The International Trade Blog arrow Export Compliance

Exporting Samples: What You Need to Know

On: August 23, 2023    |    By: Mitch Kostoulakos Mitch Kostoulakos    |    4 min. read

Exporting Samples: What You Need to Know | Shipping SolutionsShipments of samples can sometimes cause problems for exporters. It is easy to give these shipments to FedEx, UPS, DHL or the USPS (most samples are small) and forget about them. However, due diligence is required in order to avoid customs delays, potential penalties or service issues. 

Importers of samples into the U.S. have clear customs regulations to follow (read about them here). Exporters of samples to other countries have no single set of regulations. Customs services in foreign countries have their own rules and procedures. So, allow me to propose some best practices for smooth samples transactions for exporters.

How to Export Samples and Stay Compliant

Samples can be defined as “not suitable for its intended use,” such as models, unusable quantities or mutilated items. But most items exported as samples do not fit the above definition since they could be used for their intended purpose or entered into commerce.

The essential information needed to properly export samples are the three Ds: Documentation, Description and Dollars.


The commercial invoice (CI) is one of the primary documents in international trade, including shipments of samples. A proforma invoice is an offer of sale and is not sufficient for customs clearance purposes. The CI description will clearly indicate that the sample is not for sale as well as the value.


In his recent webinar, What You Need to Know About Exporting Samples and Repaired Goods, Robert Imbriani provided these excellent examples of descriptions to be used in exporting samples:

  • True samples: These samples are NOT suitable for their intended use and could not be sold commercially. Suggested wording for the commercial invoice: “Sample, no commercial value. Value for customs purposes only USD $XXX.XX”
  • Not a true sample: These samples COULD be suitable for intended use or sale. Suggested wording for the commercial invoice: “Sample, no charge. Value for customs purposes only $XXX.XX”

Watch Robert explain in detail how to handle commercial invoice descriptions and how to properly value samples (the value will be completely different depending on if you ship a true or not true sample): 


The valuation entered on the commercial invoice is critical. Customs services in the destination country want to know what is coming in and if it is dutiable. The values in the commercial invoice descriptions above must be accurate and consistent. Do not enter a random amount such as $1, $5 or $10 unless it is verifiable, and never less than $1. Exporters are cautioned not to allow their customers to determine the value. Exporters are always responsible for compliance. Since your sample is not a sale, enter 0 in the unit and billing columns of the commercial invoice.

Finally, enter the USD designation if your valuation for customs purposes is in U.S. dollars, because the dollar sign ($) is used by a few other countries.

Other Options

Samples can be exported under a Temporary Import Bond or an ATA Carnet. A carnet can be used more than once and is a good option if you are traveling from country-to-country with samples.

Learn more in our article, What Is an ATA Carnet? 

Learn More about Exporting Samples

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Mitch Kostoulakos

About the Author: Mitch Kostoulakos

Mitch Kostoulakos is an independent logistics consultant and a Licensed Customs Broker (LCB). He was an award-winning International Executive with FedEx Services before launching Ad Hoc Logistics LLC, and previously held management positions in the LTL industry. Ad Hoc Logistics assists small and medium-sized firms with international logistics and customs issues. Mitch holds the CTL—Certified in Transportation and Logistics designation. His articles have been published in Transportation Journal. He was honored to be appointed to the Standing Committee on International Trade and Transportation of the Transportation Research Board beginning April 2020. TRB is a unit of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

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