be entered in the trader’s VAT returns.

VAT is chargeable on imports from outside the EU. A trader may be must account for VAT on imported goods. The particulars must be entered on the VAT return. If he is entitled to deduct VAT on the purchase as an input, there is no immediate cashflow implication.

Goods imported from some countries outside the EU can be imported at a reduced or zero rate of import duties. Documentary proof is necessary to show that the goods are manufactured and produced in the preference countries which will qualify for the preferential rules of origin.

Transport of Goods

The mode of transport and the organisational requirements depend on the type of goods concerned and how quickly they need to be delivered.  Most companies use a specialised freight forwarder to handle transport.  Insurance will usually be necessary.  There are exemptions and limitations of liability available to carrier. Marine insurance can cover transport by air, road or rail as well carriage by sea.

There are various types of road carrier. There are couriers who specialise in the speedy and secure delivery of small goods. Hauliers collect goods from the seller’s premises and deliver them. International road haulage is subject to the CMR Convention in relation to transport of goods by road.  Insurance is advisable in respect of loss and damage to transported goods.

Air transport can facilitate the delivery of smaller goods quickly over long distances, offering a high-level security.  The Airway Bill sets out the contact between the business and the carrier.  It is not a document of title to the goods.

Transport by Sea

Sea transport potentially permits the transport of large volumes of goods at lower costs than of other modes of transport.  It also facilitates container transport and multi modal transport; ferry, road, rail, etc.  A consignment of goods by sea usually involves a bill of lading or a sea waybill.

Freight forwarders consolidate shipments and bring to bear, a detailed knowledge of the rules and regulations applicable to the relevant sector.

The bill of lading   embodies the contract for carriage, acts as a receipt for the goods and is a title document to them. It allows ownership of goods to be released at an appropriate point. A sea waybill is less costly. It is not a document of title and does not offer the same security of payment.

The international transport of dangerous goods is subject to European and International Conventions and Agreements. A shipment of dangerous goods requires a Dangerous Goods Declaration and certain other documentation. Drivers of vehicles carrying dangerous goods must hold a ADR training certificate.

Entrusting to Carriers

The transport documentation must tell the carrier what is to be done with the goods. If the goods are being exported an Export Cargo Shipping Instruction (ECSI) is completed which gives the freight forwarder or carrier details of the goods and how they are to reach their destination is usually completed. A standard shipping note (SSN) which instructs the port as to how to handle goods may be required.

The carrier should be provided with documentary evidence of what is consigned. The carrier may issue a bill of lading  which is evidence of the receipt of the goods. A consignment note may be used instead of a bill of lading. It is a document prepared by a consignor and countersigned by the carrier as a proof of receipt of consignment for delivery at the destination. It  gives details of the goods being transported.

Accompanying Documents

Goods in sale are commonly accompanied by various documents when being transported.   This is not a legal requirement in most cases within the European Union, but there are some limited exceptions. It may be practically advantageous, even where it is not a legal requirement.

All consignments being exported outside the EU must be the subject of an export declaration and have supporting documentation. The paper single administrative declaration is now rarely used because of the electronic submission of customs declarations.

The seaway bill, bill of lading or airway bill embodies the contract between the exporter and the carrier. They are evidence of the receipt of the goods. The Bill of lading also operates as a title document to the goods.

Insurance and Invoice

Insurance is a key issue in international trade. One or other party will be responsible for insuring the goods in transit. The insurance provision should be provided by contract. Institute cargo clauses are usually used in relation to insurance.  General cargo insurance is available on three levels, clause a, b or c.  A marine insurance policy contracted by the seller may be  assigned to the buyer.

The invoice will set out the price and describe the goods. It is sent by the seller to the buyer.  It may be needed to clear the goods through Customs. The invoice may need to be certified by an independent party. A consular invoice is signed by an official, who verifies its contents against the shipping documents.

An invoice should cover the goods, their description, weight, value, country of origin and transport date. The consignee and consignor details should be included.A Certificate of Conformity is required for some consignments such as fruit and vegetables, even in intra EU trade. A declaration must be completed and certain documents must accompany dangerous goods.

Payments in International Trade Documentation

The matter of payment is critical to the seller. There are considerable practical difficulties in collecting from an unwilling payer abroad.  Export credit insurance can cover risks for non-payment, but is difficult to secure and is expensive.  Currency risks arise which may be hedged.

Documentary collections and documentary credits are often used as payment methods in international trade. The risk of the customer failing to pay or the supplier failing to deliver is reduced.

In the case of documentary collection, the exporter prepares a bill of exchange stating how much is to be paid and when. Once the buyer/ importer accepts this bill, it is unconditionally obliged to pay and the transport documents needed to take possession of the goods is given in exchange.

In the case of a documentary credit, the buyer / importer arranges a letter of credit from its bank. The bank agrees to pay the exporter once the documentation showing title to the goods and their dispatch is received.

Approved Economic Operator

In some cases, particularly if the trade is part of an international supply chain, it may be advantageous to have Authorised Economic Operator status.   This designation is a recognised quality mark that attests that the holder’s custom controls and procedures are efficient and compliant. It marks the holder as a reliable trading partner in a supply chain.

AOEs benefit from considerable simplification under custom rules. They are exempted from some customs requirements and controls. They can self-certify matters which would otherwise have to be confirmed or checked by customs authorities.

The Authorised Economic Operators (AEO) status is an internationally recognised quality market which confirms that customs controls and procedures are efficient, compliant and can be considered secure and reliable in a supply chain.

Airline and shipping companies established outside the European Union, which benefit from equivalent custom simplification procedures and internationally recognised security and safety standards may be considered as already meeting the requirements.