International Commercial Trade Terms, or Incoterms for short, are selling terms buyers and sellers use so they can communicate which party is responsible for the tasks, costs, and risks associated with transferring the goods to the buyer when trading internationally. These are legally binding agreements published by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), and followed by virtually all countries.
Every 10 years, the ICC updates the Incoterms to ensure that they stay consistent with the current process of international trade. Incoterms were last updated on January 1st, 2020, and include 11 unique types.
When buyers are purchasing products internationally, sellers will often include a three-letter abbreviation of one of the 11 Incoterms to define what the terms of the trade shall be. These terms represent various tasks, costs, risks, and logistics of getting goods whether by sea freight, air freight, and land freight.
Every Incoterm defines the following responsibilities and obligations:
- Point of delivery – This section outlines where the goods will be transferred from the seller to the buyer.
- The responsible party for transportation costs – The section defines which party will cover the freight costs. This component is often characterized as Freight Prepaid or Freight Collect.
- Export and import requirements – Each term defines whether the seller or buyer is responsible for covering the costs and facilitating the export and import of the cargo.
- The responsible party of freight insurance – In some Incoterms, freight insurance is a requirement. Each Incoterm will define who must pay for freight insurance.
Here is a simplified explanation of each Incoterm:
- EXW – Ex Works or Ex-Warehouse: The seller is responsible for packing the products and making the goods available. The cargo is transferred to the buyer while the freight is still at the seller’s site. The buyer is then responsible for exporting, shipping, and importing the cargo to their destination.
- FCA – Free Carrier: The seller is responsible for transporting the cargo to a defined destination within the seller’s country, usually a shipping terminal. Once the load has arrived at the designated destination, the shipment transfers to the buyer, the buyer then must pay the freight charges and fulfill the importing and delivery process. Depending on the named place, the cargo is either exported by the seller or the buyer.
- FAS – Free Alongside Ship: The seller must manage the full export process of the cargo until the goods are alongside the ship or other mode of transport. Once alongside the ship, the risk is transferred to the buyer. The buyer is responsible for loading the cargo onto their desired vessel and shipping the goods to their final destination.
- FOB – Free On Board: The seller must manage the full export process of the cargo, and load the products on the ship. Once the cargo has been safely loaded, the products transfer to the buyer. The buyer must pay for the freight costs that transport the goods to their destination and is responsible for all import costs.
- CFR – Cost and Freight: The seller is responsible for transporting the cargo to the buyer’s port. Once the goods have arrived at the port, the responsibility transfers to the buyer. The buyer then must unload the cargo and import the goods into the destination country, followed by importing and delivering to the final destination.
- CIF – Cost, Insurance & Freight: The seller is responsible for the costs to ship and insure the cargo to the buyers requested port. Once the goods arrive at port, the responsibility of the goods transfers to the buyer. The buyer then must cover the costs to unload, import, and deliver their shipment. CIF requires the seller to purchase freight insurance.
- CPT – Carriage Paid To: The seller must ship and unload the cargo from the vessel at the defined place of delivery. Once the goods are unloaded, the cargo transfers to the buyer, who is then responsible for importing and transporting the freight to the final destination.
- CIP – Carriage & Insurance Paid: The seller must cover the costs to ship and insure the cargo to the defined place of delivery. The shipment transfers to the buyer after the cargo is unloaded and delivered to the terminal. After the goods are unloaded and delivered to the defined terminal, the shipment transfers to the buyer. The buyer must import and fulfill the remainder of the shipping process to move the goods to the final destination. CIP requires the seller to purchase freight insurance.
- DAP – Delivered at Place: The seller must deliver the cargo to the final, defined destination. Once delivered the cargo transfers to the buyer. The buyer must unload the shipment from the truck. The buyer is also responsible for import duty, taxes, and customs clearance.
- DPU – Delivered at Place Unloaded: The seller must deliver and unload the cargo to the final destination. Once the shipment is successfully unloaded at the buyer’s warehouse, the responsibility transfers to the buyer. The buyer is responsible for import duty, taxes, and customs clearance.
- DDP – Delivered Duty Paid: The seller is responsible for delivering the cargo to the final destination, and paying the import duty, taxes, and customs clearance. Once the cargo arrives at the destination, the responsibility transfers to the buyer, who must cover the costs to unload the shipment. DDP is the only Incoterm that requires the seller to pay all duty charges.