Preparing and processing export documents

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The importance of export documentation

The number and type of documents required for completing an export order for your products must be analyzed fully and with great care so as to avoid expensive mistakes and delays. In addition to the export sales contract to supply goods to your customers, you may also contract with organizations, which will provide services such as packing, insuring and transporting the consignment of cargo. You may also decide to employ the services of a freight forwarding company, which will act as your agent in performing various functions.

In creating a business relationship with any service provider, a document to represent a legal contract will be prepared. Your customer will also require these documents so that he can collect the consignment of cargo. It is also likely that the customer will only make payment when he receives the documents.

In addition to these documents, the authorities of the exporting and importing countries may also require documents such as licenses that provide evidence that the relevant government department has sanctioned the export / import transaction.

Basic export documentation

A number of documents are commonly used in the export process:

Commercial Invoice (certified invoice)

This is the “charge” document, containing details of the seller, buyer, goods, price, terms of sale (e.g., FOB, CIF), etc. It must follow the requirements of the importing country, where it is used for clearing goods through Customs. Goods being sold under a letter of credit must be described on the invoice exactly as in the letter of credit. This invoice must also meet any other requirements stipulated in the letter of credit and show marks and numbers of packages as on the bill of lading or other transport documents.

Bill of Lading (B/L)

This is issued by or for the shipping company and serves as a receipt for goods uplifted for shipment, as a contract of carriage and as a legal document of title. On delivery of the goods the consignee is required to surrender a negotiable copy of the bill of lading to take possession. With the development of containerisation and the use of different means of transport (land and sea) under one contract of carriage, the traditional marine bill of lading is now being used less often in international trade. Variations of these documents are a marine bill of lading, a combined transport document, or house bill of lading.

Airway Bill (AWB)

The AWB is equivalent to a bill of lading for goods sent by air. Note: courier companies often have their own documentation that travels with the goods which is unique to that transaction.

Certificate of Origin

The origin of goods has a direct bearing on the rate of customs duty to be charged. Certification of origin may be incorporated in the commercial invoice, but a separate document, issued or countersigned by the Chamber of Commerce in the country of origin may often be necessary. Some importing countries demand that the certificate of origin be authenticated by their embassies in the exporting country.

Insurance Policy Certificate

The insurance document must comply with any terms in a letter of credit. The insurance coverage of goods being shipped without letter of credit is determined by arrangements between buyer and seller.

Cargo Insurance

Export goods must be well covered by insurance and both parties to the export transaction must be fully aware of their responsibilities. Exporters may often have an insurable interest long after the goods have left their possession, while buyers could be “on risk” before the goods are actually received. The terms of cover are usually laid down in the sale contract or letter of credit.

Packing List

This document details weight, volume, content, and packaging for each separate export package and for total shipment. It is often required by customs in the country of import when wanting to check the contents of any particular shipment. Banks often call for a packing list detailing the shipment particularly if a letter of credit is the chosen form of payment.

Pre-shipment Inspection Certificates

As a mechanism for the authentication of quality, quantity, value and compliance with export requirements, most products exported from Kenya undergo pre-shipment inspection. The pre-shipment process that a product is subjected to depends on the type of product and the requirements by the importing country. In addition certain governments require that the Kenya Competent Authorities on phytosanitary and sanitary (public health) certify quality and safety of products to be exported to their countries. Such Competent Authorities include:

  • Department of Fisheries – for fish and fish products;
  • Ministry of Health - for public health on food products;
  • Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) – for phytosanitary certification;
  • Department of Veterinary Services – for animal products; and
  • Kenya Bureau of Standards – for manufactured products.

Some products may require certification from more than one of the Competent Authorities.

Export procedures

Here is how to export from Kenya step-by-step:






Exporter forms and registers a company at the Attorney General’s Chambers:

  • Search confirming availability of business name
  • Citizenship documents (identity card or passport, and personal identification number, PIN)

There are three types of companies: sole proprietorship, partnerships, or limited companies.


Exporter applies for a Trade License from the respective District Trade Development Officer:

  • Tenancy agreement or proof of ownership of the premises
  • Citizenship documents
  • A copy of Certificate of Incorporation or registration of business name

In case of a private limited company, a Certificate of Share Distribution, issued by the Attorney General’s Office, is required.


Exporter applies for Exporter Code Number to Customs Department:

  • Copy of Trade License
  • Citizenship documents
  • A copy of Certificate of Incorporation or registration of business name

The code number can be processed as you wait and no fee is charged.


In case of restricted items, exporters apply for export license from Department of Internal Trade, Ministry of Trade:

  • E Form (3 copies)

Processing period is approximately 3 days.


Exporter applies for any special export permit as necessary:

  • Documents as specified in regulations controlling specific items being exported

Special permits are commodity specific:

  • Horticultural Crops Development Authority for horticulture;
  • Department of Fisheries for fish;
  • Commissioner of Mines and Geology for mineral-based products.


Export documentation prepared and distributed to other parties:

  • Commercial Invoice (five copies)
  • Parking List
  • C63 – Customs Entry Form

Exporter retains 1 copy, 1 copy to importer, 2 copies to Customs, 1 copy to exporter’s bank


Completion of Certificate of Origin (as required by country of import):

Certificates of Origin to appropriate destinations:

  • exporters to EU obtain EUR-1 (Kenya Revenue Authority - KRA);
  • exporters to COMESA member countries obtain PTA Certificate of Origin (KRA);
  • exporters to European Union countries obtain GSP Certificate of Origin (KRA);
  • exporters to other countries obtain Ordinary Certificate of Origin (Kenya National Chamber of Commerce & Industry);
  • exporters may also obtain special Certificates of Origin for products such as handicrafts at border points (KRA).

The certificates are issued free of charge and can be processed as you wait. The purpose of the Certificates of Origin is to indicate the origin of the exports so that they can enjoy preferential duty entry into the export market depending on the trade arrangement between Kenya and importing country.


Arrange shipment insurance:

  • Marine cover note obtained by exporter from company of choice


Pre-shipment inspection agents forward clean report of findings to exporter:

  • Clean Report of Findings (CRF)


Goods are sealed and shipped:

  • C63 Customs Entry Form is endorsed and exporter is given Customs Serial Number
  • Air Waybill
  • Bill of Lading

Handling these multiple and complex documentation requires skilled and experienced staff. You can engage a freight forwarder to do the documentation on your behalf.


The Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency (KEPROBA) is a State Corporation established under the State Corporations Act Cap 446 through Legal Notice No.110 of August 9th, 2019 after a merger between Export Promotion Council and Brand Kenya Board.The Agency’s core mandate is to implement export promotion and nation branding initiatives and policies to promote Kenya’s export of goods and services
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