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International Forwarding Association Blog » Cargo Moving » Important Freight Documents to Submit When Shipping Internationally

Important Freight Documents to Submit When Shipping Internationally

There are certain freight documents that forwarders must be familiar with, including letter of credit, certificate of origin, commercial invoice, bill of lading, and packing list.

Even a seemingly small error while filling in paperwork can cause significant shipping delays, thus disrupting the supply chain. 

Bill of Lading

This is a type of freight document that works as a contract between the cargo owner and shipper. The exporter and importer details must be filled in, including information such as number of packages, list of goods, dates of arrival and departure, ports of destination and departure, and consignee and consignor names. Additional details to include are freight amount and rate, volume and weight of cargo, and number and marks on the packages.


Packing List

This is another document for freight forwarders to bring when shipping cargo by ocean freight. Basically, it includes detailed information about the merchandise being shipped such as value, volume, and weight.


Commercial Invoice

All transactions that involve exporting or importing must be accompanied by a commercial invoice which is a form of proof of sale. While it looks like standard invoices, shippers must also include information such as shipping line, financial institution, forwarder, and exporter and importer. The types of details to include in a commercial invoice are:

  • Number of units or items
  • Country or territory of origin
  • Description of the items being sold
  • Purpose and name of items
  • Export reason
  • Terms of sale
  • Consignee name
  • Shipper name

Reasons to use a commercial invoice include easy tracking of the whereabouts of cargo and reduced shipping delays.


Certificate of Origin

This is a trade document to acknowledge that the cargo shipped is processed, manufactured, and obtained in a particular country. It is an international freight forwarding document that must be submitted by a manufacturer or exporter and certified by a consulate or chamber of commerce.  The two main varieties are preferential and non-preferential, with the latter referring to cargo shipped from a country where preferential tax treatment does not apply. Details to include in the certificate of origin include numbers and marks, number of crates, boxes, or packages, net and gross weight, and description of goods.

As there are different international agreements and regimes, there are also different types of certificates of origin. Non-preferential ones are usually the same but preferential certificates vary from one country to another. All forms, however, include basic details such as consignee and shipper name and address, product quantity and description, and transport details. Two formats are available – electronic and paper-based.


Letter of Credit

This is a type of an agreement between a seller and а buyer whereby payment is made after the terms and conditions specified by the importer have been satisfied. Once merchandise has been shipped, the seller presents the required documents to the bank as proof that the cargo has been transported as agreed. This is one of the safest methods to ship and pay when making international purchases.