What Shipping Documents are Required at the Destination?

Accurate documentation is one of the most important elements in international logistics and customs clearance. Properly completed documentation will help your shipment reach its international destination on time and reduce the risk of it being delayed at customs.

To make sure your products get to their destination without any trouble, it’s essential to get your paperwork and shipping documentation right.

shipping documents

There will be two parts needing shipping documents in a whole international trade process. One is the export process at the loading port or airport, and the other is the import process at the destination port or airport. Since you are buying FOB, which means your supplier will handle the documents and make the export process correctly.

So what you have to do will be only focused on the shipping documents needed at your country border.

  • Bill of Lading for the carrier
  • Packing List, Commercial Invoice, and other optional documents for the Customs

Note: When cargo or freight arrives at the port of entry, it is the responsibility of the shipper or a designated agent to inform the importer of its arrival, usually the local agent of the carrier.

However, proper notification does not always happen. Therefore, it is important to find out the scheduled arrival date of your import and follow-up. Prepare paper works as early as possible.

Carrier needed

Bill of Lading

  • Ocean B/L for the ocean carrier, can be telex released for no bother sending the originals
  • Airway B/L for the air carrier, delivered together with your cargo

We have an article showing a guide to B/L, including the definition, a sample template with detailed explanation, and Q&A. Hope you can understand this document through it.

Customs needed

When your products arrive into your home country, a port via sea or an airport via air, the customs (i.e. Canada Border Services Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection) will not release the goods to you until the appropriate paperwork is filled out along with paying the necessary duties (if applicable – not all goods are dutiable).

The correct preparation and completion of the customs clearance procedures are critical, as heavy penalties may be applied if the correct procedures are not fulfilled. Don’t let false or late documentation problem cost your business time and money.

Packing List & Commercial Invoice

These two shipping documents are mandatory for all types of international transport.

A Packing List will specify the volume, different types of products and quantity per type of product. This document often serves as the means for the recipient to verify that the items identified on the bill of lading are in fact delivered to the recipient.

A Commercial Invoice will specify the order value, types of products and consignee. This document serves for customs to determine the true value of goods when assessing customs duties.

Almost all Chinese suppliers will email these to you when the information listed on them are available. Or you can simply ask. They can be PDFs, EXCELs, Words or any other forms, only if they can serve the purpose and are clear enough for a customs officer.

  • Clearly shows shipper and cnee’s full name and address
  • Description of the goods is clear
  • The quantity declared is the same as reported on the B/L
  • The currency is specified
  • The value declared is real and it’s the same amount paid by the consignee to purchase the goods
  • Clearly shows ship term

Some official customs form

The type of documents needed for importing or exporting transactions usually depend on the type of goods you have. In many cases, the documentation may also vary depending on the country of origin or destination. So the forms under this list are unique to all countries, and in some countries it’s more complex than others.

Be prepared in a particular way to comply with the requirements of the import or export country. For example, a Quarantine Packing Delcaration is a must for cargo into Australia.


Bill of Lading, Packing List and Commercial Invoice are the three kinds of paperwork used in every import process. Other paper works such as Certificate of Origin, Product Licenses, Product Certification, etc. are optional based on different kinds of products.

Besides the preparation of documents, the customs clearance for commercial cargo also involves and/or electronic submissions, the calculation (and usually the payment) of taxes, duties and goods and service tax.


Necessary documents vary by product but may include standard documents such as a bill of lading, invoice, shipping list, customs declaration, insurance policy, and sales contract, as well as more specialized documents such as an import quota certificate for general commodities (where applicable), import license (where applicable), inspection certificate (where applicable), and other safety or quality licenses.

Shipping documents are important to protecting all parties involved in the international trade process. If you’ve selected the right freight forwarder or logistics company, they should be right on the ball about the current shipping documentation requirements. Use their expertise to your advantage.

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