The essential customs documents for exporting in the agri-food sector

Customs documentation is essential for importing and exporting foodstuffs (and any other type of product). These documents must be presented to customs, the public authority in each state responsible for controlling the movement of people and/or goods in a territory.

This work is done for travel by land, air and sea meaning there are ground, aerial and maritime customs offices. Their operations are governed by customs law, which is a branch of administrative and international trade law.

The existence of customs authorities throughout the world means all goods must go through customs in order to enter a country. And the fact is, customs is highly important politically, economically and internationally since customs policies affect all countries’ imports and exports with the rest of the world.

That’s why you need in-depth knowledge of your sector of business if you want to successfully export. Equally important is understanding all the documentation required to be able to engage in export operations. This includes various commercial, transport and customs documents:

Commercial documentation: proforma invoice, non-commercial invoice, commercial invoice and packing list.

Transport documentation: Bill of Lading (B/L), Airway Bill (AWB), Forwarding Certificate of Receipt (FCR), CMR consignment note and the transport insurance policy or certificate.

Customs documentation: Single Administrative Document (SAD) and certificates of origin.

In previous posts, we’ve gone through all the commercial documents needed for exporting in the agri-food sector, as well as all the transport documentation required. So, in this post we’re going to focus on the customs documents that are essential for exporting in the food sector.



Customs documentation is necessary when importing or exporting products and is required in order for the customs authorities to be able to control the movement of such goods. Therefore, a series of procedures must be completed including the necessary documentation and management to be able to transport goods between countries— always in accordance with the rules and conditions set forth by each customs office.

Customs procedures are essential to being able to send and receive products with full guarantees. They include paying duties and all applicable taxes based on the type and quantity of goods. Complying with these procedures is mandatory and failing to do so may lead to significant sanctions and fines.


Single Administrative Document (SAD).

The Single Administrative Document (SAD) is a paper document used in import and export customs procedures which must be presented to the customs authorities. It provides information on the product to be imported or exported and is used as the basis for tax declarations. The SAD is a fundamental document that must accompany all goods in order to meet customs requirements in import and export operations.

The purpose of the SAD is to unify all the necessary administrative documents for importing and exporting goods. Nonetheless, the SAD is a complicated document which is divided into different sections or pages. Specifically, there are eight section and each of them is used for a different transaction as part of the bureaucratic import and export process.

There is an additional ninth page. It’s the national document which authorises the withdrawal or loading of goods.

Although the SAD is a paper document, it may be submitted electronically. This is possible through the EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) which is a computerised system used to verify documentation electronically to save a great deal of time and costs.


Certificates of origin.

Certificates of origin are official documents that ensure the goods come from the place stated. These kinds of certificates are extremely important for some types of products when the origin is part of their value. Thus, they guarantee the country of origin of the goods or the final country where the goods were significantly transformed.

This document also helps importers pay the customs authorities in the country of destination the duties applicable to the product to be shipped.

There are different types of certificates of origin for goods:

  • Declaration of origin: issued by Chambers of Commerce.


  • EUR1: proves the origin of goods with preferential treatment; in other words, which benefit from tariff reductions.


  • EUR2: used for post shipments or products that cost less than 215 euros.


  • ATR: used for trade transactions with Turkey.


  • FORM A: authorises the importation of goods originating from developing countries through the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). It is only necessary for the party exporting the goods.
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