Trading Across Borders Methodology

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 every official procedure 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. For exporting goods, procedures range from packing the goods into the container at the warehouse to their departure from the port of exit. For importing goods, procedures range from the vessel’s arrival at the port of entry to the cargo’s delivery at the warehouse. For landlocked economies, these include procedures at the inland border post, since the port is located in the transit economy. 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 on the ease of trading across borders is the simple average of the percentile rankings on its component indicators (figure A.1).

Local freight forwarders, shipping lines, customs brokers, port officials and banks provide information on required documents and cost as well as the time to complete each procedure. 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. 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:

  • Has at least 60 employees.
  • Is located in the economy’s 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.
  • Is 100% domestically owned.
  • Exports more than 10% of its sales.


All documents required per shipment to export and import the goods are recorded (table A.1). 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. Documents required for clearance by relevant agencies—including government ministries, customs, port authorities and other control agencies—are taken into account. 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. For landlocked economies, documents required by authorities in the transit economy are also included. Documents that are requested at the time of clearance but that are valid for a year or longer and do not require renewal per shipment (for example, an annual tax clearance certificate) are not included. Documents that are required purely for purposes of preferential treatment are no longer included—for example, a certificate of origin if the use is only to qualify for a preferential tariff rate under trade agreements. It is assumed that the exporter will always obtain a certificate of origin for its trade partner, however, and the time and cost associated with obtaining it are included in the time and cost to export.


The time for exporting and importing is recorded in calendar days. The time calculation for a procedure starts from the moment it is initiated and runs until it is completed. If a procedure can be accelerated for an additional cost and is available to all trading companies, the fastest legal procedure is chosen. 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 each remaining procedure without delay. Procedures that can be completed in parallel are measured as simultaneous. But it is assumed that document preparation, inland transport, customs and other clearance, and port and terminal handling require a minimum time of 1 day each and cannot take place simultaneously. The waiting time between procedures—for example, during unloading of the cargo—is included in the measure.


Cost measures the fees levied on a 20-foot container in U.S. dollars. All the fees associated with completing the procedures to export or import the goods are taken into account. These include costs for documents, administrative fees for customs clearance and inspections, customs broker fees, port-related charges and inland transport costs. 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.