Successful exporters understand how important it is to properly complete and provide the required export paperwork. The export documents you may need for a particular shipment vary depending on where you are exporting, how you are transporting the goods and what you are shipping.
The Certificate of Free Sale is one export form you may need to provide. It provides assurance to the customs authority of the importing country that the items listed on the certificate are the same items that are manufactured in the United States and sold here without restriction, and that they presumably meet all state and federal laws and regulations. It provides that assurance because the form is certified by a U.S.-based chamber of commerce. Some countries may require a certificate from a government agency such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for certain products.
Because the Certificate of Free Sale generates a lot of questions, we compiled a list of frequently asked questions and posed them to Wendy Baggett, president of the American World Trade Chamber of Commerce (AWTCC), which provides certified certificates through the Shipping Solutions electronic certificate of origin (eCO) portal. Here are her answers:
Q. What is a Certificate of Free Sale?
A Certificate of Free Sale, sometimes called a “Certificate for Export” or “Certificate to Foreign Governments,” is evidence that goods—such as food items, cosmetics, biologics or medical devices—are legally sold or distributed in the open market, freely without restriction, and approved by the regulatory authorities in the country of origin (United States).
Q. How do I know when I need a Certificate of Free Sale?
As a general rule, the importer of the goods into a particular country will notify the exporter that they need a Certificate of Free Sale in order to import the good(s). It is up to the exporter to apply for the certificate.
Q. Do I need a Certificate of Free Sale for every shipment to a particular country?
A Certificate of Free Sale is used when you are registering a new product in a country. You’re sending a Certificate of Free Sale to the customs authority in that country saying, in effect, “This is a new thing I’m going to start importing, and here are my support documents that confirm this product(s) is legal to sell in the country of manufacture.”
Therefore, only one Certificate of Free Sale is required for each product going to each country.
Q. Can I use the same Certificate of Free Sale for a particular product with multiple countries?
No. Each country requires its own certificate because it is a document they keep on file with their customs authority.
Q. Once a Certificate of Free Sale is filed with the customs authority of a particular country, does it expire at some point?
Exporters who need a Certificate of Free Sale should register online for the service at the Certificate of Free Sale page on the Shipping Solutions website. Once you receive your login credentials, login at the eCO portal with the user name and password you received and follow the instructions on the page. An application is required that you can download from the eCO portal. The application must be notarized.
The cost for a Certificate of Free Sale is $100 plus shipping fees. Members of the Shipping Solutions AMP program save $25 per certificate. You will not be charged until your certificate has been approved and completed by the chamber.
Q. What documentation do I need to get a Certificate of Free Sale stamped by a chamber of commerce?
In order to receive a Certificate of Free Sale from AWTCC, the exporter needs to provide copies of invoices listing two different U.S. customers within the past 12 months that include the product(s) to be listed on the Certificate of Free Sale. The exporter also needs to indicate that they are the manufacturer of the good(s), or, if they are not, provide a declaration from the manufacturer that the goods were made in the United States.
Q. Do all the items listed on a Certificate of Free Sale signed by a U.S. chamber of commerce have to be manufactured in the United States?
Yes. The Certificate of Free Sale is stating that the product is available for sale without restrictions in the country of the manufacturer.
Q. Can companies not based in the United States get a Certificate of Free Sale stamped by a U.S. chamber of commerce?
Q. What does an exporter do with a stamped Certificate of Free Sale once they get it from the chamber?
Typically they will provide it to the importer of the goods who will provide it to the customs authority in the country of import.
Q. When do I need a Certificate of Free Sale provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instead of a U.S. chamber of commerce?
We recommend that exporters that need a Certificate of Free Sale verify with the importer if the customs authority in their country will accept a certificate from a chamber of commerce for the particular product they are importing or if they need a certificate from the FDA.
Q. What does it mean when the Certificate of Free Sale needs Apostille certification?
An “apostille” is a form of authentication issued to documents for use in countries that participate in the Hague Convention of 1961. It is a Secretary of State certification of a Notary Public signature. A list of countries that accept apostilles is provided by the U.S. State Department. Some countries also require consulate legalization on the Certificate of Free Sale. The chamber will advise the necessary stamps but you can also verify with your importer.