Guide to Customs Documentation in International Trade

International trade is a fundamental pillar for the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Spain. However, in the field of import and export logistics, customs document management emerges as a critical process that, although it can sometimes be complex, is essential to avoid delays and additional costs. In this article, we will provide a detailed guide to the necessary customs documentation, with the aim of optimising international shipping processes and preventing possible setbacks.

Importance of customs document management

Customs document management is of great importance for a number of reasons:

  • Compliance and avoiding penalties: Complying with customs requirements is essential to avoid fines and potential legal liabilities.
  • Supply chain optimisation: Efficient document management streamlines import and export processes, resulting in a more efficient supply chain and reduced transit times.

Basic customs documentation in Spain

Within the European Union (EU), exports and imports for customs purposes involve the movement of goods between member countries and those outside the EU customs territory. Exports refer to the shipment of goods from an EU member country to countries outside the EU, while imports involve the receipt of goods from non-EU countries into member countries. In other words, a shipment between Spain and Germany is not subject to a customs process, but it would be if the traffic is between Spain and Switzerland, the United States or China, to mention a few examples.

These processes are governed by EU customs regulations, which establish the requirements and procedures for the management of documents, the payment of duties and the application of control measures necessary for the safe and legal flow of goods. Proper management of customs documentation is essential to ensure compliance with EU regulations and to facilitate international trade within the EU customs territory.

What documents are required for these goods movements?


  • SAD (Single Administrative Document): Essential for the tax declaration and contains relevant information about the goods.
  • Commercial or pro-forma invoice: Issued by the exporter and necessary for the declaration of the goods.
  • Certificate of origin: This certifies the country of origin of the imported goods.
  • Import licences: Required for certain goods, such as sensitive or restricted goods.
  • Inspection certificates: These certify that the goods comply with quality and safety standards.


  • SAD: Form required to declare the goods to be exported to the customs authorities.
  • Commercial or pro-forma invoice: Issued by the exporter for invoicing and declaration purposes.
  • Certificate of origin: This certifies the country of origin of the exported goods.
  • Export licences: Required for sensitive products or products with similar restrictions to import licences.

Taxes and duties on exports outside the EU

In the case of exports outside the European Union, the recipient of the goods may be subject to the payment of taxes and duties in the destination country. These costs may vary depending on the customs and tax legislation of the receiving country, as well as the nature of the goods and their declared value. Generally, taxes payable may include VAT or value added tax, which is calculated on the total value of the imported goods. In addition, customs duties may be levied on the importation of specific goods, which vary according to the tariff classification of the product, its quantity and value.

It is essential that both the exporter and the importer are aware of these tax and tariff obligations to avoid unpleasant surprises and to ensure a smooth business transaction.

Características especiales para Ceuta, Melilla y Canarias

Special characteristics for Ceuta, Melilla and the Canary Islands

It is important to note that, although Ceuta, Melilla and the Canary Islands are territories belonging to Spain, they are located outside the customs territory of the European Union. Therefore, shipments between the mainland and these regions are subject to customs procedures due to their status as non-EU territories. These customs controls are applied to ensure compliance with trade, tax and security regulations for both imports and exports. The presence of customs in these shipments is essential to properly manage the entry and exit of goods, as well as to control trade flows and prevent possible fraud or illicit practices.

In the case of imports of goods to the Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, the VAT of the national territory is not applied, but in the case of the Canary Islands, the IGIC (Canary Islands General Indirect Tax) is applied, and in the case of Ceuta and Melilla, the IPSI (Tax on Production, Services and Imports) is applied.


In summary, customs document management is a critical aspect of international trade in order to avoid mishaps and ensure the smooth flow of shipments. The documents required can vary depending on a number of factors, such as INCOTERMS and trade agreements between countries. It is essential to stay informed and comply with documentation requirements for both importing and exporting to ensure smooth and successful trade operations. If you need more information, do not hesitate to contact our commercial department, who will help you with whatever you need.