Compulsory Documents Needed for a Seamless Customs Clearance

When it comes to Customs Clearance of goods, the need for a proper and accurate documentation is of essence. In other words, every international transaction that involves physical goods requires accurate documentation to ensure hitch-free dealings.

When importing or exporting goods, there are very important documents you must include in your documentation to make the Customs clearance process a seamless one. What this simply means is that every international transaction that involves physical goods requires accurate documentation to ensure hitch-free dealings. As an importer or exporter, it’s important to understand which documents you need and what they involve.

Customs Clearance is a very important procedure in international trade that is carried out by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). It’s called a clearance procedure because it is designed to prevent illegal and prohibited items from entering the country, as well as to determine the duty payable when importing goods that are subjected to taxation as specified by law. The law which backs the Nigeria Customs Service to enforce the payment of duty is called Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA).

6 Important Documents Needed for the Shipping Process of Goods to Nigeria

There are many documents required for customs clearance. The type of goods you have will determine the types of documents you need for importing and exporting them. Documentation may also vary depending on the country of origin or destination. Basically, your documentation should be either for export or import.

Here are some examples of the documents you might need for customs clearance for either of them:

Exports Documentation: Purchase order from Buyer, Sales Invoice, Packing List, Shipping bill, Bill of Lading or air waybill, Certificate of Origin and any other specific documentation as specified by the buyer, or as required by financial institutions or LC terms or as per importing country regulations.

Imports Documentation: Purchase Order from Buyer, Sales Invoice of the supplier, Bill of Entry, Bill of Lading or Air waybill, Packing List, Certificate of Origin, and any other specific documentation required by the buyer, or financial institution or the importing country regulation.

The following are the 6 important documents needed for the shipping process of goods to Nigeria:

Form ‘M’

Form ‘M’ is one form every intending importer of goods into Nigeria must be very conversant with. It is one document that you must process and get approved before you can import goods into Nigeria.

It is a mandatory statutory document to be completed by all importers for importation of goods into Nigeria. It aims to monitor goods that are imported into Nigeria, as well as enable the collection of import duties where applicable.

The documentation process is put in place by the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). In other words, this document is issued by the CBN through Commercial Banks for import permit procedure. It states the product Harmonized Codes for customs import duty, the amount as well as other basic information.

All imported goods to Nigeria must have Form M attached.

Freight Documents (Bill of Lading or Airway Bill)

Bill of lading is one of the very important documents for customs clearance not just in Nigeria but all over the world. It is a legal document or contract that shows detailed records of goods a shipper wants to ship through a carrier. It is evidence of an agreement between the shipper and the transporter for the transportation of goods. Also, it shows the type of cargo a seller wants to ship to a buyer via a carrier.

As a legal document, the Bill of Lading (BL) serves to ensure that the shipper receives payment for the goods exported, and the consignee or importer receives goods ordered.

As a receipt, the bill of lading confirms to the shipper that the carrier (transporter) of goods or consignment has received such goods. In addition, it is as document of title or proof of ownership of goods.

This document is issued by the shipping company that transport the goods from the ports of loading to destination. The bill of lading contains details of the type, quantity, and destination of goods being carried. It also carries the information of the shipper, consignee and the notifying party of the imported goods. Details of ports of loading and discharging are included in the document.

Agency Certificate

There are important certificates that which you must obtain from some government authorised agencies for a seamless customs clearance. These certificates upon approval by these agents are issued based on the type of goods you are importing. Some of the agents are:

AgencyCertificate issued / core function
Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON)Issues SONCAP Certificate for manufactured goods
National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control
Issues NAFDAC Certificate for imported food items, drugs, cosmetics etc.
National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA)Curtail illicit production, importation, exportation, sale and trafficking of psychoactive substances.
Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Services (NAQS) Ensure that all plants, animals and aquatic produce / products leaving the shores of the country meet international standards.
The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA)NESREA certificate is required for customs clearance of second-hand goods.

Commercial or Pro Forma Invoice

This is a record of the transaction between the exporter and the importer. A commercial invoice is an official statement of the value of the goods and contains the basic information on the transaction. This invoice will be needed in two ways. For form M and Pre Arrival Assessment Reports by the customs for import duty.

As a minimum, a commercial invoice must include the following details:

  • Name and address of the exporter and importer
  • Date of issue
  • Invoice number
  • Description of goods – This must be quite specific, so you should avoid general terms such as ‘clothes’ and describe the clothes exactly; for example, ‘1 x white t-shirt’
  • Unit of measure
  • Quantity of goods
  • Total item value
  • Total invoice value and currency of payment – You should also include the equivalent amount in a currency freely convertible to Dollar or another legal tender in the importing Member state
  • The terms of payment – This means the method and date of the payment, including any discounts
  • The terms of delivery according to the appropriate incoterm
  • Means of transport

There is no specific form for the commercial invoice, therefore they’re generally prepared by the exporter according to their business’ standard practice. You should keep the original and send a few copies with your shipment.

Insurance Certificate

Insurance is very important in the transport of goods because of how high the risks are. This is a document indicating the type and amount of insurance coverage in force on a particular shipment. It is used to assure the consignee that insurance is provided to cover loss or damage to cargo during the shipment process. It is needed to cover any loss or damage during shipping of the goods to Nigeria. There are also other risks to consider, such as riots, strikes and terrorism. You only need the insurance invoice for customs clearance when the relevant data isn’t already in the commercial invoice.

For this, you need to approach any reputable insurance company for issuance of the certificate. An insurance certificate will be needed when raising Form M at the banks for imported goods. This certificate is usually needed when raising a Form M for imported goods, at the bank.

Packing List

This is a commercial document that must accompany the commercial invoice and the transport documents. The purpose of a packing list is to provide information on the imported items and the packaging details of each shipment. Packaging details include weight, dimensions and handling issues. You usually need to include the following information:

  • Information about the exporter, the importer and the transport company
  • Date of issue
  • Number of the freight invoice
  • Type of packaging
  • Number of packages
  • Content of each package
  • Marks and numbers
  • Net weight, gross weight and measurement of the packages

Like the commercial invoice, there is no specific form to fill in and the packing list can be prepared according to your standard business practice.


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