Successful cargo delivery hinges on proper documentation - with these standard shipping papers, good shipments will avoid several obstructions. The consequences of improper documentation can be severe, from issues with port trusts and customs agents to cargo seizures. 

Essential Documents in Shipping

All importers/exporters must provide these documents with their goods to avoid these issues.

Certificate of Origin

These papers are essential as they show where the goods originate from. A certificate of origin is often signed and recognized by the country/region’s governmental bodies to verify its authenticity. Port trusts, government consultates, and chambers of commerce are the main bodies approving these documents.

A certificate of origin helps buyers verify the legality of their goods. Exporters may pay a small fee to get their certificates reviewed and stamped by the relevant authorities. In addition, they may also have to apply for membership to these commercial councils in some cases/ Opting for an ICCO-verified eCO (electronic Certificate of Origin ) is a smart way to pass this hurdle. It helps importers/exporters avoid the bureaucratic process and makes for faster deliveries. 

Commercial Invoice

Another integral part of shipments, a commercial invoice, details the intricacies of the seller-buyer transaction. Typically, these documents contain payment details, which are integral to the shipping process. The exporting country’s customs agents use this data to verify the worth of the cargo. These officers calculate the units, quantity, value, and other factors of the shipment. Using this information, the duties and tariffs levied on the shipment are calculated. 

Generally, a commercial invoice contains details like

  • Purchase Order Number
  • Payment Type
  • Date of Payment
  • Mode of Payment
  • Order Number
  • Customer Reference Number
  • Client Remarks
  • Final Amount

Bill of Lading

Depending on the shipping mode, a bill of lading may be ocean, land, or air-based. The first is the most popular, accounting for up to 90% of all international cargo. This document is important as it is essentially a contract for transport - the shipping service uses this information to refer to the goods onboard the vehicle. 

It is to the delivery company what the commercial invoice is to the importer. Simply put, a bill of lading is the receipt provided by the shipping company to the carrier for cargo transport. This document also states the delivery location of the goods, be it a warehouse or a  construction site. 

A bill of lading contains two essential elements - the shipper’s signature and the consignee’s acknowledgement. Depending on the type of delivery, the paper may directly address the buyer or their bank as the consignee. In the latter case, the billing is handled by the bank in lieu of their customer. 

Packing List

A commercial invoice showcases the value of the cargo. Compared to this, a packing list lists and identifies the content of the shipment. This document is particularly relevant for insurance uses. A packing list makes notes of existing disfiguration on the goods to avoid damage claims that may arise later. In case of disagreements, or damage during transport, the packing list can be used as the basis for insurance coverage. 

A packing list can also be used by the buyer’s bank to verify the purchase details. They may refer to this document when making payments on behalf of their client. Customs may also use these papers during a cargo inspection. Since a packing list maps each box's location and packing conditions, it makes finding certain artifacts easier. 

 In addition, it also contains delivery instructions from the importer to the carrier serving to ensure the safe transport of the cargo. Since it involves transport over longer distances, an international packing list contains more components than a regular domestic shipment. The packing list also serves as the basis for the bill of lading during payment. 

In addition, the following documents may also be mandatory depending on the cargo contents, the shipping type and the importing country's regulations.

  • Certificate of Free sale
  • Bank draft and other details
  • Shipper’s Letter of Introduction
  • Original Quote 
  • Dangerous Goods Forms

Customs Clearance Process for Cargo Shipment 

Customs clearance is an integral and mandatory part of every shipment. Upon arrival at a port or terminal, the importers must fill in several pieces of information to verify their ownership of the cargo. 

Importance of Import Permit 

To receive these goods without issues, the party must also have an importing license. This permit is available only via registration with the country’s customs/importing authorities. For example, for Canadian imports, the relevant body would be the Canada Border Services Agency. This agency also lists required documents on its website to ensure hassle-free delivery. Importers can use this information for reference. 

For shipping into Canada, a Canada Customs Invoice is the most important document. It is also valid if the seller has an equivalent form from their country. When the cargo arrives in the port/terminal, the importer or customs broker can use this document to verify their goods.

Companies may also require other details to clear their cargo from customs check, including

  • Permission from the port authority
  • Customs clearance from the source location
  • Approval from the cargo delivery service 

Imports General Manifest 

In addition, the carrier services also have to file an Imports General Manifest upon arriving at the location. A mandatory step, this form provides the importing country’s customs with the details of the arriving goods. According to international trade rules and general international trade rules, this IGM number is added to the import entry form. Generally, only one code is assigned to the craft - the port authorities use this to track the cargo with the relevant tariffs. 

Pipe Shipping: Receiving Cargo 

When receiving cargo, the importer or the customs must have the following documents to pass clearance. Only once these papers have been reviewed will the customs authorities generate a Bill of Entry number. 

  • Bill of Lading
  • Packing List
  • Cargo Arrival Details
  • Purchase Order Info
  • Letter of Credit
  • Importer Code Number
  • Commercial Invoice
  • Imports General Manifest
  • Other relevant details, depending on the country of import. 

In addition to proper documentation, punctuality is crucial when receiving cargo. Shipments have fixed docking times, meaning the craft can remain at the station for a limited time. If unloading time passes this period, the company may be liable for extra charges to the carrier service or the port authorities. 

Note: Customs may conduct an inspection of the cargo for certain goods. This process is usually conducted after document verification.