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To save time and money, most commercial exporters make use of clearing and forwarding agents to move their goods through customs. Each country’s customs authority has different rules and regulations (and these regulations can even differ between ports in the same country). Agents make it their business to know these differences so that they can clear and forward goods swiftly and cost-effectively for their clients. In this way, agents act as intermediaries between the seller (exporter) and buyer (importer).

  • Clearing agents clear their clients’ goods at customs and pay any taxes due on behalf of the client.
  • Forwarding agents organise international transport for their clients to make sure the cargo is forwarded from point A to B in the most efficient manner. A forwarding agent can also fulfil a clearing agent’s role.

To make sure that their goods are cleared and forwarded successfully, exporters must provide their agents with a completed clearing and forwarding (C&F) instruction form. The agent will usually provide the client with a form to complete. The form outlines all the activities necessary to forward the cargo from:

  • The seller to the Incoterms handover point (for exports); OR
  • From the Incoterms handover point to the buyer (for imports).

C&F instruction forms serve as a contract between the agent and the client. It outlines the duties the client expects the agent to perform in return for payment. If the agent deviates from the instructions outlined in the C&F instruction form, the client can hold him liable for any damage or losses that arise as a result of his actions.

Buyers and sellers will also often deviate from the original instructions without informing their agents. This can lead to additional costs. It is the buyer or seller’s responsibility to inform the agent of any changes and to stipulate the changes in writing on a new C&F instruction form. If any change of instructions was not indicated on a new C&F form, then the client cannot hold the agent responsible for losses or damages related to following the outdated instructions.

You can view an example of an import C&F instruction form (Figure 1) and an export C&F instruction form (Figure 2) below.

For illustrative purposes, the forms below are very detailed. Freight or clearing agents may not request all the information indicated in these examples.

Enlist reputable agents with industry experience to make sure your imports and exports are cleared and forwarded efficiently. Inexperienced agents may cause unwanted, costly delays, which can quickly increase your final import or export costs. Also keep your agent informed if you make any changes to your C&F instructions. Clear communication is the building block for successful clearing and forwarding.

For assistance with clearing & forwarding, contact us on 087 550 1038, or enquire on our website.

Tracy Venter

Tracy transitioned from industry to founding Import Export License in 2011, aiding importers and exporters with customs compliance. In 2014, she launched Trade Logistics, focusing on supporting startups and SMMEs in international trade. Since then, Tracy's team has assisted 35,000+ businesses, reaching 32,000 traders monthly through newsletters. She's contributed to publications like Entrepreneurs Magazine and SME Toolkit, spoken at trade events, and participated in customs forums. Import Export License helped with the pilot trial to launch customs' new online registration platform (RLA). Through Trade Logistics she has launched 3 online import-export training courses. She holds an Honours degree from Stellenbosch University and a Cum Laude Masters from Middlesex University. In her spare time, Tracy enjoys running, mountain biking, playing piano, and cherishing moments with her husband and four children.