5 Shipping Documents You Must Have for Importing and Exporting

  • 3 min read


International shipping can provide businesses with many benefits, allowing them to increase profits and expand to new markets. It can be a lot of work, however and requires a considerable amount of documentation.


If you’re considering expanding your business internationally, read on to find out more about the 5 shipping documents you need to have in order to import and export your products.

1. Bill of Lading

A Bill of Lading (or BoL) is a contract of carriage between the shipper, the carrier company, and the consignee. It’s the document used to confirm the receipt of goods and the safe delivery of the freight to the consignee.

The Bill of Lading is one of the most important documents in shipping. It must be accurate and contain detailed information, including:

  • the shipper, carrier, and consignee
  • the locations of goods loading and destination
  • the Incoterms being used
  • the mode of transport being employed
  • a description of the shipment including its weight and dimensions.

There are different types of BoLs - inland, ocean, and air. The one you use for your shipment will depend on the mode of transportation used to move your freight.

2. Certificates of Origin

A Certificate of Origin (C/O) is a document declaring the country in which a shipment has been manufactured or grown. It is used when the importing and exporting countries have a free trade agreement in place to avoid duties and taxes.

Different countries have different procedures when it comes to acquiring a Certificate of Origin. Most will require evidence of the goods’ origin such as invoices, a Bill of Lading, or letter of credit prior to granting this certificate. Some countries have additional requirements, however, so it's a good idea to visit your destination country’s customs website prior to exporting your goods.

3. Packing List

A packing list is a document containing an itemised list of what’s in your shipment, including details such as weight, dimensions, safety requirements, and the packaging type. The packing list may be used by customs to identify any goods they need to inspect.

4. Invoices

There are two types of invoices that may be required in the importation or exportation of your goods.

The first is the commercial invoice. This is an invoice for the contents of the shipment and outlines the dollar value of the goods as well as the Incoterm used to determine who is responsible for the payment of carriage and customs.

The commercial invoice is used to calculate the taxes due on arrival.

The second invoice is the proforma invoice. This invoice is issued to the consignee prior to the shipment of the goods in case they need it for customs. A proforma invoice will include the weight of the goods and all associated transport charges.

5. Packing Declaration

A packing declaration informs customs of the materials used to package the goods. As some countries use hay, chaff, bamboo, and other agricultural by-products to package their products, many of which are not allowed in some countries, a packing declaration will prevent undeclared restricted materials from entering the country of origin.

Always check the customs website of your country of origin prior to shipping to determine whether you need to provide a packing declaration, and what details you need to include.

Collating the right documentation for your shipments and ensuring they are correct and accurate can be a great source of stress for many business owners. Because of this, we recommend you get in touch with ISS to handle all your international shipping requirements for you.

Our dedicated Customs Brokers are highly experienced in ensuring that you have all necessary paperwork for your international shipments and helping you to avoid paying unnecessary taxes and expenses throughout the process.

Call ISS today for more information!