Shipping Documents: Essential for Export And Import

Ensuring the correct international shipping documentation is as critical as understanding the regulations and procedures for importing and exporting. To comply with legal requirements and international trade rules, you should produce various types of shipping documents. Below we have collected several essential documents required for shipping internationally that you should know, what they mean, and their importance. Keep reading!

International shipping documents meaning

International shipping documents are forms that come with a shipment displaying detailed information about cargo transportation. Such as origin and destination location, cargo specifications, weight and dimensions, shipper and carrier, etc. These documents are also forms or certifications requested for clearing customs and picking up shipments.

Shipping documents in international trade not only offer beneficial info to help staff who handle the goods in transit. But also make the shipment can obey the regulations of the cross-border countries.  

The importance of shipping documents

Comprehensive shipping documents are one of the vital parts of guaranteeing international shipping smoothly. If shipping important documents are not done in a proper way, it will cause delays or detain by customs during the cargo shipping process. Furthermore, misarrangement documents also may lead to disputes about damage and liability.

Efficacious shipping documentation is essential to offer proof when carriers may find weight, system errors, and more in inspections. Shipping with correct content from the beginning can not eliminate the possibility of encountering problems during or after shipment. But a little attention to the details of shipping documents can avoid unnecessary headaches.

Common shipping documents internationally

You may be a bit confused as there are many types of shipping documentation. Below we have sorted out an indispensable document list to help you into why they work for you.

Proforma invoice

A proforma invoice is a preliminary bill in shipping documents that are used to inform the buyer of the shipping details, such as the type, quantity, value, and import specifications (like weight and size) of the goods going to ship.

Proforma invoices are virtually a good-faith agreement for the buyer, so he can know what to expect ahead of shipping time. It also can use to arrange a foreign exchange, apply for import licenses or other financial arrangements, etc.

Commercial invoice   

The commercial invoice is the official shipping document by which the exporter requests the importer to pay for the goods based on the sales contract. It also documents required for export and import customs clearance procedures and customs staff to assess import duties and taxes. Typically, it should state full cargo specifications, payment methods, shipping incoterms, and so on.

Before filling out a commercial invoice for a new export, it is better to consult a reliable shipping agent for country-specific demands. Some countries may require the invoice in a specific form, but the universal seller or exporter version is acceptable as long as all the needed information is content.

Packing List

A packing list, a shipping document detailing the cargo packing details, always be used to create the bill of lading. When shipping goods, each package for the shipment should attach a packing list outside. Not only the freight forwarder will identify weights and freight costs for you depending on this document, but customs officials determine what items they need to inspect through the packing list.

In addition, it is critical shipping documentation for use if disputes occur between a shipper and carrier. Such as division of responsibility when cargo is lost or damaged. The bank may require you to present the documents covering a detailed packing list to obtain payment under the letter of credit.

international shipping documents

Bill of lading

A bill of lading is a legal shipping document issued by a carrier or freight agent confirming receipt of goods for transporting. It generally marks the cargo type, shipping quantity, and destination. It also serves as a receipt of the goods when the consignee picks up the shipments. It is documents required for shipping internationally that need to accompany the cargo regardless of the transit modes.

Shipper’s letter of instruction

A Shipper’s Letter of Instruction (SLI) is a shipping document for export always be used for U.S. shipments. It is generated by the shipper or exporter to provide shipping instructions for the carrier. It also authorizes the freight forwarder to act on behalf of the shipper for U.S. export control and customs clearance.

Insurance certificate

In a nutshell, an insurance certificate is shipping documentation to certify that a shipment is underinsured. Among the shipping document, it has offered a detailed message about cargo insurance as the amount. Typically, an insurance certificate is issued by an insurance company or broker. A certificate of insurance can confirm that the shipment is under indemnification if theft, loss, or damage happen during shipping.

Certificate of origin

A Certificate of Origin (CO) is a vital international shipping document to certify the particular country for cargo to be manufactured, produced, and processed. It usually is signed by some official organization like the Chamber of Commerce or the State Commodity Inspection Bureau.

Some countries require this shipping documentation to identify the originating status of the goods. For instance, the United States and Middle East countries always request CO documents.

Import/Export declaration

It is a customs declaration submitted to the customs chief when the goods are at the port of export or import. This shipping documentation always is used to declare the details of the goods, including the nature of the goods, the country of destination, the nation of export, etc. In addition to compiling statistical information on a country’s foreign trade, the declaration form also helps the customs to control goods.

Documents required for shipping dangerous goods

It needs extra shipping documents for hazardous goods shipping. Below are two fundamental forms including:

Dangerous goods

When starting a dangerous cargo delivery, the shipper should complete an appropriate Dangerous Goods Form based on the shipping rules. For example, IATA has launched the Shipper’s Declaration for Dangerous Goods if shipping hazardous cargo by air freight. This shipping document works to certify the shipment has been labeled, packed, and declared depending on Dangerous Goods Regulations.

Material safety data sheet(MSDS)

Material Safety Data Sheet is one of the crucial shipping documents for dangerous goods. It provides comprehensive information about the proper ways to handle, use, and store hazardous goods. So that the carriers and shipping relevant staff can protect themselves from dangerous materials and work safely according to the MSDS.

Different types of shipping documents also vary from the classification of the goods or the transportation way you use. For instance, air freight might request shipping documentation that is a bit distinct from railway or ocean shipping. If you ship dangerous cargo, it demands an extra inspection sheet, etc. For more details, you can contact and ask Airsupply’s official teams about what shipping documents you need for your shipment.

Airsupply supports you with shipping documents

The above shipping documentation we have mentioned is not the only document you may need to ship your cargo internationally. If you are unsure what paperwork should prepare, Airsupply Logistics is always here to help!

As a reputable international shipping partner,  Airsupply is proficient in the documents required for shipping in different countries. Their dedicated teams will guide you step by step until the shipments deliver in your hand. It also assists you with customized shipping solutions and multiple transportation.

No matter the shipping of dangerous or sensitive goods, Airsupply allows you clear customs and overseas transport smoothly and hassle-free. Contact ASL to get the shipping document list and start international shipping now!

Wonderful! Share this Post:

Wherever and Whatever You Want, We Reach It!


99% Punctual Delivery


Track Everything Effortlessly


Direct Agent Price


All Shipping Modes; Every Cargo Type

Get In Touch with Us

    website wechat