Documents needed for importing to Sri Lanka

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Your shipping paperwork is in order.

For businesses aiming to tap into the Sri Lankan market, acquiring a comprehensive knowledge of the necessary shipping documents for import is essential to ensuring seamless operations and transactions. 

In 2022, Sri Lanka witnessed substantial import activity, with the total value of goods imported to the country reaching approximately US$18.29 billion, as per reports by Statista. This considerable trade volume is significantly attributed to its leading import partner, India, which contributed a 26% share (US$ 4.62 billion), followed by China, with a 20% share (US$ 3.51 billion), according to Trend Economy. 

The nation’s commitment to fostering economic development and its receptiveness to international trade are pivotal in creating a conducive business environment. This openness enriches the country’s economic fabric and unveils myriad opportunities for entities aiming to import items to Sri Lanka.

To aid in this endeavour, this blog will provide a concise and clear guide on the international shipping documents needed for imports to Sri Lanka. This will enable businesses and individuals to navigate Sri Lanka’s vibrant and evolving import sector adeptly.

Basic import documentation

Review the required import documents below to ensure compliant and informed transactions to Sri Lanka.

1. Bill of lading (BoL)

The Bill of Lading (BoL) is the official shipping document for export and import that establishes the terms between the shipper and the transport agent. It functions as a receipt for the shipped merchandise, detailing the specific goods, quantity, and destination. It also gives the carrier the necessary details to process the shipment accurately and establishes rightful ownership of the goods during transit.

2. Commercial invoice

The commercial invoice provides a comprehensive list of the shipped goods, detailing their value, the seller, the buyer, and other pertinent information. This document is crucial for customs clearance as it serves as a basis for assessing duties and verifying the authenticity and compliance of the goods

It fosters transparency and integrity in transactions, ensuring that both buyer and seller have a clear, agreed-upon understanding of the value and specifications of the shipped items, thus mitigating disputes and facilitating smoother trade interactions.

3. Packing list

A packing list is a document that outlines every item in the shipment, specifying their quantities, dimensions, and weights. When submitting a customs declaration form, the packing list becomes a critical reference point, allowing customs officers to verify whether the cargo aligns with the declared items, thus confirming the integrity and compliance of the goods. 

Ensuring the accuracy and completeness of the shipment packing list is fundamental for maintaining transparency and avoiding discrepancies, which aids in a seamless import procedure in Sri Lanka.

Customs-related documents

Review these essential customs-related documents below for a smooth customs clearance procedure in Sri Lanka.

1. Customs import declaration

A customs import declaration is a form needed when importing to Sri Lanka, serving as an official disclosure of the imported goods' details to the Sri Lankan customs authorities. It’s crucial for determining applicable customs duties and ensuring legal compliance. 

The declaration can be submitted as single or simplified, depending on the goods and processes. It can be created manually or electronically. Upon submission, authorities review and decide whether to release, inspect, or reject the goods, followed by a tax statement detailing import duties.

2. Certificate of origin (CoO)

The Certificate of Origin serves as a form of authentication, verifying the country where the goods originated or were manufactured. It plays a significant role in international trade, allowing businesses to avail preferential duty rates and adhere to established trade agreements

By confirming the origin of goods, the Certificate of Origin ensures adherence to international trade regulations and builds trust between trading partners, facilitating smoother and more transparent transactions.

3. Import licence

Obtaining an import licence is a fundamental step in the customs clearance procedure in Sri Lanka due to stringent health, environmental, and national security regulations. This licence is mandatory, and importers must pay a fee to acquire it

The approval process is subject to regulatory discretion and involves meticulous evaluation to ensure compliance with national standards, thereby fostering a secure and compliant trade environment. The existence of temporary suspensions on specific ‘non-essential’ items underscores the country’s commitment to maintaining regulated and lawful imports.

4. Import control licence (if applicable)

An import control licence is required for importing certain controlled items determined by the Sri Lanka Import Control Department. 

An import licence requirement includes the submission of documents, such as an application form, proforma invoice, and an authority clearance letter or import permit. Once these documents are submitted and reviewed, businesses must pay a fee and present the corresponding receipt, after which the import control licence is granted.

Examples of items subject to an import control licence include military-related items, as well as remote-controlled toys for public security reasons. Additionally, specific appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners are included due to environmental considerations. 

It’s vital to research the complete list of controlled items online to ensure compliance with import regulations in Sri Lanka.

Specialised documents for certain goods

Explore the following sections to understand the specialised import documents required for specific goods when importing to Sri Lanka.

1. Food and agricultural products

When shipping food to Sri Lanka, a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and health and sanitary certification are required to verify that products are consistently produced and controlled in line with Sri Lanka’s quality, safety, and health standards. 

For agricultural products, an import permit issued by the National Plant Quarantine Service, Department of Agriculture, Sri Lanka, is required, along with a Phytosanitary certificate from the exporting country.

2. Pharmaceuticals and chemicals

Importing pharmaceuticals and chemicals to Sri Lanka requires the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) approval. This approval is accompanied by several essential certifications, including a batch release certificate issued by the pharmaceutical manufacturer, which verifies the quality of the product batch, and material safety data sheets (MSDS), providing detailed information about the properties of the chemical substance. 

Additionally, a Certificate of the Registration of Medicines is required, confirming the legality and safety of the imported pharmaceuticals and chemicals.

3. Vehicles

Several documents are needed to import vehicles into Sri Lanka. Examples of shipping documents required for vehicles include an inspection certificate from an approved inspection agency. This is to confirm the vehicle’s compliance with established standards and regulations. A letter of permit, proof of ownership, and the vehicle’s make and model are also required

When a vehicle, particularly a used one, surpasses the permitted age limit, securing a licence from the Controller General of Imports and Exports becomes mandatory before importation

4. Electronics and technical equipment

Importing electronics and technical equipment to Sri Lanka requires a Certificate of Conformity (CoC) and Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI) certification. These are vital for affirming that the products meet the safety and technical standards of the country, mitigating risks and ensuring user safety.

Taxes and tariffs documents

  • VAT (Value Added Tax) Registration: A document that details any applicable VAT on the imported goods. It allows businesses to manage their finances effectively and avoid legal complications related to tax payments.
  • TIN (Taxpayer Identification Number): A requirement for business entities importing into Sri Lanka. This unique identifier is mandatory for tax administration purposes, ensuring that businesses are properly registered and fulfilling their tax obligations in accordance with Sri Lankan law.
  • Proof of Payment: Documents that confirm that any relevant duties, taxes, or tariffs have been paid. Proof of payment is indispensable for avoiding disputes and ensuring the smooth clearance of goods through customs, facilitating a hassle-free import process.

Other key documents

  • Insurance Certificate: This document proves the shipment has been insured against potential damage or loss. It mitigates the risks associated with international shipping and assures both the sender and the receiver that the insurance provider will cover any unforeseen damages or losses.
  • Bank Drafts or Letters of Credit: These are important for high-value shipments, acting as a guarantee of payment between the buyer and the seller. It ensures the security of the transaction and prevents the risk of payment defaults.
  • Technical specifications or manuals: It provides detailed information about the equipment, including its operation, maintenance, and compliance with Sri Lankan standards. This ensures the safe and effective use of the equipment and for meeting the regulatory requirements of the nation.

Optimise your import process with DHL Express

Navigating through the several import and export documents required can be daunting, but with DHL Express, you have a partner with unparalleled expertise in this domain. Our specialists process millions of customs entries daily across 220 countries and territories.

We also manage most customs queries on our customer’s behalf, ensuring all import documents are accurate and relevant. This facilitates the smooth clearance and import of shipments to Sri Lanka and beyond. Once cleared, we coordinate the transfer and last-mile delivery, offering you a hassle-free experience. 

Leverage our extensive experience by opening a DHL Express business account today. Let us be your compass through the intricate world of customs, ensuring smooth global imports.