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Letter of Credit – meaning, process and role in international trade

16 August 2023


In the world of international trade and finance, the Letter of Credit (LC), also called as Documentary Letter of Credit, stands as a fundamental instrument that facilitates secure and smooth transactions between buyers and sellers across international borders. Whether you are a seasoned international business professional or just venturing into the global marketplace, understanding the intricacies of a Letter of Credit is essential. This article aims to demystify this financial tool by providing a comprehensive guide to its purpose, types, process, and significance in international trade.

What is a Letter of Credit?

A Letter of Credit is a financial document issued by a bank or financial institution on behalf of a buyer (the applicant) to guarantee payment to a seller (the beneficiary) for goods or services, provided specific conditions are met. Essentially, it serves as a promise of payment, ensuring that the seller will receive funds once they fulfil the terms and conditions of the LC. This provides a level of security for both parties involved in the transaction.

Process flow of Letter of Credit (LC)

Types of Letters of Credit

There are various types of Letters of Credit, each designed to cater to different needs and circumstances. Here are some common types:

– Commercial or Documentary Letter of Credit (Revocable vs. Irrevocable Letter of Credit): This type is primarily used in trade transactions and ensures that the seller receives payment upon presenting the necessary documents and complying with the LC terms. A revocable LC can be modified or cancelled by the applicant without the beneficiary’s consent. In contrast, an irrevocable LC cannot be changed or cancelled without the beneficiary’s approval.

– Standby Letter of Credit: Often used as a backup, the standby LC guarantees payment to the beneficiary in case the applicant fails to fulfil its obligations, such as making a payment or meeting a contractual commitment.

LC Procedure

The process of using a Letter of Credit can be complex, involving multiple parties and intricate documentation. Here’s a simplified step-by-step guide:

Issuance: The buyer (applicant) applies for an LC from their bank (issuing bank), specifying the terms and conditions. The LC is then issued and sent to the seller’s bank (advising bank) in the seller’s country.

Notification: The advising bank notifies the seller (beneficiary) about the LC’s existence and provides them with a copy of the LC.

Shipment and Documents: The seller ships the goods as per the agreement and gathers the required documents, such as invoices, bills of lading, and certificates of origin, to comply with the LC’s terms.

Presentation: The seller presents the documents to the advising bank, which reviews them to ensure they match the LC’s requirements.

Payment: If the documents comply with the LC terms, the advising bank forwards them to the issuing bank, which then releases payment to the seller.

Delivery: The advising bank delivers the documents to the buyer upon payment.

Significance in International Trade

The Letter of Credit plays a crucial role in international trade for several reasons:

  1. Risk Mitigation: LCs mitigate risk for both parties. Sellers are assured of payment upon meeting the terms, while buyers can be confident that they will receive the specified goods or services.
  2. Global Commerce: LCs facilitate global trade by creating a secure payment mechanism, making it easier for businesses to engage in cross-border transactions.
  3. Legal Protection: The LC’s terms and conditions are legally binding, providing a framework for dispute resolution if issues arise.
  4. Trust Building: In regions where trust between buyers and sellers is limited, LCs provide a neutral third-party guarantee, fostering confidence in international trade.


In the intricate world of international trade, the Letter of Credit stands as a beacon of financial security. It enables businesses to expand their horizons, engage in cross-border commerce, and build fruitful partnerships worldwide. Understanding the types, process, and significance of LCs is essential for anyone involved in international trade, as it empowers them to navigate this complex landscape with confidence and assurance. In an increasingly globalized world, the Letter of Credit remains a steadfast pillar of international trade finance.

Capo Fin Corporation (CapoFin) can assist you in arranging letter of credit facility from leading partner financial institutions. Apply now for a Letter of Credit Facility

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