What Is a Documentary Bill?

Malcolm Tatum

Also known as a documentary draft, a documentary bill is a type of bill of exchange that is often included in the paperwork required for conducting some sort of international trade. This type of document serves the purpose of providing a simple invoice that can be used to tender payment for the order. The content of the documentary bill must be in compliance with the trade regulations that are in place in both the country of origin and the nation in which the buyer resides. Typically, the detail found on the documentary draft is pulled directly from the information contained in the other documents relevant to the order.

A documentary bill is often necessary for an international trade transaction.
A documentary bill is often necessary for an international trade transaction.

The documentary bill is intended to provide an overview of the order as well as to supply the buyer with a document that can be used as the authorization to extend payment for that order. Typically, the detail found on the bill will include information that is also reflected in the other documents prepared for the order, such as the bill of lading, the certificate of insurance secured for the order, and a document known as a certificate of origin, which clearly identifies the seller and relevant information about the goods offered by that seller. In a sense, the bill serves the purpose of providing a summary of the transaction by drawing on key information found in the other supporting documents.

When properly crafted, the documentary bill makes it possible for the goods to pass through customs and other checkpoints without delay. As long as the information on the bill is in compliance with all trade regulations involved and agrees with the data found on the other documents included along with the shipment, the goods can proceed to the destination with little interruption in the process. Making sure the document is accurate and complete will increase the chances of the shipment arriving within the time frame desired by the buyer.

There is no one universal structure for a documentary bill. The exact content of the document will depend on the trade regulations relevant to both the country in which the seller is located, and the nation where the buyer will ultimately receive the ordered goods. To this end, the structure of the bill will require taking into consideration any requirements of the customs offices at each end of the shipment process. At the same time, consideration of any regulations that have to do with the mode or modes of shipping used for the transport of the order will also influence the type of information included on the draft. For example, if the shipment will be transported by a combination of rail, boat, and air, any particular requirements for information relevant to those three modes of shipping will be taken into consideration when composing the documentary bill.

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