What is a Shippers Export Declaration (SED)?


A Shippers Export Declaration is used for two purposes. First, it serves as a census record of U.S. exports. Many reports are generated by the government using these statistics. Second, because the commodity's export license designation appears on the form, the SED serves as a regulatory document. The SED is required for shipments when the commodity's value exceeds more than $2500 per Schedule B number and for postal shipments if the value is at least $500 U.S.dollars. SEDs must also be prepared, regardless of value, for all shipments requiring an export license or for shipments to embargoed countries. This form can be filled out by either you or your freight forwarder (if power of attorney has been recognized). The SED does not leave the United States and does not travel along with the other export documents through the banking channels on the letter of credit or other transactions. Instead the Shippers Export Declaration is delivered to the exporting carrier (airline or vessel line) and then presented to the U.S. Customs Service at the port of export.


A revised SED is provided at http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/www/index.html . It is very important to follow the "correct way to fill out the SED" and the "proper printing instructions" that are provided on this website.


The Automated Export System (AES) is the electronic way to file the Shipper's Export Declaration (SED) and the ocean manifest information directly to U.S. Customs. Please view http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/aes/index.html  for the AES main page that provides information about the system, how to register, and frequently asked questions.



Where can I find tariff rates?

There are many resources that are available for you to determine tariff/duty rates on products going abroad. Before reviewing information resources, it is important to be prepared so the process of attaining these rates are as painless as possible.

First, it is important to obtain the Harmonized/Schedule B number for the product that is leaving the country. Customs officials around the world use this number to assess duties and taxes on the product. The first 6 digits are considered the Harmonized System Number and is standardized worldwide. The 10-digit number represents the Schedule B. Governments use this number to distinguish commodities in certain categories.

To find the tariff information, the Harmonized Number (first 6 digits) is required. The U.S. Census Bureau website: http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/schedules/b/index.html can be used to determine the Harmonized and Schedule B number for the purpose of obtaining the tariff/duty rates on products to another country. Further information and assistance can be obtained by calling 301-763-3047.


After the H/S # has been obtained, the U.S. government provides tariff/duty rate information for U.S. goods being shipped to foreign countries. The Trade Information Center can be reached at

1-800-USA-Trade to provide Tariff and Tax rates.

  • For Mexican duty rates, see http://www.economia-snci.gob.mx/.

  • For duty rates concerning Russia and the New Independent States, call the Business information service for the New Independent States (BISNIS) at 202-482-4655 or try http://www.bisnis.doc.gov/bisnis/customs.cfm.

  • Call the Central and Eastern Europe Business Information Center at 202-482-2645 for duty rates concerning those countries.

  • For duty rates on agricultural goods, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service. All requests must be faxed.

  • For Europe, Africa and the Middle East:

    • Phone #: 202-720-1341

    • Fax #: 202-690-1093

  • For Asia and the Americas:

    • Phone #: 202-720-1289

    • Fax #: 202-690-2079

  • In addition, please try accessing the Foreign Agriculture Service. On this homepage, please select the “Trade Policy & Negotiation” link to the WTO trade trends and tariff schedule.


Other Concerns: Single/Flat Rates and Free Trade Agreements:

It is important to be informed that certain countries have a single/flat tariff rate. Some of these countries include Bahrain, Bolivia, Chile, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Qatar, and Singapore. These countries, though, all have different stipulations regarding their tariff/duty rates. More information concerning these countries and their rules and regulations can be obtained at www.export.gov or the Trade Information Center at 1-800-USA-TRADE.

It is also important recognize that goods that qualify under the US-Israel Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement rules of origin qualify for zero duty rates. A special Certificate of Origin must be used for this qualification.

Other Information Sources for Customs Information and Tariff/Duty Rates:


European Union

EU members include:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom

Asia-Pacific Economic Community (APEC)

APEC Members Include: Asian Communities, United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile

Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)

COMESA Members Include: Angola, Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

South Africa Customs Union (SACU)

SACU Members Include: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland



What is a Letter of Credit?

The Letter of Credit is a document that is issued by a bank per instructions by the buyer of the goods. This document authorizes the seller to draw a specified sum of money under specified terms, usually the receipt by the bank of certain documents within a given time. The foreign buyer applies for issuance of a letter of credit from the buyer's bank to the exporter's bank and is therefore called the applicant; the exporter is called the beneficiary.

Payment under a documentary letter of credit is based on documents, not on the terms of the sale or the physical condition of the goods. The letter of credit specifies the documents required by the exporter, such as an ocean bill of lading, consular invoice, draft and an insurance policy. Before the payment, the bank responsible for payment verifies that the proper documents conform to the letter of credit requirements.

U.S. exporters may want to confirm the letter of credit issued by the foreign bank if they are unfamiliar with the bank or are concerned about the political and economic risk associated with that country. A letter of credit may either be irrevocable, thus unable to be changed unless both parties agree, or revocable where either party may unilaterally make changes. This later form is inadvisable, as it carried many risks for the exporter.

A change made to the letter of credit after it has been issued is called an amendment. Banks charge fees for this service. It should be specified in the amendment who will pay these charges to the bank. It is important to get the letter of credit right the first time because of the cost in money and time.

Typical steps include:

  • After the exporter and buyer agree on the terms of sale, the buyer makes arrangements with his/her bank to open a letter of credit (LC) that specifies what documents are needed for payment (the buyer determines which documents are required).

  • The buyer's bank issues the irrevocable LC that includes the instructions to the seller concerning documentation requirements.

  • The buyer's bank sends the LC to a selected U.S. bank requesting confirmation (exporter may request particular bank).

  • The U.S. bank prepares a letter of confirmation and forwards it to the exporter along with the LC.

  • After examining the conditions of the LC, the freight forwarder is contacted to confirm the shipping date.

  • The exporter arranges with the freight forwarder to deliver the goods to the appropriate vessel port or airport.

  • The freight forwarder completes the necessary paperwork after the goods are loaded.

  • The exporter or freight forwarder presents the documents to the U.S. bank, showing full compliance with the terms of the LC.

  • After the U.S. bank reviews the LC, it is then sent to the buyer's bank for review and is then transferred to the buyer.

  • The buyer uses the documents to claim the commodity.

  • A draft, which accompanies the letter of credit, is paid by the buyer's bank at the time specified or, if a time draft, may be discounted at the exporter's bank at an earlier date.

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