Sarah Ben

international shipping


Global shipping is the backbone of the modern global economy as it allows goods to flow across borders and links businesses and customers all over the world. However, to maintain the smooth flow of commodities while following legal and customs standards, this complex procedure, which might include international air cargo services, involves a plethora of regulations and documentation.

Four Most Common Documents for International Shipping

In an attempt to reduce the risks of document fraud, shipping companies and customs authorities typically perform random audits to check the accompanying documentation of shipments. (Ron Triepels, 2018) In this guide, you will explore the four most common documents for international shipping, shedding light on their importance and roles in international trade.

1.      Commercial Invoice

The commercial invoice is the foundation of any international shipment and serves as a critical document for customs clearance and payment purposes. The International freight forwarders USA essentially use it as a bill that details the transaction between the exporter and the importer. It provides essential information about the shipped goods, their value, and the terms of sale.

  • Key Information:

Following is the key information Included in a Commercial Invoice:

  • Exporter and importer details that include the name, address, and contact information of both parties.
  • Description of goods such as accurate and comprehensive details of the goods being shipped, including quantity, weight, dimensions, and packaging.
  • Unit value and total value which means the unit price of each item and the total value of the shipment.
  • The currency in which the transaction is conducted, as well as the agreed-upon payment terms, such as “FOB” (Free on Board) or “CIF” (Cost, Insurance, and Freight).
  • Incoterms are internationally recognized terms that define the responsibilities and risks between the buyer and seller during transportation. They play a crucial role in determining who is responsible for shipping costs, insurance, and other expenses.

Customs authorities in the importing country use the commercial invoice to assess applicable duties and taxes at every step of the way through, (bestassignmentwriters, 2023) verify the declared value, and ensure compliance with import regulations. Importers, on the other hand, utilize the document for accounting and financial purposes that include processing payments and managing inventory.

2.      Bill of Lading (B/L)

The Bill of Lading is perhaps the most important document in international shipping, serving as both a receipt of goods and a contract between the shipper and the carrier. It acts as evidence that the goods have been received for shipment, and it outlines the terms and conditions of the transportation agreement.

Key Information:

The Bill of Lading contains the following critical information:

  • Shipper and consignee details that include Names and contact information of the shipper (exporter) and the consignee (importer).
  • Details of the shipping company or carrier responsible for transporting the goods.
  • The initial port where the goods are loaded onto the vessel and the final destination port.
  • A concise description of the shipped goods, often referencing information provided in the commercial invoice.
  • The total number of packages and their combined weight.
  • Types Of Bill Of Landing:

There are two main types of Bill of Lading mentioned below.

  1. Negotiable Bill of Landing:

The negotiable Bill of Lading allows the goods to be transferred to a third party which makes it a valuable financial instrument in international trade.

  • Non-negotiable Bill of Landing:

The non-negotiable, or “straight,” Bill of Lading restricts the transfer of goods and is often used when the shipment has already been paid for in advance.

3.      Packing List

The packing list is an itemized document that provides a detailed inventory of the goods included in a shipment. While it may seem redundant when considering the commercial invoice, it serves a different purpose. The packing list is primarily intended to help customs officials and other stakeholders quickly and accurately identify the contents of each package without the need to examine the commercial invoice.

  • Key Information:

Key elements included in a packing list are:

  • Shipper and consignee details.
  • A list of all packages, including their numbers, dimensions, and weights.
  • Comprehensive details of the contents of each package, including any unique identification numbers or markings.
  • The total quantity of each item packed, which should correspond with the commercial invoice.

The packing list plays a vital role in facilitating customs inspections. It ensures that the declared contents match the actual goods in the shipment. Discrepancies between the packing list and the physical cargo can lead to delays, additional inspections, and potential fines or penalties.

4.      Certificate of Origin

The Certificate of Origin (COO) is a document that certifies the source of the products being exported. It is an important document for determining eligibility for assessing tariffs, preferential trade agreements, and complying with import rules, as the origin of particular products may affect import charges or other trade limitations.

  • Key Information:

The Certificate of Origin contains the following essential details:

  • Information about the exporter (shipper) and the manufacturer or producer of the goods, if different from the exporter.
  • Information about the importer (consignee) and their contact information.
  • A detailed description of the goods, including any specific identifying marks or serial numbers.
  • The country where the goods were produced or manufactured.
  • A statement confirming the accuracy of the information provided and signed by the exporter or manufacturer.

To obtain a Certificate of Origin, exporters must adhere to specific rules of origin, which vary based on the trade agreements between the exporting and importing countries. Failure to provide a valid Certificate of Origin can result in customs delays, additional fees, or even rejection of the shipment.


International shipping is a complex process that relies heavily on documentation to ensure the smooth and efficient movement of goods across borders. The four most common documents for international shipping—the commercial invoice, Bill of Lading, packing list, and Certificate of Origin—play integral roles in facilitating customs clearance, verifying the contents of shipments, and complying with trade regulations.

By understanding the significance of these documents and diligently preparing them, exporters and importers can navigate the complexities of global trade successfully. With the right paperwork in order, businesses can seize the opportunities that international markets offer that fosters economic growth, and fosters mutually beneficial relationships worldwide.

Works Cited

bestassignmentwriters. (2023, july 14). Crafting An Effective Assignment Synopsis: A Step-By-Step Guide. https://bestassignmentwriter.co.uk/blog/crafting-an-effective-assignment-synopsis/.

Ron Triepels, H. D. (2018, June 1). Data-driven fraud detection in international shipping. Expert Systems with Applications, 99, 193-202. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eswa.2018.01.007

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