Managing a successful business often requires importing or exporting products, and with that comes a flurry of documents needed for shipping.

The freight industry is notoriously known for complicated and tedious paperwork. Having all the necessary shipping documents is crucial to the shipping process, as any document that is out of order can delay and severely disrupt the supply chain. This holds especially true for international shipping documents.

International shipping is highly dependent on the success and organization of the shipping documents for export, and the shipping documents for import. Every country has its own regulations, and if not followed properly, shipments can be held hostage at customs.

What Are Shipping Documents?

Shipping documents are forms that accompany a shipment that details all the necessary and relevant information. The freight documents list out facts including: the date shipped, shipper, receiver, method of shipment, quantities and specifications of the shipment itself, etc.

What Are the Important Shipping Documents in General?

  1. Bill of Lading (BOL)

The BOL is the official contract between shippers and freight carriers. No matter the form of transportation, a BOL is the most important shipping document that exporters and importers need, since it is an acknowledgement of being in possession of a shipment. Then, depending on the mode of transport, there will also be air waybills or rail waybills.

  1. Commercial Invoice

The commercial invoice is another important shipping document in the whole shipping process. Any transaction that involves exporting and importing needs to be attached with a proof of sale, which is the commercial invoice. It details the information of the importer, exporter, freight forwarder, and every party who takes part in its transportation journey.

  1. Packing List

While seemingly similar to the commercial invoice, the packing list serves a different purpose, and is also a required shipping document. It contains an itemized list of details of the shipment itself; how the shipment has been packed, the dimensions and description of the shipment, and acts as proof in disputes between shipper and carriers.

  1. Letter of Credit

A letter of credit is a formal and non-negotiable agreement of payment between the buyer and seller. It is one of the safest payment methods, as shipments often experience delays and roadblocks, which make it difficult to decide when is the appropriate time to make payments. But with a letter of credit, it sets a predetermined deadline.

  1. Insurance Certificate

An insurance certificate is issued by an insurance company, and is proof that the shipment has been insured in the case of damaged or lost goods. It allows the parties involved to file for insurance claims and liability coverage.

What Are the Necessary Shipping Documents for Exports?

Beyond the basic requirements, there are specific shipping documents for exports.

  1. Export Customs Declaration

An export customs declaration document lists details of the shipment, and is crucial in international shipping. It is a government requirement to have this document, as shippers and carriers need to gain permission to load vessels and legally export goods.

  1. Certificate of Origin

The certificate of origin shows where the goods were manufactured. It lists out details of the product, such as what it is made of, where materials were obtained, which country it was made in, its destination, etc.

  1. Other Certificates

Depending on the type of cargo, other certificates like a production certificate, vessel certificate, or phytosanitary certificate may be required.

What Are the Necessary Shipping Documents for Imports?

Similar to shipping documents for exports, there are shipping documents for imports that are necessary for importing goods into foreign countries.

  1. Import Customs Declaration

Like an export customs declaration document, an import customs declaration document is needed to gain government permission. It allows the cargo to be placed under customs clearance, and to be released into foreign countries and territories.

  1. Arrival Notice

The arrival notice, or notice of arrival, is for when the cargo has arrived at its destination. It includes commodity description, transportation details, carrier contact information, and of course, the destination country and notes on customs charges.

  1. Importer Security Filing (ISF)

Prior to shipping out cargo, the required data for the importer security filing should be filled out with border protection. It includes the seller’s and buyer’s names and addresses, importer of record, consignee, the manufacturer’s name and address, and the country of origin.

Important Shipping Documents for Export Important Shipping Documents for Import
  • Commercial Invoice
  • Bill of Lading (including air or rail waybill)
  • Packing List
  • Export Customs Declarations
  • Certificate of Origin
  • Letter of Credit
  • Certificates (production, vessel, phytosanitary, etc.)
  • Commercial Invoice
  • Bill of Lading (including air or rail waybill)
  • Packing List
  • Import Customs Declaration
  • Arrival Notice
  • Letter of Credit
  • Importer Security Filing (local customs requirements)

Need Any Help? SFI Can Be Your Solution!

We know a variety of cost-effective ways to transport all types of freight, and we offer revolutionary tracking services for you to always keep track of where your freight is! If you need any assistance regarding freight forwarding, contact SFI today, and we’ll take care of your shipping needs. Email us at or call us at (909) 594-3400.