Getting paid when exporting

Assess the risk level for overseas payments


To decide which payment terms and payment methods to offer overseas customers, assess the level of risk that trading with them will entail.

You should research the market and the local trading conditions, including the economic and political situation, for an overall picture.

You can then make an informed decision about the level of risk you're prepared to accept, and how to manage it.

The risk ladder

To find appropriate payment terms with overseas customers you need to balance your risks against customer requirements and expectations. What is more secure for you is more risky for them - and vice versa.

The principle is described in a 'risk ladder':

Exporter   Importer
Least secure Open account Most secure
Documentary collection ^
Documentary credits
Most secure Payment in advance Least secure

Most international trade transactions are carried out in the middle of the ladder - balancing the risks of the seller with the needs of the customer.

Which payment terms to use is a key decision when starting to trade overseas. Get advice if you are unsure. Find out about the Invest NI support for selling outside Northern Ireland.

The International Chamber of Commerce has established rules governing documentary credits worldwide. The Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits (UCP600) is a set of internationally accepted rules on the issue and use of letters of credit. These rules are commonly used by banks in commercial transactions worldwide. As they are incorporated into contracts voluntarily, the rules are flexible, but once applied to any documentary credit, they are binding on all parties to the credit, unless specifically modified or excluded by the credit.

You should use Incoterms, an internationally agreed set of delivery contract terms, in all your contractual agreements with overseas customers to avoid confusion and legal disputes. But remember that Incoterms cover your delivery terms only - they do not cover payment arrangements

You should also consider arranging insurance against non-payment.