Shipping documentation

shutterstock_12208453A list of primary shipping documents with links to examples.
Numerous documents are required for shipping. The primary documents are listed below with links to samples. Exporters should seriously consider having a freight forwarder handle the formidable amount of documentation that exporting requires, as forwarders are specialists in this process.

Documentation must be precise because slight discrepancies or omissions may prevent merchandise from being exported, result in nonpayment, or even result in the seizure of the shipment by customs. Collection documents are subject to precise time limits and may not be honored by a bank if time has expired.

Most documentation is routine for freight forwarders and customs brokers, but the exporter is ultimately responsible for the accuracy of its contents.

The following documents are commonly used in the shipping process:

  1. Airway bill
  2. Bill of lading
  3. Commercial invoice
  4. Inspection certificate
  5. Insurance certificate
  6. Packing list

1.) Air waybills

Outline of air waybills and their use.
An air waybill is used for air transport and is documentary evidence of the conclusion of a contract for carriage. It serves as:

  • Proof of receipt of the goods for shipment
  • An invoice for the freight
  • A certificate of insurance
  • A guide to airline staff for the handling, dispatch and delivery of the consignment.

Usually, the document consists of three originals and nine copies. The first original is intended for the carrier and is signed by a export agent; the second original, the consignee’s copy, is signed by an export agent and accompanies the goods; the third original is signed by the carrier and is handed to the export agent as a receipt for the goods after they have been accepted for carriage.

2.) Bill of lading (B/L)

Article explaning the certificate of owenership know as a bill of lading.
A bill of lading (B/L) is used for sea shipment and is a certificate of ownership of goods. It must be produced at the port of final destination by the importer in order to claim goods.

As a document of title, the bill of lading is also a negotiable document and you may sell the goods by endorsing or handing it over to another authorized party, even while the goods are still at sea.

Although negotiable bills of lading are in common use, some countries do not allow them or make it difficult fro them to be used. You have to be sure that a negotiable B/L is accepted in your country. Otherwise, a non-negotiable B/L is issued.

The B/L is a formal, signed receipt for a specified number of packs, which is given to the export agent by the shipping line when the shipping line receives the consignment. If the cargo is apparently in good order and properly packed when received by the shipping line, the bill of lading, is deemed as “clean”. The ship owner thus accepts full liability for the cargo described in the bill.

3.) Commercial invoices

A commercial invoice is a bill for the goods from the seller to the buyer. These invoices are often used by governments to determine the true value of goods when assessing customs duties. Governments that use the commercial invoices to control imports will often specify its form, content, number of copies, and language to be used, as well as other important details.

5.) Insurance certificates

Brief introduction into the world of insurance.
An insurance certificate is a representation of the insurance policy taken out by the buyer or the seller (depending on the Incoterms) for a shipment.

  • Blank insurance certificates are supplied by the insurer pre-signed and bearing the open policy number of the exporter. For an air shipment, an air waybill serves as an insurance certificate.
  • For a sea shipment, an insurance certificate is issued as evidence of the existence of the marine insurance policy.
  • The marine insurance policy is a contract between the insured and the insurer which defines the terms of the agreement between the insured and the insurer.

6.) The packing list

The packing list indicates the number of items in the contents of each pack, along with individual weights and dimensions. This list enables you to check that the correct number of units has been received. Customs authorities can also easily identify a specific pack if they wish to inspect.