What Documents Are Required for International Freight Shipping?

It is essential to understand the documents required for international freight shipping to ensure a smooth and successful transaction. The commercial invoice is the most important document, as it is mandatory in the customs clearance process. It is issued by the seller (exporter) to the buyer (importer) and includes details of the goods being imported or exported. The packing list is another important shipping document, as it provides a detailed description of the cargo mentioned in the commercial invoice.

It also includes information about how the shipment was packaged and what marks and numbers appear outside the shipping boxes. An export or import customs declaration lists the details of the goods being imported or exported and is used for customs clearance and to calculate the duties or taxes applicable to the cargo. It is prepared by a customs agent using the invoice and packing list. International shipments usually require a commercial invoice, a free sales letter, a bill of lading, a certificate of origin, and an export packing list.

Countries may require specific documents depending on factors such as the type of merchandise, destination, and trade agreements. Common documents include commercial invoices, bills of lading, packing lists, certificates of origin, licenses, and insurance certificates. Shipping documents are critical to ensuring smooth international trade and regulatory compliance. A certificate of origin contains information about where the export shipment was manufactured or processed.

Commercial and proforma invoices are preliminary sales invoices that are sent to the sender before the shipment or delivery of the goods. These invoices help senders to take responsibility for getting the shipment to its destination on the scheduled date and time. Before you ship your items, you need a packing list. Not only will this help handlers manage their items properly, but it may also be necessary to get through customs officials.

Your packing list should identify the items in the shipment, and it would be best if you included the net and gross weight of the package in both US imperial and metric measurements. There are a wide variety of documents you may need to submit to comply with legal requirements and import and export regulations. Some documents are required by the customs authorities of the destination country, while others may be necessary for carriers and logistics companies that facilitate the movement of cargo and small shipments. The five most common documents for international shipments that you should know are the bill of lading, purchase order, air waybill, and export packing list.

If an inquiry came from a domestic prospect, you likely have a standard quote form to use. However, in an international transaction, your quote will be provided as a pro forma invoice. This is because your international potential customer may need a pro forma invoice to process financing, open a letter of credit, apply for the appropriate import licenses, and much more. Be sure to date your proforma invoice and include an expiration date to minimize risk by setting a specific time frame for your listing.

Once you've sent a proforma invoice to your international prospect and received their order, you'll need to prepare the merchandise for shipment including all necessary documentation that must accompany it - most importantly, the commercial invoice which includes most of the details of the entire export transaction from start to finish. This commercial invoice may look similar to your pro forma invoice but must include additional details such as an order number or purchase order number as well as banking and payment information. The packing list identifies all items in the shipment including net and gross weight and dimensions in both US imperial and metric measurements as well as any marks that appear on packages or special instructions for safe delivery of merchandise to its final destination. If cargo is lost or damaged during transit, this document is required to file an insurance claim or if there is disagreement between carrier and exporter regarding weight or measurements of cargo.

Some countries require a certificate of origin which identifies which country products originated in - usually signed by some semi-official organization such as chamber of commerce or country's consulate office - even if country of origin information has been included on commercial invoice. In addition to generic certificate of origin form there are also country-specific certificates which must be used when exporting under free trade agreements such as USMCA or CAFTA-DR which cover several countries including US. The free sales certificate - also referred to as “export certificate” or “certificate granted to foreign governments” - is proof that goods were produced domestically which may be required even if country of origin has been included on commercial invoice.