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What are Incoterms?

Short for “International Commercial Terms,” the Incoterms are a set of globally recognized trade rules organized into 11 abbreviated terms. 

Incoterms®” is a trademark of the International Chamber of Commerce, registered in several countries.

First published in Paris in 1936, by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the Incoterms rules provide:
• Uniform interpretation of common contract clauses primarily found in export and import transactions
• Illustration of the timing and division of costs and risks between buyers and sellers
• Instructions to carriers, forwarders, customs brokers, banks and other financial institutions involved in shipping goods

The Incoterms rules are not mandatory. 

They are not laws enacted by governments, but rather, guidelines agreed to by parties to a contract. 

Ultimately, it’s up to the buyer and the seller to agree to each party’s responsibilities, as well as the cost and risk of a shipment before it takes place.

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How do I use Incoterms?

When incorporating Incoterms into a sales contract you will need two components:

1) The abbreviated name of the rule/term you’re using and
2) A named place.

All 11 of the Incoterms rules require one of the four named places:

1. Place of delivery
2. Place of destination
3. Port of shipment
4. Port of destination

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Shipping Terms Abbreviation Groups

The list below breaks down the 11 Incoterms rules.

Note that while the Incoterms FAS, FOB, CFR and CIF are applicable to only sea or inland waterway transport, all other terms can be used for all modes of transportation—air, ground, rail and ocean.

You’ll find the named place required for each rule in the parentheses after the rule’s name.

E terms – Departure

• EXW – Ex Works (Place of Delivery, Usually Seller’s Premises)

F terms – Main Carriage Unpaid

• FCA – Free Carrier (Place of Delivery)
• FAS – Free Alongside Ship (Port of Shipment)
• FOB – Free On Board (Port of Shipment)

C terms – Main Carriage Paid

• CFR – Cost and Freight (Port of Destination)
• CIF – Cost, Insurance and Freight (Port of Destination)
• CPT – Carriage Paid To (Place of Destination)
• CIP – Carriage and Insurance Paid To (Place of Destination)

D terms – Arrival

• DPU – Delivered at Place Unloaded (Place of Destination, Where Seller Unloads)
◦ Formerly: DAT – Delivered At Terminal (Terminal at Port or Place of Destination)
• DAP – Delivered At Place (Place of Destination)
• DDP – Delivered Duty Paid (Place of Destination)

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Incoterms Shipping Terms Glossary

Some of the most common words and phrases that appear in the Incoterms rules include:

Break Bulk Cargo

Conventional, un-containerized cargo that ships in units of one or packages, such as vehicles, machinery, palletized or boxed cargo.

Bulk Cargo

Cargo that is composed either of 1) free flowing articles, like oil, grain, ore or coal or 2) uniform cargo that stows solid, such as coils, pipes, sheets of metal, timber and lumber.

Bonded Warehouse/Terminal

A warehouse or terminal approved by customs for storing goods until duties are paid or the goods are released.


Transportation of cargo while on board main carrier from airport/port of loading to airport/port of discharge.


An individual or legal entity in the business of transporting goods for hire.


In the Incoterms rules, delivery refers to the point when risk transfers from seller to buyer. This is often, but not always, the same point in the transaction through which the seller has agreed to pay, it is not always the same point. “Delivery” is thus when the seller has fulfilled their obligation and bears no more risk, even if still responsible for paying for the next stage in the transaction.


A tax levied by a government on the import, export and consumption of goods. Duties are based on the value of goods as well as factors like weight and quantity.

Freight Forwarder

A company providing a range of transportation services for cargo shipments.

Incoterms / Terms of Sales

Terms that define the obligations, risks and costs of the buyer and seller, involving the delivery of goods that comprise the commercial transaction. Incoterms are organized by modes of transport, either any mode or modes of transport and sea and inland waterway transport terms.


The coordinated transport of long-haul movements using any combination of modes, freight forwarders or motor carriers.

Multimodal (or “any mode”)

The use of more than one mode of transportation to move goods from origin to final destination. The Incoterms for the use of any mode or multiple modes of transportation to move goods from origin to final destination. They are EXW, FCA, CPT, CIP, DAT, DPU and DDP.


Transportation that takes place after the shipment is offloaded from main carrier at port of discharge.

Pre-Carriage (inland transportation)

Transportation that takes place prior to the shipment being loaded on board main carrier at airport/port of loading.

Ro-Ro Vessel

A category of ships designed to load and discharge cargo that rolls on wheels, such as cars, trucks or locomotives.

Sea and Inland Waterways 

Specific Incoterms for maritime shipments that cover both inland waterways and seas and where the seller places the goods alongside or on board the vessel at port (and at which point the risk of loss passes to the buyer). They are FAS, FOB, CFR and CIF.


An area that serves as a loading, unloading and transfer point for cargo.

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Where can I buy Incoterms®2020 and related products?

Incoterms® 2020 is available on ICC’s new e-commerce platform ICC Knowledge 2 Go in both print and digital formats.

The 2020 edition is available in no fewer than 29 languages — from Estonian and German to Pashto and Spanish. Check with the ICC local representative in your country for further information.

More than 250 launch events and training seminars are also being organised worldwide by ICC national committees. What’s more, there is even an online course and certificate programme available from their educational arm, the ICC Academy.



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