5 Shipping Documents You Must Have for Import or Export


A client & sourcing agent inspecting cargo ship containers arriving from China

If you’ve ever outsourced your manufacturing to an international facility, you’ll know that the documents needed for international shipping are complex. It takes experience to get the shipping documents required for export right, and there’s no leniency for those who are new to the shipping documentation game. If you make a mistake on the documents, it could be an expensive one.   

Knowing which documents you need and completing them correctly will put you on the right path to getting your shipping paperwork in order.

5 Most Important Shipping Documents for International Cargo

#1 Bill of Lading (BoL)

Bill of Lading (BoL) is a contract of carriage between the shipper, carrier and consignee. Each party has a crucial role to play in the delivery of a shipment:

  • The shipper is the party responsible for packaging and preparing the shipment before it is transported.
  • The carrier is the party that oversees shipping and transportation.
  • The consignee is the party that is receiving the shipment.

The Bill of Lading confirms that the freight arrived in good condition and will be delivered to the consignee. A Bill of Lading is a legal document - without one of these in place, the shipment cannot go ahead. The consignee needs the Bill of Lading to show ownership so that the shipment can be collected. A shipper can hold the Bill of Lading until they receive payment, which ensures that the consignee doesn’t take delivery of the goods without paying.

The information on the Bill of Lading must be accurate and include the following details:

  • List the shipper, carrier and consignee

  • Location of goods loading and destination

  • Incoterm (shipment term) being used

  • Mode of transport

  • Description of the shipment including weight and dimensions

There are multiple types of Bills of Lading depending on the type of freight – inland, ocean or air.

#2 Certificate of Origin 

Some importers require freight to have a certificate of origin, which details where the items were manufactured or grown.

Every country has its own procedures for this form of documentation, though most require evidence of the origin such as an invoice, Bill of Lading, or letter of credit before a certificate is issued. The certificate is required if the importing and exporting countries have a free trade agreement (or FTA) in place so they can avoid the duty charges.

A government authority or empowered body certifies that the products originated in that country. In Australia, every state and territory has a Chamber of Commerce or business group responsible for issuing certificates of origin.

#3 Packing List

The packing list is a shipping document that provides details about the shipment and how the cargo is packed. The weight and dimensions of each pallet assists the shipper during loading. When the shipment arrives at the port, customs may use the packing list to locate any items that they want to inspect. The faster an inspection takes place, the less it costs the consignee - so accurate documentation is important.

#4 Invoice

A commercial invoice for the contents of the shipment is necessary for all parties – shipper, carrier and consignee – as well as for government authorities such as customs. A dollar value on the invoice is needed to calculate the customs and taxes due on arrival. The invoice should also include the Incoterm so that all parties are clear on which party organises and pays for carriage and customs.  

A proforma invoice may be issued to a consignee before the shipper completes the goods. The proforma details the weight of the goods and transport charges as the consignee may need it for customs. A proforma may not demand payment.

#5 Packing Declaration

It’s not just the goods coming into a country that pose a biosecurity risk - the packaging around the goods can be even more hazardous. A packing declaration is used to tell the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (or AQIS) which materials were used to package the items in the shipment. Some countries use hay, chaff, bamboo and used cardboard from fruit and vegetable boxes. However, Australia doesn’t allow any of these packing materials into the country. Additionally, Australian quarantine staff will check that the timber used in crates and pallets has been treated.

At Vara Allied, we have a staff member who has years of experience at looking after our clients’ shipping documents. If you need help with manufacturing in China and shipping to Australia with the right documentation, contact Vara Allied on 6115 0118 or contact us online.