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9 Documents to Consider when Shipping Internationally

9 Documents to Consider when Shipping Internationally

In this guide, you can explore through the nine most important documents required for international shipping.

About International Shipping

With dozens of documents strictly dedicated to international shipping, shippers are often confused about the right documentation they need to complete their international shipment. 

Luckily, many of these documents are related to specific or rare imports like wildlife, textiles, chemicals, and other similar imports. This eliminates the number of documents one needs for a regular import.

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Here are examples of nine documents that are needed for international imports:

1- Commercial Invoice 

This serves as ‘proof of sale’ and provides information required by customs for clearance. 

A Commercial Invoice Contains: 

  • Details of the buyer and seller
  • Details about the consignee (the one who will receive the shipment)
  • Details about the ‘notifying parties’ or customs agents, etc. 
  • The HS code, as well as a description of the goods
  • The value of the goods (customs duties will be calculated based on this number) 

2- Shipping Quote 

A Shipping quote is a document that explains the individual legs of a shipment and the surcharges that are to be added onto the bill.

A Shipping Quote Contains: 

  • Details about the origin and destination of your freight
  • Details about the mode of transport and the necessary equipment for it 
  • Details about the shipment, including weight, dimensions, and a general description of the goods

* Most of the shipping quotes have a deadline or expiration date, which indicates how long the price of these goods will remain valid. 


3- Certificate of Origin (CoO)

This is a document that proves that the goods in your export shipment were produced, manufactured, or processed in a given country. Most countries require a CoO for customs clearance and to determine the types of fees or duties for this given shipment. 

A CoO Contains: 

  • General information about the exporter, consignee, the routing of shipment, and a description of the goods
  • An Exporter Declaration- A declaration made by the exporter to the inspector, which validate the products and the country of manufacture
  • An Inspection Certificate- A certificate completed and inspected by a state employee or an outsourced agency, proving that the goods have been inspected


4- Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)

An MSDS contains information in regards to the physical, chemical, explosive, and radioactive data of hazardous materials included in a shipment. This is used to determine additional costs that are associated with hazardous materials. It is also used to make sure that the carriers take proper precautions while transporting the goods. 

An MSDS Contains: 

  • UN number 
  • A shipper’s letter of instruction on how to safely handle this freight

* An MSDS is only required when transporting hazardous materials. 


5- Shipper’s Letter of Instruction

As mentioned in the previous section, a Shipper’s Letter of Instruction (SLI) is a note from an exporter to the freight forwarder or carrier, that includes information or specific instructions on how a shipment should be sent out and where it’s headed. 

An SLI includes 

  • Designation of consignor/consignee along with contact information
  • Details about routing
  • Incoterms that will apply to this shipping
  • Dimensions and weight of the shipment
  • Description of goods & a UN number
  • HS Codes


6- Confirmation of Booking

This is a simple receipt for the main shipment and its mode of transport (air, ocean, etc.). This is generally used as a means to track the shipment. 

A Booking Confirmation Includes

  • A booking number
  • Equipment that was used (pallets)
  • Plan of transport (Origin and Destination)
  • Load Itinerary


7- Bill of Lading 

A Bill of Lading serves as a loading receipt, a contract of carriage, and a document of title. There are five types of Bill of Lading: Onboard Bill of Lading, Order Bill of Lading, Received-for-shipment Bill of Lading, Sea Waybill, and Straight Bill of Lading. 

A Bill of Lading Includes

  • Shipment details
  • Shipper and Consignee details
  • Pickup instructions
  • Delivery instructions
  • BOL number
  • The declared value of the goods and other load details
  • Freight Charges


8- Packing List

A packing list indicates how the goods were packed. This is mainly used for inspection and shipping purposes and provides information about the shipment, as well as the signature of the involved parties. 

A Packing List Includes

  • Details about the Shipper
  • Details about the Consignee 
  • Equipment that was used (pallets, skid, crate)
  • A description of the goods
  • Hazard Information

* A packing list is only required when the goods are packed into large units like containers or aircraft consoles. 


9- A Letter of Credit

A letter of credit is an advanced instruction provided by your bank to the overseas bank to guarantee payment to the seller once delivery conditions have been completed. Your bank must pay the outstanding balance, even if you as the exporter cannot do it.