10 Common International Shipping Documents

Running an online business can be complex and challenging at times, shipping being one of the most important yet complicated aspects. Not only do you have to consider the costs and logistics of sending out orders to your customers, but you also have to make sure that those orders are accompanied by the right paperwork. Otherwise, you could end up with serious delays or even the dreaded “Package Stuck in Customs” notification for international shipments.

International shipping laws and regulations in different countries may vary. As such, the documents needed for import or export may also vary. In most cases, you’d need the following documents for international shipping.

1. Proforma invoice

A proforma invoice is a type of estimated invoice or a preliminary bill that is sent to international prospects. Basically, it’s like a quote that you send before the actual purchase. It enables them to arrange the necessary finances and documentation such as import licenses.

The following details must be included in a proforma invoice:

  • Information on the buyer and seller
  • A detailed description of the items
  • Item value
  • Harmonized System (HS) codes for the items
  • Payment terms
  • Delivery details
  • Currency used
  • Date and expiration date

2. Commercial invoice

The commercial invoice is the proof of sale that must accompany all international shipments. It can be similar to your proforma invoice but may contain additional details such as the order number and PO number.

Commercial invoices are very similar to standard invoices but must include other details that will help with customs clearance. This includes details such as:

  • Detailed information on the buyer and seller
  • Information on the freight forwarder
  • Banking and payment information
  • Shipping line
  • Item description
  • Quantity
  • Country of origin
  • HS code
  • Item value
  • Total weight
  • Shipment terms

3. Export packing list

An export packing list contains an itemized list of all the goods included in a shipment along with important details about each item. This document may be used for issuing other important documents such as a bill of landing and a letter of credit. In international shipments, the packing list is essential for the shipment to clear customs. It can also be used if any dispute arises between the shipper and the carrier.

The export packing list will include key information such as:

  • Order date, shipping address, and contact info
  • Itemized list of shipped items
  • Itemized list of items that were out-of-stock
  • Quantity of each item
  • SKU or UPC numbers
  • PO number or slip number
  • Dimensions and weight
  • Packaging type
  • Safety measure

4. Certificates of origin

Most international shipments require a certificate of origin to declare where the items originated from. They must be provided in accordance with the rules and regulations of the importing country and certified by the export country’s consulate office or the chamber of commerce.

Certificates of origin must include the following details:

  • Name and address of the shipper
  • Name and address of the buyer
  • Exporting carrier
  • Country of manufacture
  • Number of packages
  • Date of export
  • Item description
  • Quantity/unit of measure
  • Weight
  • Signature from the authorized personnel

5. Certificate of free sale

Also called a certificate of export, this document serves as evidence that the item being shipped is sold or distributed legally in the open market and that there are no restrictions on them in the country of origin. A certificate of free sale indicates that the item has been approved by relevant regulatory authorities and is eligible for export.

This document is typically needed for certain types of products such as cosmetics, food items, medical devices, and biologics.

6. Shipper’s letter of instruction

This document contains specific instructions to successfully transport international shipments. Usually provided to freight forwarders, this document will include details like:

  • Name and contact information of the shipper/exporter
  • Name and contact information of the freight forwarder
  • Details about the items being shipped
  • Item weight and dimensions
  • Type of packaging
  • Special handling requirements
  • Exporting restrictions (if any)
  • Type of freight
  • Insurance information
  • Documents included in the shipment
  • Special instructions to carrier or freight forwarder

7. Inland bill of landing

The inland bill of landing is a contract of carriage that’s consigned to the shipping carrier rather than the buyer for the transportation of goods via road, railway, or inland water. It states where the goods are being transported and serves as evidence that the goods have been picked up. The inland bill of landing may include details such as:

  • Item description
  • Item value
  • Origin country
  • Destination
  • Transportation terms

8. Ocean bill of landing

As the name suggests, this document is required for shipments made across international waters. It serves as a contract between the exporter or seller and the shipping carrier, ensuring that the buyer receives the product, and the seller gets paid. The ocean bill of landing may include details such as:

  • Item description
  • Item quantity
  • Shipment commercial value
  • Destination
  • Routing instructions
  • Type of packaging

9. Air waybill

This is a contract of carriage for goods shipped by plane, indicating an agreement between the seller and the carrier. It’s non-negotiable and serves as a receipt of goods for the airline carrier once the goods arrive at the destination airport.

An air waybill typically includes the following information:

  • Name, address, and account number of the shipper
  • Name, address, and account number of the consignee
  • Air waybill number
  • Airport of departure
  • Airport of destination
  • Flight date
  • Declared value
  • Item details
  • Charges due to agent/carrier

10. Letter of credit

This is a popular means of payment for international transactions. It’s formal and binding, making it irrevocable by default. It’s a promise of payment to the seller by the bank on behalf of the importer or seller.

How ShipJoy Works

When you choose ShipJoys’s fulfillment service, the team handles the entire fulfillment process for you. You can send your inventory to ShipJoy, where it’ll be stored until an order comes in. The fulfillment team will pick and pack the orders and get them ready for shipment, which means ensuring that all the necessary shipping documents are included.