What are the Approved Incoterms 2020: A Comprehensive Guide

Understanding Incoterms 2020 is like having a powerful key to unlock international trade opportunities in the realm of export-import. This blog will walk you through the ins and outs of Incoterms, answering frequently asked questions and providing insights into how mastering Incoterms may help you achieve your worldwide business goals.

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Mastering Incoterms in Export-Import Business: Your Key to International Trade Success

In the realm of international trade, where goods traverse borders and oceans, precision and clarity in agreements are paramount. This is where Incoterms come into play, serving as the bedrock of contractual terms between buyers and sellers involved in export-import transactions. This section introduces you to the world of Incoterms, shedding light on what they are and why they are indispensable in the domain of export-import.

What are Incoterms 2020?

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) published a set of standardized business words known as Incoterms, or International Commercial words. In international transactions, they specify the obligations, roles, and roles of both buyers and sellers. The terms of delivery, risk transfer, and cost allocation between parties involved in the sale of goods are essentially outlined by Incoterms.
Incoterms are a recognized international commercial language that goes beyond simple jargon. They offer a platform on which enterprises from many nations may communicate and comprehend one another’s expectations for the shipment and delivery of goods.

Why are Incoterms essential in export-import?

The significance of Incoterms in export-import transactions cannot be emphasized, and here’s why:

  • Clarity and consistency: Miscommunication or misconceptions in international trade can be costly and lead to problems. Incoterms are a standardized set of terminology with precise definitions that eliminate ambiguity.
  • Risk Allocation: They define the point at which risk is transferred from the seller to the buyer. This is critical in establishing who bears the risk in the event of product loss or damage during transit.
  • Cost Transparency: Incoterms define how transportation costs are split between parties. This transparency ensures that each party is aware of its financial commitments, lowering the likelihood of a disagreement.
  • Global Applicability: Incoterms are recognized and utilized globally, making them invaluable to enterprises engaged in cross-border trade. Incoterms provide a common language for trade whether you’re dealing with a supplier from Asia, Europe, or the Americas.
  • Legal Framework: Incoterms serve as a legal basis for international contracts. They aid in the resolution of conflicts and serve as evidence in the event of litigation.
  • Risk Management: Incoterms assist firms in managing and eliminating risks associated with international shipments by explicitly identifying responsibilities.

In essence, Incoterms are the foundation of international trade agreements, ensuring that parties on both sides of a transaction understand their respective roles and responsibilities. In the following sections, we’ll go deeper into the nuances of Incoterms, deciphering their numerous phrases and casting light on their practical consequences in export-import transactions.

Decoding Incoterms

Understanding Incoterms is like having a secret codebook in the complicated realm of international trade, where items go around the world. This section will untangle the secrets of Incoterms, providing a full description of certain popular phrases and shedding light on how they influence the shipping process and risk distribution in export-import transactions.

List of Common Incoterms

  1. EXW – Ex Works or Ex Warehouse: The seller’s liability ends in an EXW agreement when the goods are made available for pick-up at their facilities. From that moment forward, the customer bears all risks and costs.

The seller is responsible for the main carriage

  1. FOB – Free On Board: The seller is responsible for delivering the items to the designated port of shipment and putting them onto the vessel under FOB terms. Once the products are on board, the risk is transferred to the customer.
  2. FCA – Free Carrier: The products are delivered by the seller to the carrier or another person designated by the customer at the seller’s premises or another specified location.
  3. FAS – Free Alongside Ship: Once the items are placed alongside the vessel (e.g., on a quay or a barge) designated by the buyer at the indicated port of shipment, the seller delivers.

Rules for paid transportation to

  1. CPT – Carriage Paid To: The seller delivers the items to the carrier or another person designated by the seller at an agreed-upon location (if such a location is agreed upon between the parties).
  2. CIP – Carriage and Insurance Paid To: The seller delivers the goods to a carrier, pays for carriage, and provides insurance in a CIP arrangement. When the items are handed over to the carrier, the risk passes to the buyer.
  3. CFR – Cost and Freight: The seller delivers the goods on board the vessel or procures the goods already delivered.
  4. CIF – Cost, Insurance, and Freight: CIF conditions require the seller to cover the cost of goods, freight, and insurance until the items arrive at the designated port of destination. The risk is transferred to the buyer upon delivery at the port.

Rules for delivery duty paid

  1. DAP – Delivered at Place: The seller supplies when the items are placed at the buyer’s disposal on the arriving means of transport, ready for offloading at the specified location.
  2. DDP – Delivered Duty Paid: DDP signifies that the seller is responsible for delivering the products to the specified location, including import tariffs and taxes. Only upon delivery does the customer take risks.
  3. DPU – Delivered at Place Unloaded: The seller assumes all risks associated with transporting the products to and unloading them at the specified location.


  • DAT – Delivered at Terminal: The seller is responsible for delivering the products to a named terminal at the destination port or place. The buyer assumes the risk upon offloading at the terminal.

Note:- Please keep in mind that the DPU replaces the former Incoterm® DAT (Delivered At Terminal), with additional criteria for the seller to unload the goods from the arriving mode of transport.

How Incoterms Impact Shipping and Risk Allocation

Incoterms are critical in the shipping process and risk allocation:

  • Point of Risk Transfer: Incoterms expressly state when the risk of loss or damage to products passes from the seller to the buyer. This key juncture is critical in risk management.
  • Transportation Costs: They describe who is accountable for which transportation costs, such as freight, loading, unloading, and insurance. This clarity prevents disagreements and expense shocks.
  • Freight | Cargo Insurance: Incoterms specify whether the seller or buyer is responsible for arranging freight insurance. This guarantees that commodities are properly insured while in transit.
  • Delivery Location: They identify the point at which the seller’s delivery obligation ceases and the buyer’s liability begins. This has an impact on logistical planning and transportation method selection.
  • Customs Formalities: Incoterms may also specify who is responsible for import and export customs clearance, as well as any associated expenses.

Incoterms, in essence, serve as the blueprint for a seamless and transparent transaction. They ensure that all parties are aware of their respective duties, responsibilities, and liabilities, resulting in more efficient and secure international trade. As we learn more about Incoterms, we’ll look at how to choose the best one for your individual trade needs and avoid any hazards.

Selecting the Right Incoterm

Choosing the right Incoterm is analogous to finding the perfect waltz partner in the delicate dance of international trade. It sets the tone for the entire transaction and can have a substantial impact on your export-import venture’s success and efficiency. This section walks you through the process of choosing the best Incoterm for your trade, highlighting the aspects to consider and how to modify them to your individual needs.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Incoterm

Choosing the Best Incoterm is a strategic choice that is influenced by several aspects, including:

  • Nature of Goods: Consider the nature, value, and attributes of the products you’re trading. Fragile or valuable objects may necessitate greater supervision over delivery and insurance.
  • Logistics Capability: Evaluate your logistics capabilities. Do you have the infrastructure and resources in place to handle obligations such as loading and unloading?
  • Risk Tolerance: Determine your level of risk tolerance. Are you willing to take on greater danger, or do you prefer to limit your exposure?
  • Customer Expectations: Consider your customers’ preferences. Some purchasers may have specific needs or prefer a specific Incoterm for ease of import.
  • Shipping Distance: The length and complexity of the shipping route can have an impact on your decision. Different words may be required for longer travels or multi-modal transportation.
  • Local rules and Regulations: Become acquainted with the rules and regulations of both your home nation and the buyer’s home country. Some jurisdictions have special import and export rules.
  • Payment Terms: Align your selected Incoterm with the agreed-upon payment terms. Some terminology, such as letters of credit, are better suited to specific payment methods.

Tailoring Incoterms to Your Specific Trade Needs

Incoterms, while providing a uniform structure, are not one-size-fits-all. To modify Incoterms to your specific trading requirements:

  • Combine Incoterms: In complex transactions, numerous Incoterms might be used to cover different stages of the journey. You could, for example, utilize EXW at the production and FOB at the port of shipment.
  • Add Custom Clauses: You can put extra clauses in your contracts to define aspects that Incoterms do not cover. These provisions might be used to clarify responsibilities, handle specific hazards, or define unusual circumstances.
  • Negotiate Terms: The buyer and seller can agree on which Incoterm to use. Both sides should agree on the best term that best serves their interests.
  • Review and Update: Review your Incoterms agreements regularly to verify they are still in line with your expanding business demands and changing market conditions.
  • Seek Expert Advice: For difficult or unfamiliar trade issues, contact international trade legal and logistics experts. Their insights can assist you in efficiently navigating challenges.

Remember that the purpose is to select an Incoterm that improves clarity, eliminates risks, and corresponds with your export-import business objectives. Whether you’re new to international commerce or an experienced trader, choosing the right Incoterm is a strategic decision that can make or break your transactions. In the parts that follow, we’ll delve deeper into Incoterms and look at how they affect shipping costs and risk allocation.

Common Mistakes to Avoid with Incoterms

The world of Incoterms might be likened to a complicated maze. While these standardized trade words have numerous advantages, they can also lead to misunderstandings and disagreements if they are not utilized correctly. In this section, we’ll look at some of the most typical mistakes to avoid when working with Incoterms, with an emphasis on the hazards of Incoterms selection and the significance of clear communication and compliance.

Pitfalls in Incoterm Selection

  • Not Considering Risk Appropriately: Risk allocation is one of the most important features of Incoterms. Choosing an Incoterm without first doing a thorough risk assessment can result in unanticipated losses. Choosing EXW, for example, may transfer unnecessary risk to the buyer, particularly in long-distance international trade.
  • Ignoring the Mode of Transport: Incoterms are separated into two categories: those that can be used for any mode of transportation and those that can only be used for sea and inland waterway transit. Failure to align the Incoterm with the mode of conveyance chosen can result in logistical and cost issues.
  • Overlooking Cost Implications: Incoterms also govern the allocation of various costs. Ignoring these financial ramifications can result in costly surprises. A seller who agrees to DDP terms, for example, may face unanticipated import charges.
  • Assuming One Size Fits All: Not every Incoterm is appropriate for every trade transaction. Choosing an Incoterm based on convenience rather than specific transaction requirements can result in inefficiencies and problems.

Ensuring Clear Communication and Compliance

  • Ambiguous Contract Language: Incoterms should be mentioned clearly and explicitly in contracts. Misunderstandings can occur when language is vague or generic. For example, mentioning “FOB” without giving the specific port can lead to misunderstanding.
  • Failure to Educate Employees: Everyone involved in the export-import process, from sales to logistics, should be well-versed in Incoterms. Inadequate training might lead to miscommunication and mistakes.
  • Lack of Compliance Checks: Ensure that both parties follow the chosen Incoterm. Failure to do so risks disrupting the supply chain and causing disputes. Regular compliance audits are required.
  • Inadequate paperwork: In international trade, proper paperwork is critical. Failure to produce or request the appropriate documentation as defined by the selected Incoterm can result in delays and legal difficulties.
  • Inadequate Insurance: Depending on the Incoterm chosen, insurance duty may fall on the buyer or seller. Failure to obtain adequate insurance coverage can be financially devastating in the event of loss or damage while in transit.
  • Failure to Account for Local Regulations: International trade frequently entails navigating complex customs and import/export procedures. Ignoring these rules might result in delays, fines, and even the confiscation of goods.

To summarize, while Incoterms are a great tool for expediting international trade, they must be carefully considered and applied precisely. Incoterm selection flaws, along with a lack of clear communication and compliance, can turn a straightforward transaction into a logistical and expensive nightmare. Understanding these typical blunders and taking proactive actions to avoid them will allow you to get the full benefits of Incoterms and assure the success of your export-import endeavors.

Incoterms and Your Business Growth

Understanding Incoterms isn’t only about avoiding mistakes in the volatile world of international trade; it’s also a powerful instrument for powering your company’s growth. This section will look at how you can use Incoterms to extend your global reach, reduce risks, and improve customer satisfaction.

Using Incoterms for Growing Internationally

  • Access to New Markets: You can obtain a competitive advantage and get access to new markets by strategically picking Incoterms that fit with the preferences of international purchasers. Understanding local business norms and employing the correct Incoterms can lead to lucrative prospects.
  • Efficient Supply Chain Management: Incoterms aid in the organization of your supply chain. You may optimize shipping routes, cut transit times, and lessen logistical bottlenecks with the correct terms in place, all of which contribute to effective international expansion.
  • Customer Needs Customization: Incoterms can be modified to fit the specific needs of your clients. You may attract a broader range of clientele and increase your market presence by giving flexibility in your terms.
  • Consistency and Reliability: Because Incoterms are standardized, they promote uniformity in your international transactions. This consistency fosters confidence among customers and partners, making your brand more trustworthy and appealing in the global marketplace.

Risk reduction

  • Risk Management: Incoterms give a structured method of allocating risk in international trade. You may safeguard your company from unforeseen losses by selecting terms that correspond to your risk tolerance and insurance strategy.
  • Dispute Resolution: By defining responsibilities and obligations, clear and mutually agreed-upon Incoterms can help to avoid problems. If there is a disagreement, the agreed-upon conditions can be used to resolve it, lowering the chance of legal battles.
  • Insurance Optimization: Incoterms specify when risk passes from the seller to the buyer. This data is essential for selecting when and where to obtain insurance coverage. Proper insurance protects your company from unforeseen events.

Enhancing Customer Satisfaction

  • Transparency: It is fostered when clients understand the terms of delivery, expenses, and risks upfront. Transparency fosters trust and improves consumer happiness.
  • Timely Deliveries: Efficiently managed logistics, aided by Incoterms, result in on-time deliveries. Meeting delivery commitments not only satisfies clients but also improves your market reputation.
  • Cost Predictability: Incoterms ensure that both parties are aware of their financial obligations. Customers benefit from this clarity in cost allocation since it allows them to budget efficiently and avoid unexpected charges.
  • Administrative Complexity is Reduced: Standardized Incoterms reduce administrative difficulties. This results in more efficient transactions and less hassle for both you and your clients.

FAQs on Incoterms:

Incoterms are an important aspect of international trade, but they can also create a lot of questions. This section answers frequently asked questions concerning Incoterms, offering light on their relevance and practical ramifications.

  1. Q. What do Incoterms stand for?

    Ans: Incoterms are an abbreviation for International Commercial Terms. They are a set of standardized trade phrases produced by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) that describe buyers’ and sellers’ responsibilities and obligations in international transactions.

  2. Q. How do Incoterms affect the cost of my goods?

    Ans: Incoterms identify which party (buyer or seller) bears certain costs, such as transportation, insurance, and import/export levies. The specified Incoterm governs how these costs are shared by the parties. In a CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight) arrangement, for example, the seller pays for insurance and freight, but in an EXW (Ex Works) arrangement, the buyer pays for all costs from the seller’s facilities.

  3. Q. Can Incoterms be used for any mode of transport?

    Ans: No, Incoterms are divided into two categories: those that may be used for any form of transportation and those that are specifically developed for sea and inland canal transportation. The Incoterm you select should correspond to the mode of transport used in your transaction.

  4. Q. What’s the difference between CIF and FOB?

    Ans: Both CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight) and FOB (Free On Board) are regularly used Incoterms, however, they have important differences:
    CIF: The seller is liable for the cost of delivery, insurance, and freight to the specified port of destination. The buyer assumes the risk upon delivery at the port.
    FOB: The seller’s liability ends when the items are delivered, cleared for export, to the buyer’s designated vessel at the listed port of shipment. Once the items are on board the vessel, the risk is transferred to the buyer.

  5. Q. Do Incoterms determine when risk is transferred?

    Ans: Yes, Incoterms define the point in the transportation trip at which the risk of loss or damage to the goods passes from the seller to the buyer. This is an important feature of Incoterms that affects insurance and liability.

  6. Q. Are Incoterms legally binding?

    Ans: Incoterms are not laws, but rather a collection of commercial phrases that parties might choose to include in their contracts. They become legally binding for the parties concerned when they are included in a contract.

  7. Q. How can I change the Incoterm in a contract?

    Ans: Changing an Incoterm in a contract requires both parties’ agreement. It is a contract negotiating point, and any changes should be fully documented in writing as part of the contract revision.

  8. Q. Can I use more than one Incoterm in a single contract?

    Ans: Yes, many Incoterms can be used in a single contract, especially in complex transactions. Different Incoterms may apply at various stages of the trip or to different batches of goods under the same contract. In such circumstances, clarity and documentation are critical.

  9. Q. Are there Incoterms for services?

    Ans: Incoterms are used largely in the selling of things, not services. However, service-related issues, such as installation or transportation, can be handled in the contract and coordinated with the selected Incoterm.

  10. Q. Where can I find the latest Incoterms?

    Ans: The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) usually has the most recent version of Incoterms. Use the most recent version, as Incoterms are changed regularly to reflect changes in international trade patterns.

Anyone involved in international trade must be familiar with Incoterms and their implications. They provide a standardized foundation for effective transactions and aid in the avoidance of misunderstandings and disputes. In the following sections, we’ll look at common traps to avoid while working with Incoterms and how they can affect your export-import firm.


Understanding Incoterms is a strategic edge in the complex world of international trade, where goods travel the globe and markets beckon from every corner. As we wrap up our look at Incoterms and their importance in export-import transactions, let’s review the important lessons and consider how embracing Incoterms might help your organization.

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