Incoterms – An Action Plan and Checklist

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This guide provides advice about how to choose an Incoterm.

You should read it if you are a member of your company’s marketing or sales team or responsible for arranging the shipment of your company’s goods to overseas markets.

How Do I Choose an Incoterm?

There are a number of issues you should consider when choosing an Incoterm. These include:

Transport Issues

As mentioned earlier the choice of Incoterm is affected by the way in which the goods are sent. The table below shows which terms may be used for any mode of transport and which are intended for traditional maritime and inland waterway transport only.

Any Mode of Transport

Group E EXW Ex Works (named place
Group F FCA Free Carrier (named place)
Group C CPT Carriage Paid To (named place of destination)
CIP Carriage and Insurance Paid To (named place of destination)
Group D DAF Delivered at Frontier (named place)
DDU Delivered Duty Unpaid (named place of destination)
DDP Delivered Duty Paid (named place of destination)

Maritime and Inland Waterway Transport Only

Group F FAS Free Alongside Ship (named port of shipment)
FOB Free on Board (named port of shipment)
Group C CFR Cost and Freight (named port of destination)
CIF Cost, Insurance and Freight (named port of destination)
Group D DES Delivered Ex Ship (named port of destination)
DEQ Delivered Ex Quay (named port of destination)

You should only use the terms in the second group for maritime and inland waterway transport only. The critical point in all of these terms is the ship’s rail – this obviously has no meaning when the goods are moved, for example, by air, or in a container and could lead to difficulties in allocating responsibilities between you and your customer.

In virtually all cases, for containerised cargo you should use the first group of terms (those for any mode of transport). The container is usually delivered to the carrier (or other party nominated) and, again, the ship’s rail has no relevant meaning for this type of transport.

Who Chooses – the Seller or the Buyer?

Often the Incoterm to be used will be stipulated by your customer. An enquiry may be made for “the best price, CIF Perth, for the following goods …”. When faced with this situation you may choose just to quote as requested. At the other end of the spectrum, you may give your usual export quote such as “ExW” or “FOB”, especially if you are in a niche market, and leave your customer just to accept the terms as offered.

However, it can be beneficial to both you and your customer to negotiate the terms to be used. With new trading partners negotiation can start from the beginning of the relationship, but even in an established trading relationship it is worth checking the terms used, perhaps once a year, to ensure that they are still acceptable to both parties and just as importantly, that the terms used are still applicable to the method of trading. For example, if the term usually quoted is CFR, but you decide to contract for insurance, the term used should be changed to CIF.

You should also remember that the same Incoterm may not always be suitable for the same customer. If the usual Incoterm used is FOB, but an urgent consignment of spare parts is needed and sent by air, then an alternative, such as FCA, should be used.

Obviously your customer will usually have more influence but finding a term that suits both parties is often a way to ensure that you and your customer know and understand your obligations and thus avoid later problems.


The following points should be kept in mind when choosing an Incoterm.

  1. What method of transport is to be used?
  2. What are the terms currently used? Who chose these?
  3. Are there any company policies on which terms should be used and how much responsibility should be taken?
  4. Are there any restrictions on the term to be used imposed by the country of importation?
  5. Are there any commercial norms in the country with which you are dealing?
  6. Discuss the terms to be used with your trading partner – it is important to take their point of view into account.
  7. Ensure that both parties understand and can carry out their obligations.
  8. Ensure that you are able to obtain enough information to give a quote for a certain Incoterm.
  9. Read Incoterms 2000. The introduction gives good advice and can clarify certain issues and the individual terms themselves are accurately described.
  10. Ensure all staff (especially those involved in sales and marketing) are properly trained in order to understand the basic principles of Incoterms and in particular the details of the individual Incoterms.
  11. Incorporate the terms decided into all relevant commercial paperwork such as invoices, quotations, terms and conditions of sale.
  12. Review the terms periodically and change them if necessary.

Further Information:

SITPRO also produces an Action Plan and Checklist that explains how to choose an Incoterm when negotiating a sales contract.

The above is only a guide to Incoterms. The full rules are available in Incoterms 2000 from the International Chamber of Commerce.

ICC United Kingdom Bookshop

12 Grosvenor Place
Tel: 020 7838 9363
Fax: 020 7235 5447 External Link Icon

Further enquiries about the use of Incoterms can be addressed by the SITPRO Helpdesk team.

SITPRO Helpdesk

Tel: 020 7215 8150
Email: Mail Icon


Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information given herein is accurate, SITPRO Ltd. accepts no legal responsibility for any views expressed or implied or for any errors, omissions or misleading statements in that information caused by negligence or otherwise.