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Below is general overview how the regular steps for importing goods should work in non-emergency settings:

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It should be noted that this process may be altered in the face of rapid-onset emergencies, but not always. Below is a possible overview of an emergency customs process: Image Removed

Upstream Planning


The import process usually requires specific, and at times substantial documentation.  A general overview of the import documentation might look like:

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In emergencies, the authorities will usually ask for originals or copies of the following documents:


Other Import documentation often required:

  • Letter/Certificate of Donations and/or Humanitarian Goods - Many agencies will included self made letters of humanitarian intent or donation to help facilitate the customs exemption process.
  • Proof of duty exemption - May be required at the time of clearance, usually a registered humanitarian agency should be able to obtain some form of letter from the relevant tax revenue authority. A letter may be required for every import, however. 
  • Certificates of Origin (COO) - Usually generated and certified by the manufacturer, but can be done by the sending agency if required. Some countries have strict source origin requirements. 
  • Certificates of Inspection (COI) - COIs are usually associated with regulated commodities that may be consumed by humans - example: Medication - or may have adverse effects on human health - example: flammable plastic shelter material. COIs typically require certification from an outside laboratory testing facility, certified to test the specific chemical properties of the items in question.
  • Certificates of Conformity (COC) - COCs are used to confirm that products meet or exceed a certain industry standard, and require inspection by outside testing and certifying companies. 
  • Phytosanitary Certificates - certification Certification attesting that imported plant based material meets the sanitary requirements of the country in question, usually from an outside laboratory. 
  • Special handling instructions (dangerous goods, cold chain, drugs, food).

Port of Entry Procedures


The chart below outlines the general main steps in a customs clearance process: 

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The following steps detail the process through which cargo is handled and inspected by customs after arrival and offloading:


Least Secure

Open AccountDocument CollectionDocumentary CreditPayment in Advance

Most Secure

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Payment in AdvanceDocumentary CreditDocuments Collection

Open Account 

  • Payment in Advance - All import duties, fees and handling charges are paid in advance. In the event there are changes to the items, quantities or the overall anticipated fees are incorrect, the entity paying up front bears additional risk. If payment in advance is required, importers should try to use a letter of credit.
  • Documentary Credit - The technical term for letter of credit
  • Documentary Collections - Instruction from an exporter (seller or supplier) to a remitting bank, normally the exporter’s local bank, to collect payment immediately or at a future date from an importer (buyer) against delivery of the relevant commercial documents.  Documentary collections function like a letter of credit, however the burden of documentation and values are supplied by the seller/exporter. Importers should still monitor these communications to ensure agreed upon costs are still being used. 
  • Open Account - An agreement between an importer and an exporter whereby goods are supplied on the understanding that payment will be effected at an agreed future date. Payment can be made after goods have been imported. This method is used when there is a high level of trust between exporters and importers. 

Templates and Tools

TEMPLATE - Donation Letter

TEMPLATE - Certificate of Origin

Full Template Package