shipping Incoterms

Get to know Incoterms 2024 with our easy guide. Keep up with trade terms to manage global shipping with ease.

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Global trade is growing fast, with the trade volume expected to rise by 2.6% in 2024 and 3.3% in 2025. This growth is mainly driven by increased demand for traded goods rebounds after the previous year’s contraction.

If you’re operating in the global trade industry, you must master this vast market to stay ahead of your competitors. Learning shipping Incoterms is a significant part of this.

So, what are shipping Incoterms, and why are they so important in global trading? To put it simply, Incoterms are globally-used sets of rules that define the responsibilities of buyers, sellers, and other parties involved in the trade.

Let’s take a close look at shipping Incoterms to learn what they mean, their different kinds, and how to use them correctly when trading across borders.

What are Incoterms?

Incoterms are a common language that buyers and sellers use when trading internationally. They are a bunch of rules that everyone follows to ensure each party performs their duties well.

Shipping Incoterms were created by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in 1936. Their main goal was to help everyone be clear about the deal terms for shipping goods to avoid conflicts or legal disputes. Over time, these Incoterms have been updated, and currently, the Incoterms 2020 rules are being followed.

The 11 Incoterms

Incoterms are 11 rules grouped into two categories based on their modes of transportation. Seven of these rules apply to any mode, and the remaining four apply to sea, land, or inland waterway transport. 

Here is a quick overview of what each Incoterm offers:

  1. EXW (Ex Works): The buyer takes on the complete handling responsibility, including shipping the goods from the seller’s place to the final destination.
  2. FCA (Free Carrier): The seller gets the goods to a carrier. After that, it’s the buyer’s responsibility.
  3. CPT (Carriage Paid To): The seller only has to send the goods to a carrier. Once the shipment is handed over to the carrier, everything falls onto the buyer’s shoulders.
  4. CIP (Carriage and Insurance Paid To): This is similar to CPT, but the seller also arranges insurance for the journey.
  5. DAP (Delivered at Place): The seller delivers to a spot the buyer chooses. When it’s time to unload, the buyer takes over.
  6. DPU (Delivered at Place Unloaded): It’s similar to DAP, but the seller also handles the unloading.
  7. DDP (Delivered Duty Paid): The seller does it all, delivery and customs, with no risks or extra costs for the buyer.
  8. FAS (Free Alongside Ship): The seller places the goods by the ship. After that, the buyer is in charge.
  9. FOB (Free on Board): The seller puts the goods on the ship, and the rest of the responsibilities are on the buyer’s end.
  10. CFR (Cost and Freight): The seller loads the goods and pays for their trip to the destination port. Once on the ship, the buyer takes responsibility.
  11. CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight): It’s similar to CFR, but the seller also handles insurance for the ship’s voyage.

Each Incoterm explains who does what in shipping, helping buyers and sellers know their duties.

The Newest Incoterm: DPU

The 2020 update to the Incoterms introduced a new term: DPU (Delivered at Place Unloaded).

The term provided much clarity on the unloading process in shipping agreements. Under DPU, the seller is responsible not just for delivering the goods to the agreed-upon location but also for unloading them there.

This Incoterm made things easier for the buyers. It has shifted some of the buyer’s responsibilities (previously under the DAP term) to the seller. Instead of the buyer, now the seller has to complete the unloading process at the destination.

The Purpose and Importance of Incoterms

Incoterms,arranged alphabetically

Incoterms hold immense importance in international trade. They establish clarity between the buyers and sellers from the start of the contract till its completion. Moreover, they outline who handles each part of the shipping journey between the buyer and seller, avoiding confusion. 

Incoterms also split the risks and costs, so both sides know what they’re paying for and when they’re liable.

Not only that, but they also simplify and streamline the entire trading process. They give a shared set of terms that everyone understands, which helps draft contracts and guide customs checks.

In a nutshell, Incoterms provide a common structure for global trade, keeping the buyers and the sellers on one page throughout the contract. 

Key Incoterms for Different Modes of Transport

As we mentioned earlier, Incoterms are grouped into two main categories depending on different ways to ship goods. This helps both parties choose an Incoterm based on who is willing to take responsibilities and risks.

Incoterms are 11 rules

Here are 11 Incoterms divided into two groups:

  • On Water (Sea and Rivers): Use FAS, FOB, CFR, or CIF. These are great for when you ship by boat.
  • Any Transport Way (Trucks, Trains, Planes, or More than One): Go with EXW, FCA, CPT, CIP, DAP, DPU, or DDP. These work for all kinds, even if you switch between a truck, train, or plane.

Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned trader, choosing the right Incoterm can greatly affect how smoothly your trade is completed. Go for the one that fits your shipment needs and transport preferences. 

What Are the 3 Most Commonly Used Incoterms?

Of the 11 Incoterms, buyers and sellers use three the most due to their cost-effectiveness and flexibility. Here are those:

  1. FOB (Free on Board): FOB is preferred for sea shipments. According to this Incoterm, the seller only has to load the goods onto the ship, and then it’s over to the buyer to take care of things from there.
  2. CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight): CIF is also ideal for sea shipment. However, unlike FOB, the seller is in charge of handling costs, including insurance, up to the destination port.
  3. DAP (Delivered at Place): It is used for all kinds of transport. The seller brings the goods right up to a place the buyer chooses and then hands over responsibility.

It’s important to know that the rest of the Incoterms are also popular among global traders. FOB, CIF, and DAP are more commonly used than the other eight.

Incoterms and Transportation Modes

You now know what Incoterms are. Next, you should explore different transportation modes to understand which Incoterms are preferred for each. 

Sea Freight Incoterms

If you’re shipping goods by sea, you should focus on FOB, CFR, and CIF Incoterms.

FOB puts the onus on the buyer once the goods are on the ship. On the other hand, CFR and CIF go further, covering transport costs to the destination. However, CIF also adds insurance to provide extra security to the shipments. 

Air Freight Incoterms

If you’re shipping goods by air, DAP and DPU should be your priorities as they work for any transport method.

These Incoterms require the seller to make all the arrangements and payments when sending goods. 

In short, DAP and DPU streamline the entire air freight process. DPU also covers unloading at the endpoint. This control comes in handy for land and rail, where end-to-end delivery is typical.

Incoterms 2020 and Risk Allocation

Besides introducing a new term, the 2020 Incoterms update brought key changes in how risks are shared between buyers and sellers in trade. It keeps both parties up-to-date on how global trade is done today, leading to fewer conflicts and better risk allocation. 

With DPU, the seller acknowledges the risks involved in unloading the shipment at the destination. They stay extra cautious during the unloading process, as they are the sole ones responsible if anything goes wrong.

The 2020 update also simplified CIP. The seller now knows that they have to handle and pay for insurance. 

For all sorts of global businesses, getting to know these Incoterms 2020 updates is the first step. When done right, it can open doors to smoother trades with fewer risks and conflicts.

Incoterms 2020 and Cost Allocation

ncoterms 2020 clarifies the cost-sharing in global trade between the seller and the buyer and other parties involved.

For instance, CIF clearly states that the seller will cover insurance and freight. Similarly, in EXW, the buyer is required to pay all transport costs and risks. 

This clear cost division allows businesses to plan and negotiate international deals confidently.

Incoterms 2020 and Documentation

Global trading comes with a heap of paperwork for both buyers and sellers. Often, it becomes hard to decide which type of documentation goes on the buyer’s plate and which on the seller’s.

Incoterms 2020 eliminates this guesswork by clearly explaining the documents each party has to provide. 

For instance, with FOB, sellers must provide export papers, and buyers must manage import clearance. This ensures all the right documents are ready for smooth global shipping.

shipping Incoterms,international trade, global goods

How To Use Incoterms in International Trade

You can only use Incoterms correctly if you know the rules and their importance in global trading. 

Don’t know where to start from? Here’s a brief guide to help you get started with Incoterms:

  1. Learn About Incoterms: Start by getting to know each Incoterm and what it means for buyers and sellers. Understand the requirements and risks involved in your preferred Incoterm.
  2. Pick the Right Incoterm: After studying each Incoterm, choose the best one for your trading needs. Think about how you’ll ship, where you’re shipping to, and who should handle risks and costs.
  3. Communicate: After picking the right Incoterm, tell everything about it to the other party in the deal (whether the buyer or the seller). You both must understand what your chosen Incoterm means for your transaction.
  4. Write It Down: Once decided, pen down the Incoterm in your contract. Spell out what everyone has to do, the risks and costs involved, and any other special details.
  5. Keep Records: Stay organized from the beginning till the end of the contract. Keep all your trade documents, like shipping papers and invoices, in order so you can easily access them whenever needed. 

If you want to make a hassle-free international trade, these steps will help you do so without any confusion.

Common mistakes to avoid when using Incoterms 2024

When using Incoterms, you are always on the verge of making mistakes. That’s common among global traders, whether amateurs or seasoned ones. 

So, to avoid most of these mistakes, watch out for these common ones:

  1. Not Understanding Terms Fully: Invest your time in researching what each Incoterm means and includes. Doing no homework can lead to misunderstandings that may lead to massive conflicts and legal work. 
  2. Poor Communication: Always be clear about the Incoterm with your trading partner. Any confusion could lead to trouble during shipping.
  3. Not Matching Terms to Your Needs: Make sure the Incoterm fits your trade’s details and how you’re shipping. Each one works best in certain situations.
  4. Ignoring Documentation: Last but most important, always keep your paperwork spot on and organized. With proper documentation, you can put out any document whenever it’s asked for and avoid legal waters.

All you have to do is just stay steer clear of these errors to enjoy smoother international trade.

Benefits of Using Incoterms in International Trade

You can’t do international trade without using Incoterms—it’s an established fact. Not only are these terms crucial for global trade compliance, but they also offer many benefits to the seller and buyer. 

Here are a few benefits of Incoterms:

  1. Clarity: They set clear rules to minimize the chances of mix-ups and disagreements.
  2. Risk and Cost Sharing: They spell out who is responsible for what to ensure risks and costs are split fairly.
  3. Universal Language: They give traders a shared set of terms to simplify negotiations and customs processes.
  4. Staying on Track with Rules: They help businesses stick to trade laws and dodge fines and hold-ups.
  5. Streamlined Process: They make planning and discussing international deals more straightforward, saving effort and time.

Using Incoterms well can make trading across borders smoother and more predictable.


Incoterms lays down the rules for shipping and sharing risks and expenses in global trading. The 2020 Incoterms update enables global businesses to brush up on the new rules and pick the best terms for their trading needs.

To ensure smooth trading, you should know when and how to use Incoterms. The right strategy will help boost trade operations, reduce risks and confusion, and keep you compliant with trade laws.

So, stay informed about the latest Incoterms and put them to work for successful international trade.

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