Are you confused when you see terms such as Bill of Lading, Arrival Notice or Letter of Credit? Do you struggle to understand what these documents mean? Well don’t worry – we are here to help explain what important shipping documents you might encounter or need to consider when shipping your freight.

While most of these documents are mandatory, some of them depend on the type of cargo you are shipping as well as your origin and destination locations. So, it is important to know which documents are required for your shipment before you start shipping.

The most important shipping documents

Commercial Invoice

The Commercial Invoice is one of the most important documents when shipping your ocean freight. It is the invoice that is issued by the seller (exporter) to the buyer (importer). It is required in the customs clearance process.

Packing List

The Packing List is another important shipping document when transporting ocean freight internationally. It is a detailed overview of the cargo mentioned on the Commercial Invoice above. It also includes information on how the shipment has been packed and which marks and numbers are noted outside of the shipment boxes.

Export/Import Customs Declaration

An Export or Import Customs Declaration lists details of the goods which are imported or exported. This declaration is especially important when shipping international freight. Describing it in legal terms, with a Customs Declaration, a person shows the wish to place goods under a given customs procedure. The Declaration is used for customs clearance and to calculate the duties or taxes applicable to the cargo. It is prepared by a customs broker using the invoice and packing list.

Bill of Lading & Sea Waybill

The Bill of Lading is a detailed document you will receive from us. It is the transportation contract, and important details on the shipment are included in it. It is a relevant part of ocean freight and proof that the carrier has received the goods from the shipper in good condition. The party holding this document is also the party controlling the cargo.

A Sea Waybill is also a transport contract. However, the Sea Waybill is not needed for cargo delivery and will only be handed out as a cargo receipt. Moreover, a Sea Waybill is not negotiable and cannot be assigned to any third party.

Certificates (production, vessel, phytosanitary)

Depending on the type of your cargo, you might be asked for one of the following certificates:
  • Production Certificate: This certificate relates to the material or types of products using sustainable resources or approved methods (e.g. sustainable wood sources). It is required to be allowed to ship cargo in or out of regions where regulations related to the production may apply.
  • Vessel Certificate: The main purpose of this certificate is to verify the ownership of a vessel. It also provides certain details such as the age and maintenance of the vessel. The certificate is usually requested as part of the requirements for the Letter of Credit (see below).
  • Phytosanitary Certificate: This is a document to certify that plants, as well as plant products, are free from regulated pests. It also notes that the cargo conforms with other phytosanitary requirements as specified by the importing country.

Air or Rail Waybill

Depending on your mode of transport, you will get an Air or Rail Waybill. The Air Waybill (AWB) is a non-negotiable document that is issued by an air carrier as an acknowledgement of the possession of a shipment. The AWB is also a type of bill of lading. However, it is issued in a non-negotiable form, so there is less protection with an AWB in comparison to the bill of lading. The AWB also serves as a receipt for the consignor (the shipper). This document shows the shipment’s destination address as well as contact information for the consignor and consignee (the receiver). In comparison, the Rail Waybill is a document used for shipments via a railway. This document is prepared by the shipping agent or railway line, after receiving the instructions from the shipper.

Arrival Notice

Another important document when shipping is the Arrival Notice or Notice of Arrival. This document informs that the cargo is arriving at the destination. It includes relevant details such as the commodity description, sailing details, destination country related to customs charges and the contact details of the ocean freight carrier. It is issued by the ocean freight carrier’s destination agent to the consignee and to parties that might be needed to notify as mentioned on the Bill of Lading.

Certificate of Origin

The Certificate of Origin is the document that declares in which country a good or commodity was manufactured. It is needed on a regular basis. This document contains information about the product, its destination as well as the country of export. It is an important form as it helps to determine if goods are eligible for import and if they are subject to duties.

Importer Security Filing (local customs requirements)

Your shipment might require an Importer Security Filing (ISF). This document is a US customs and border protection regulation that only counts for ocean cargo imports. Prior to the shipping order, importers should send the required data for this documentation to their US customs broker, as it is required to be filed with US customs and border protection 24 hours prior to sailing from the last origin port. Required data includes the seller’s and buyer’s name and address, the importer of record, the ultimate consignee, manufacturer’s name and address as well as the country of origin.

Letter of Credit

A Letter of Credit is a primary means of payment in an international trade transaction. It is by default irrevocable. This document is a promise by a bank on behalf of the buyer (the importer) to the seller (the exporter) with a specified sum in an agreed currency. Moreover, it requires that the seller submits the needed documents at a predetermined deadline. Additionally, it includes information such as the description as well as the quantity of goods, technical description and documentary requirements.

Getting to know more about shipping documents

Whether you are handling a bill of lading, creating a packing list for a shipment, a customs invoice or commercial invoice, or preparing a certificate of origin at a port – Incoterms® provide guidance along the way. Do you want to know more about Incoterms®? Then read more here. Do you have any further questions regarding your shipment? Then read our FAQs.

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