Trading Across Borders Methodology

Figure 1 - How much time, how many documents and what cost to export and import by sea transport?

Doing Business measures the time and cost (excluding tariffs) associated with exporting and importing a standardized cargo of goods by sea transport. The time and cost necessary to complete 4 predefined stages (document preparation; customs clearance and inspections; inland transport and handling; and port and terminal handling) for exporting and importing the goods are recorded; however, the time and cost for sea transport are not included. All documents needed by the trader to export or import the goods across the border are also recorded. The process of exporting goods ranges from packing the goods into the container at the warehouse to their departure from the port of exit. The process of importing goods ranges from the vessel’s arrival at the port of entry to the cargo’s delivery at the warehouse. For landlocked economies, since the seaport is located in the transit economy, the time, cost and documents associated with the processes at the inland border are also included. It is assumed that the payment is made by letter of credit, and the time, cost and documents required for the issuance or advising of a letter of credit are taken into account (figure 1).

The ranking of economies on the ease of trading across borders is determined by sorting their distance to frontier scores for trading across borders. These scores are the simple average of the distance to frontier scores for each of the component indicators (figure 2).

Figure 2 Trading across borders: exporting and importing by sea transport

Local freight forwarders, shipping lines, customs brokers, port officials and banks provide information on required documents, cost and time to export and import. To make the data comparable across economies, several assumptions about the business and the traded goods are used.

Assumptions about the traded goods

The traded product travels in a dry-cargo, 20-foot, full container load (1). It weighs 10 tons and is valued at $20,000. The product:

  • Is not hazardous nor does it include military items.
  • Does not require refrigeration or any other special environment.
  • Does not require any special phytosanitary or environmental safety standards other than accepted international standards.
  • Is one of the economy’s leading export or import products.

Assumptions about the business

The business:

  • Is located in the economy’s largest business city. For 11 economies the data are also collected for the second largest business city (see cities list).
  • Is a private, limited liability company.
  • Does not operate in an export processing zone or an industrial estate with special export or import privileges.
  • Conducts export and import activities but does not have any special accreditation, such as an authorized economic operator status.
  • Is 100% domestically owned.


It is assumed that a new contract is drafted per shipment and that the contract has already been agreed upon and executed by both parties. All documents required by law or common practice by relevant agencies—including government ministries, customs authorities, port authorities and other control agencies—per export and import shipment are taken into account (table 1). For landlocked economies, documents required by authorities in the transit economy are also included. Since payment is by letter of credit, all documents required by banks for the issuance or securing of a letter of credit are also taken into account. Documents that are requested at the time of clearance but that are valid for a year or longer or do not require renewal per shipment (for example, an annual tax clearance certificate) are not included. Documents that are required by customs authorities purely for purposes of preferential treatment but are not required for any other purpose by any of the authorities in the process of trading are not included . For example, if a certificate of origin is only presented to qualify for a preferential tariff rate under trade agreements, the document is not counted. It is assumed that the exporter will always obtain a certificate of origin for its trade partner, and the time and cost associated with obtaining this certificate are therefore included in the time and cost of document preparation to export.

Table 1 - What do the trading across borders indicators measure?


The time for exporting and importing is recorded in calendar days. The time calculation for each of the 4 predefined stages starts from the moment the stage is initiated and runs until it is completed. Fast-track procedures applying only to firms located in an export processing zone, or only to certain accredited firms under authorized economic operator programs, are not taken into account because they are not available to all trading companies. Sea transport time is not included. It is assumed that neither the exporter nor the importer wastes time and that each commits to completing the process without delay. It is assumed that document preparation, inland transport and handling, customs clearance and inspections, and port and terminal handling require a minimum time of 1 day each and cannot take place simultaneously. The waiting time that occurs in practice—for example, in queues to obtain a service or during the unloading and moving of the cargo at the seaport—is included in the measure.


Cost measures the fees levied on a 20-foot container in U.S. dollars. All fees charged by government agencies and the private sector to a trader in the process of exporting and importing the goods are taken into account. These include but are not limited to costs for documents, administrative fees for customs clearance and inspections, customs broker fees, port-related charges and inland transport costs. The exporter is responsible for the incurred costs related to exporting the goods until they depart from the exporting economy, and the importer is responsible for the incurred costs related to importing from the moment the goods arrive at the seaport in the importing economy. The cost does not include customs tariffs and duties or costs related to sea transport. Only official costs are recorded.

This methodology was developed by Djankov, Freund and Pham (2010) and is adopted here with minor changes.


While different types of containers are used around the world, the 2 most important are 20-foot and 40-foot containers. Use of 40-foot containers is growing, but this year’s research confirms that 20-foot containers are still common in the majority of economies. According to respondents questioned in each of the 189 economies covered by Doing Business, 20-foot and 40-foot containers are equally common in 49% of the economies, 20-foot containers are more common in 29%, and 40-foot containers are mostly relied on in only 10%. For the remaining 12% of economies no data on the use of the 2 types of containers were available. The trading across borders indicators will continue to be based on 20-foot containers because this size remains the most relevant for international trade across the globe.