What Paperwork is Required for International Shipping?
25 Sep
25, Sep 2023

When you need to ship internationally, there are a lot of steps along with heavy paperwork. So, you must fill out some papers in order to clear your items through customs. This paperwork may be frustrating and time-consuming for small businesses and start-ups, who already have a million things on their to-do lists.

However, this short guide will break down the customs documents for shipping. These are the ones you'll most likely need to help your item arrive on time. 

So, let’s begin.

What are Shipping Documents?

As the name implies, shipping documents are the documents that are required to ship an item from one location to another. They consist of relevant paperwork, forms, and certificates that provide information about the object being sent. Details such as the item description and specifications, quantity, price, ship date, delivery address, and shipment method may be included.

The specific documentation needed may differ depending on criteria such as shipping method, delivery destination, and type of products. 

Things Required for International Shipping Documentation

Different kinds of shipping require different shipping documents for global shipments. Mostly, carriers and shippers guide you on it. However, you must keep the following in mind. These are some of the basic documents you need for international shipping. Understand each of them so you know how to process them. 

  • Commercial and Proforma Invoices

Commercial and proforma invoices are examples of preliminary bills of sale. They are given to the shipper before the shipment or delivery of goods and act as a promise to transmit such things on a specific date and time.

A proforma invoice specifies the work covered in the commitment as well as the shipment weight and costs.

  • Bills of Lading

This legal document delivered by the carrier to the shipper represents the transportation's agreed-upon terms and conditions, such as destination and handling instructions. It also serves as proof of shipment, as it bears the shipper's signatures and a carrier's representative, followed by the recipient's signature upon arrival. To help avoid asset theft, the document should accompany the cargo.

  • Packing List

A packing list is required prior to shipping your purchases. This will not only help handlers manage your things appropriately, but customs officials may also require it. The contents of the cargo should be identified on the packing list, and the net and gross weight of the package should be mentioned. These metrics should ideally be available in both US imperial and metric units.

  • Shipper’s Letter of Instructions (SLI)

This paper offers detailed guidelines for transporting foreign shipments, including shipment, carrier, and destination information. The exporter gives the freight forwarder instructions on how and where to handle the export shipment, allowing the forwarder authorization to function as the approved forwarding agent for export control and customs. Typically, the SLI is prepared by the exporter and delivered to their freight forwarder.

  • Automated Export System (AES) Filing

The US government requires this document for all exports worth over $2,500. It contains details about the shipped products, such as the value, quantity, and destination. AES filing necessitates the submission of various pieces of information, including, but not limited to:

  • Shipper tax identification number

  • Record importer (with contact name and phone number)

  • Harmonized System (HS) code of each item

  • Certificate of Origin

A certificate of origin is required for most overseas shipments to declare where the items originated. They must be delivered per the importing country's norms and regulations and certified by the export country's consulate office or chamber of commerce.

  • Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a document that contains information about the proper handling, use, storage, and disposal of potentially hazardous materials.

If your shipment contains hazardous materials, you must create an MSDS. It also includes information on the material's risks and instructions for usage, storage, handling, and emergency procedures.

  • Operational Instructions

Operational Instructions specify how the shipped commodities should be handled, loaded, and unloaded. These instructions are tailored to the products being sent and may contain details on how to pack the goods, secure them for transit, and manage them during loading and unloading.

  • Shipping Under a Letter of Credit

A Letter of Credit (LC) is a contractual commitment by the foreign buyer's bank to pay after the exporter ships the products and produces the relevant documentation to the exporter's bank as confirmation. It is a legally binding instrument widely used in international trade to guarantee that sellers/exporters of products will receive payment for those commodities from the buyer.

The letter of credit (LC) is a financial instrument that guarantees payment from the buyer to the seller.

Bottom Line 

All in all, remember to govern commodities entering its borders; each country will have its own list of forbidden things. It may be for safety reasons, such as regulating the import and export of hazardous chemicals and pharmaceuticals, or it may be to safeguard the home industry from foreign competition. 

However, always check it with your shipping services provider. To find an authentic shipper that manages import and export paperwork, Shipit4us is the best marketplace. Our platform gives you full directories from worldwide databases. All you need is to reach out and narrow down the best one.