shipping documents

All Documents Required For International Shipping - Explained !!!

profile image

Obikoya Jeremiah

Last updated: 21st June, 2024

If your business is looking to ship internationally, it is crucial to know the necessary paperwork and documents for this process.

Shipping documents are as important as your accounting paperwork to your business, so you need to ensure that they are well-organised for a smooth shipping experience.

We have seen businesses experience significant shipping delays and other issues due to missing a shipping document or incomplete information in documents. 

This is why we developed this guide to help you understand the shipping documents you need depending on what you are shipping and what specific details each document should contain.

Do you need the help of an experienced expert to prepare your shipping documents? Contact us today, and let us guide you through a smooth shipping experience.

What Are Shipping Documents?

Shipping documents refer to all paperwork needed to transport goods or cargo from one location to another. These documents vary depending on the type and size of goods, delivery destination and shipping method.

In most cases, the shipping document just contains detailed information about the goods shipped, the sender and the consignee. 

This information is necessary for legal compliance between countries, customs clearance, risk management, and other important shipping processes.

Which Shipping Document do you need to care about?

When a business or individual reaches out to us for assistance with shipping goods, the documents we request from them depend on their shipping needs.
Shipping documents that you need to care about
Below are some specific scenarios and the shipping document needed for each:

Note: These documents are explained in detail later in this article.

1. Basic Sea Shipping:

In cases where you are shipping general goods over the sea to other countries, here are the documents you need to provide:
  • Packing list.
  • Shipper’s letter of instruction.
  • Certificate of origin.
  • Commercial invoice.

2. Basic Air Shipping:

In cases where you are shipping general goods by air, all you have to provide are the following:
  • Packing List.
  • Shipper’s letter of instruction.

3. Dangerous Cargo Shipment:

When you are shipping goods considered dangerous by IATA or IMO, here are the documents you would need:
  • Packing list.
  • Shipper’s letter of instruction.
  • Dangerous Goods Declaration Forms.
Note: You might need more than these documents depending on the shipping method you choose and other regulations.

Examples of dangerous goods include:

  • Gases.
  • Explosives.
  • Flammable liquids and solids.
  • Toxic and infectious substances.
  • Radioactive material, and so on.

4. Shipments Requiring Export Clearance:

In cases where you want us to handle the export clearance for you or your supplier, then you need to provide the following:
  • Packing list.
  • Shipper’s letter of instruction.
  • Commercial invoice.
  • Export clearance forms.
  • Insurance (if any).
After providing the document listed in each scenario, we help you with any other document needed in the shipping process and ensure timely shipping.

5 Shipping Documents And Their Required Information

1. Packing List:

A packing list for international shipping is a document that contains detailed information about the goods transported. It helps all the parties involved in the shipping process know what they are dealing with and how to handle it for a streamlined shipping, clearance and receiving process at the destination.

The required information in a Packing List:

  • Shipper and consignee details (name, address, and contact information),
  • An itemised list of shipped items,
  • Quantity of each item,
  • Unit weight and dimensions of each item,
  • Total weight and volume of the shipment,
  • Type of packaging used,
  • Packages identification numbers,
  • Special handling instructions (if any).
This is one of the most important shipping documents you need to care about when using our shipping, and freight forwarding service. We work with you in creating this document and ensure it is precise.

2. Shipper’s Letter Of Instruction:

How do you want your goods to be shipped? What special service do you need? What instructions do you need us to know about your goods?

Detail all this in the Shipper’s Letter of Instruction, providing us with all we need to know regarding the handling, transportation, and delivery of your goods.

The Required Information In The Shipper’s Letter Of Instruction:

  • Shipper and Consignee Details (Name, address, and contact information),
  • Freight Forwarder Details (Name, address, and contact information),
  • Description of the goods, including weight, dimensions, and quantity,
  • Type of packaging,
  • Mode of transport (air, or sea),
  • Instructions for special services (e.g., refrigerated transport, hazardous materials handling),
  • Insurance information (if any).
To provide the best service to our customers, we review the letter of instruction with you and ensure that all instructions are followed to your complete satisfaction.

3. Commercial Invoice:

To verify the purchase of the goods transported from one country to the other, the commercial invoice is included as one of the shipping documents. It helps the customs verify the value, quantity, and nature of the goods, facilitating the calculation of duties and taxes.

But this document is slightly different from your regular invoice as it contains more information that aids the shipping process.

The Required Information In The Commercial Invoice:

  • Exporter and importer details (name, address, and contact information),
  • Invoice number and date,
  • Detailed description of each item, including quantity, unit of measure, and type,
  • Harmonized System (HS) codes for tariff classification,
  • Unit price of each item,
  • Total value of the shipment,
  • Mode of transport (e.g., air, sea, road),
  • Country of origin,
  • Shipment terms.

4. Bill of Lading (B/L):

The bill of lading is another shipping document which is usually issued by the transportation company to you.  It serves as a contract between you and the carrier, and a receipt for the goods shipped.

If you use our shipping service, we receive this document for you and make use of it in clearing your goods from the port and then delivering it to you.

The Required Information In The Bill of Lading:

  • Shipper and consignee (buyer and seller) Details  (Name, address, and contact information).
  • Carrier details (Name, and contact information).
  • Detailed description of the goods, including quantity, weight, and dimensions
  • Shipment packaging details
  • Pickup or delivery specifications
  • Date of Shipment
Read more information about the bill of lading here.

5. Dangerous Goods Declaration Forms:

When shipping goods that are considered dangerous, an important document you need is the dangerous goods declaration form. This is to let the carrier know that the content of the shipment could be dangerous and cursive should be taken following the handling instructions.

This form was created by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and some regulations must be adhered to while shipping goods like this.

The Required Information In The Dangerous Goods Declaration Forms:

  • Shipper and consignee (buyer and seller) Details  (Name, address, and contact information).
  • Proper shipping name of the hazardous material
  • Exact quantity of the dangerous goods
  • Type of packaging used
  • Shipment Type (Non-Radioactive/Radioactive)
  • Handling instructions/information

Ship Your Goods With Professional At SARA.

Having the right shipping document is very important, but this is only one part of the shipping and procurement process. You still have to deal with logistics, packaging, labelling, clearance, and so on.

You can outsource all this to our team of experts at SARA, and we will help you with all the shipping paperwork and shipping processes.

profile image

Obikoya Jeremiah

Jeremiah Obikoya is a dedicated content writer at SARA, where he engages in daily research and development to craft innovative solutions for the procurement challenges you encounter.


Please log in to leave a comment.

Your One-Stop Solution to All Your Procurement Needs

Empower your business globally with expert procurement services and get to maximize efficiency from sourcing to delivery.