Export Documents: Which types are there and when do you need them?


When goods are produced in an EU country, or imported and customs cleared in an EU country you need export documents to ship these goods to countries outside of the EU. Actually, for some countries or destinations even within the EU you require export documents.

I’m shipping to a non-EU country. What export document do I need?

If you want to export to a non-EU country, a so-called third country, you need an EX-A document. The main reason for the EX-A is that Customs Authorities use the document to process and approve your shipment. It is also used to prove that your goods have actually left the EU. This is important for VAT purposes.

The VAT applies to goods sold in the EU, but not to goods sold to countries outside the EU. If you can’t prove the goods have left the EU, the customs authority will automatically assume the goods you sold are still in the EU. This means VAT applies, and you will have to pay VAT, while you sold the goods without charging VAT.

The EX-A document will accompany the shipment to the customs office where the shipment will leave the EU. This can be a seaport, an airport, but also a land border. At that final border, the document is scanned and filed by the customs officer. A Confirmation of Exit can be requested from the customs office, by the party that created the document. This confirmation can then be used to justify selling the goods at 0% VAT.

I’m shipping to an EFTA country. What export document do I need?

EFTA stands for the European Free Trade Association. It consists of four countries: Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. These countries participate in the European Single Market but are not part of the EU.

If you want to export goods to an EFTA country you need an EU-A document. Same as with the EX-A document, the EU-A document can be used to prove the goods have left the EU.

I’m shipping to an EU country. What export document do I need?

When you are shipping to another EU country it is called an intra-Community supply. The EU Customs Union assures a free movement of people and goods. This means you don’t need an export document unless you are shipping by sea.

Goods entering any EU port are treated as if they came from outside the EU. Ships can easily pick up goods in a non-EU country when en route between two EU ports. That is why EU customs authorities treat shipments by sea as such. To prove your goods originated from the EU you make sure your shipment is accompanied by a T2L document. The T2L is validated by the customs authority of the country where the shipment will leave the EU port.

I’m shipping to territories related to an EU country. What export document do I need?

Some countries have overseas parts, that are part of the EU, because they are part of that country, but not fiscally. Then you need a CO-A document and a T2LF document. A CO-A document proves that you correctly invoiced 0% VAT. Examples are French regions like French Guiana or Martinique, the Greek region Mount Athos, the Finnish region of Åland, and Spanish regions, like Gran Canary. For a full overview, please see the tables published by the European Commission on VAT and Customs applicability. 

If you want to be sure, contact a customs specialist for expert advice on all matters concerning export documents. They can answer questions you have, or create the documents for you.

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