A bill of entry is a formal declaration describing goods that are being imported or exported. This document is examined by customs officials to confirm that the contents of a shipment conform with the law, and to determine which taxes, tariffs, and restrictions may apply to the shipment. It must be prepared by the importer or exporter, with many companies hiring a clerk specifically to handle the preparation process.
A typical bill of entry includes a description of the goods in the shipment, including details and the quantity of the goods, along with an estimate of their value. Customs officials reserve the right to inspect the shipment to determine whether or not it is consistent with the bill of entry, and discrepancies can be grounds for legal proceedings. Once the document has been reviewed and the shipment has been inspected, it can be cleared for sale or transfer. If there is a problem, customs may opt to confiscate the goods.
Many nations have specific laws about how this information should be formatted and presented. It is important for shippers to have accurate documentation, or goods can be held up in customs. This can cause an inconvenience in some cases, and spoilage or destruction of the goods in others; a shipment of fruit, for example, will not hold up through a lengthy retention by customs while details of the shipment are worked out.
In addition, goods may need additional supporting paperwork. Works of art, for example, may need to be accompanied by certificates of provenance. Archaeological artifacts also need to be accompanied by paperwork indicating that their release has been approved by the government, and describing the purpose for which the artifacts are being moved across international borders. This is designed to prevent the illegal sale and trade in priceless cultural artifacts.
Companies keep copies of their bills of entry on record as part of their financial paperwork; they need to be able to track the movement of shipments. These forms are also used by customs officials to track the type of goods being moved over their borders, and in the case of objects with import and export quotas, to make sure that these quotas are not exceeded. This paperwork is also used in the preparation of statistics that are designed to shed light on a nation's economic health and trade balance with other nations.