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What Shipping Documents are Required for import and export

What Shipping Documents are Required for import and export

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. Most of time, the shipping documents will be prepared by the shipper based on the agreement between shipper and consignee.

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.


Bill of Lading

  • Ocean B/L for the ocean carrier, can be telex released for no bother sending the originals
    • Telex release/ Surrenderred bill means the buyers have paid for all the goods and the shipper agree to release the goods once the goods reach the destination port/airport.
    • Original bill means the buyers need the original bill in order to get the goods out, and get it delivered after the goods reach the airport warehouse/ CY. The buyer need to push the shipper send the original bill asap by courier such as DHL/ UPS/FEDEX
  • Airway B/L for the air carrier, normally delivered together with your cargo

Customs needed

When your products at the border in your 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 – Most of the goods are free to export).

After that, when the goods reach Vietnam port, or Vietnam international airport for example: Tan Son Nhat airport, the goods will be kept in the warehouse, until the custom approved all your paperwork, you pay the import duty and tax, and after that they will release the goods.

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.

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.

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.

Most of time, these information has been agreed before the shipment ready. Please note that the invoice and packing list for export country and destination country are not necessary be the same document. 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. Below is the requirement for invoice and packing list:

  • 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
  • Clearly shows shipping 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, most of food related import into Vietnam will need some sample test before officially import into Vietnam, this also applied to wine/beer/vitamin. For more inforation, please refer to our potential import goods guidance.

Others

Bill of Lading, Packing List and Commercial Invoice are the three kinds of paperwork used in every import and export 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.


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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