E-commerce Shipping Documents You Need When Transporting Your Cargo

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Shipping and delivering cargo to their destination are the only face of logistics. In fact, many business owners find only the shipping process exciting and essential. But what they don’t realize is that the list of crucial documents backs the entire process. Each step in logistics comes with a set of docs that is required by the consignors, consignees, or shippers. Therefore, the documentation segment becomes necessary and requires your complete attention.

Have you felt the struggle to find the list of documents required for shipping? We have made a compact list of important documents required in logistics once and for all. Though you feel overwhelmed just by looking at the list, it is way easier and more comprehensive than it sounds. Furthermore, it is expected that entrepreneurs in the retail industry should have a thorough knowledge of shipping and logistics documents. This article will take you through the list of documents required in logistics.

The Most Important Shipping Documents

Here is the list of essential documents required in logistics and freight forwarding.

Packing List

A packing list comprises a detailed list of items to be imported or exported. Export packing lists are more detailed than import documents. It is used:-

  • The freight forwarder uses a packing list while creating the bills of lading for shipments.
  • It is also a prerequisite for banks as they require a detailed packing list to get paid under a letter of credit.
  • Custom officials and destination countries also need the packing list to identify the end destination of certain items. Moreover, a packing list makes knowing which box will be delivered easier without unwrapping them.  

Apart from the items, the packing list also includes the weight, handling, and other vital instructions. It also plays a crucial role if the cargo is damaged or lost. Freight forwarders or business owners can claim insurance if they have a packing list in handy. 

Export/Import Customs Declaration

The export or import customs declaration contains details of goods to be imported or exported. This list is even more important for international shipping. Custom declaration presents the wish of retailers to be taken off while placing goods. This document is particularly required to receive customs clearance and to calculate the respective taxes that are applicable. A customs broker assembles the customs declaration using invoices and a packing list. 

Bill of Lading & Sea Waybill

A BOL, short for a bill of lading, is the legal contract established between the owner and the freight carrier. It can also be seen as a confirmed receipt of goods of shipment and is issued by an authorized representative. It is given to the owner and freight carrier upon receiving the receipt of the shipment. A BOL includes detailed information such as shipping destination, items, and handling instructions. 

It is the most important document required in international shipping and is included everywhere while transporting cargo. 

A sea waybill is not necessary for cargo delivery and is handed only as a cargo receipt. It is also a transport contract and is completely non-negotiable. Unlike BOL, it cannot be assigned to any third party for negotiation. 

Types of Bill of Lading

Depending on the type of transportation, it is further categorized as:-

Ocean bill of lading

If the goods are transported via ocean vessel, then shippers need an ocean BOL that serves as a contract of carriage and a document of title for the goods transported. It is further divided into two types–

Straight bill of lading

A straight bill of lading is assigned to a particular consignee and is non-negotiable. The consignee takes ownership of the cargo by showing the signed bill and original BOL. 

Negotiable bill of lading

On the other hand, a negotiable bill of lading is signed by the shipper and assigned “to order” or “to order of shipper.” After signing, the bill is sent to the bank in the buyer’s country. The bank sticks to the original BOL until the requirements of the documentary collection have been met. 

Inland bill of lading

Inland BOL is the first transport document necessary for international shipping. It is created by the inland carrier, or sometimes shippers can also prepare it themselves. This contract is served between the exporter and shipper that highlights where the goods are being transported. It can also be served as the receipt of goods that are picked up. 

In international, the inland BOL is not assigned to the buyer but to the carrier moving the goods, forwarder, warehouse, or to some third party, who will assign your goods to the carrier whenever ready. 

Certificates (Production, Vessel, Phytosanitary)

Depending upon the type of cargo, there are certain certifications required. These are:-

  • Production certificate: It contains the details of the types of materials required to produce the items (sustainable resources or approved methods). This certificate is required to match the regulations that may be applied related to the production.
  • Vessel certificate: This certificate serves the main purpose of verifying vessel ownership. Besides that, it also contains information such as the age and maintenance of the vessel. This certificate is usually issued for the letter of credit.
  • Phytosanitary certificate: This certificate validates using regulated pest-free plants or plant products. This document confirms that the cargo fulfills the other phytosanitary requirements per the importing rules issued by the country. 

Commercial Invoice

This document consists of the entire details of sales transactions between the vendor and the buyer, including shipping terms and conditions. It is also considered legal proof of sales. A commercial invoice is different from a purchase order as the latter states the placement of the order. Whereas the former is a receipt of the purchase made. Since it has complete transaction details, it becomes crucial in obtaining customs clearance in freight forwarding. 

Arrival Notice

Arrival notice is another important document necessary while shipping as it indicates the arrival of cargo at the destination. It includes information such as commodity description, sailing details, destination country, customs charges, and contact details of the ocean freight carrier. This document is issued by the ocean freight forwarder’s destination agent to the respective parties and consignee as per the bill of lading. 

Certificate of Origin

 It is required to identify in what country the products originated. This certificate is signed by a semi-official organization, for instance, the chamber of commerce or the country’s consulate office. This certificate is sometimes needed regardless of the mention of country of origin information in your commercial invoice. 

The chamber of commerce generally charges a stamp fee and then signs your certificate or sometimes requires you to become a chamber member. An electronic certificate of origin or eCO saves much of your time in the long process of courier service. An eCO is faster than the normal time-consuming certificate of origin. It allows you to deliver the certificate electronically to the importer and can be registered under an international chamber, providing credibility to your cargo shipment. 

Air waybill

An air waybill is a non-negotiable document issued by an air carrier to acknowledge if the cargo is transported via air. This bill also falls under the bill of lading. However, there is less procession with the air waybill compared to the BOL. It shows the shipment’s destination and contact information to the consignor, consignee, or receiver.  

Letter of Credit

A bank issues a letter of credit that guarantees payment for the goods sold to the buyer. If the buyer is unable to make the entire payment, the bank fulfills the remaining amount to close the transaction. It is also important internationally as the process is complex because of multiple rules and regulations of countries. Letter of credit issues a monetary guarantee and ensures safe transactions between buyer and seller. 

Dangerous Goods Forms

Dangerous goods forms mean the cargo contains any hazardous material that could be tricky to handle. If the cargo is considered dangerous by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), then you need to include this form. This form allows for the appropriate dangerous goods and conditions to handle them. 

The IATA form– is the shipper’s declaration of dangerous goods, which is necessary for air shipments. There is also a different version of the form for ocean shipment. Anyone who handles dangerous cargo is adequately trained. 

Dock/Warehouse Receipt

Dock or warehouse receipt proves that the shipment of cargo has been successfully received by the international carrier at the dock. The receipt includes essential information about the shipment, such as characteristics, size, dimensions, and weight. 

Ace International Shipping with These Documents

International shipping includes documents required to transport the cargo from one country to another. It involves several documentation processes that take up a good amount of time. Therefore, it is always better to have prior knowledge of all the docs that would be needed, which could potentially save lots of time. But how would you do that?

Shippers need to be thorough with the research about the documents related to shipping. Search and read more about every possible document that comes your way. Although it could be complicated, it is always advised to be prepared in handy. Take your time and find out the answers to any lingering questions. 

Once you’re ready with the research, start with the first document required to initiate the entire process and then slowly complete all the remaining procedures. Preparing all the documents helps you with the international shipping process and makes it streamlined.


What are some of the main documents needed for international shipping?

The main documents required for international shipping are– commercial invoices, packing lists, export/import declarations, bills of lading, certificates, air, ocean, or rail waybill, arrival notice, and certificates of origin.

What are the documents involved in cargo documentation?

The documents involved in cargo documentation are– export and import license, proforma invoice, BOL or seaway bill, insurance certificate, bill of entry, commercial invoice, packing list, phytosanitary certificate, and letter of credit.

What are the types of international shipping?

There are four different types of international shipping. These are– ocean, air, rail, and road freight service.

What are shipping documents called?

Shipping documents are also called packing lists. It also goes by the names such as– shipping list, packing slip, unpacking note, docket, and many more.

What is the checklist for shipping?

 The packing list is called the checklist of the ship, which includes information about the cargo’s weight and size. The packing list sometimes also incorporates a Bill of lading.

What are the main steps of shipping internationally?

 There are seven main steps included in international shipping. These are– export haulage, import customs, ocean freight, export customs, origin handling, destination handling, and import haulage.

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