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 manufactured overseas, 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 game. If you make a mistake on the documents, it could be an expensive one.   

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

5 Most Important Shipping Documents

#1 Bill of Lading (BoL)

Bill of Lading (BoL) is a contract of carriage between the carrier, shipper and consignee. The document is issued by the carrier (the organisation transporting and delivering the goods) to a shipper (the organisation that owns or is producing the goods). BoL confirms the products arrived in good condition and will be delivered to the consignee (purchaser of the goods).

A BoL is a legal document and goods can’t travel without a BoL in place. The consignee needs the BoL to show ownership so they can collect the goods. A shipper can hold the BoL until they receive payment to ensure the consignee doesn’t take delivery of the goods without paying.

The information on the BoL must be accurate and include the following details:

  • List the shipper, consignee and carrier

  • Location of goods loading and destination

  • Incoterm (shipment term) being used

  • Mode of transport

  • Description of the goods including their weight and dimensions

There are multiple types of BoL depending on how your goods are being transported – inland, ocean and air.  

#2 Certificate of Origin 

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

Every country has its own certificate of origin procedures, but 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 import and export countries have a free trade agreement (FTA) in place so they can avoid the duty charges.

A government authority or empowered body certifies that the goods 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 document provides details about the goods and how they’re packed. The weight and dimensions of each pallet assists the shipper during loading. When the goods arrive at port, customs may use the packing list to locate the goods they want to inspect. The faster an inspection can take place, the less it costs the consignee, so accurate documentation is important.   

#4 Invoice

A commercial invoice for the goods is necessary for all parties – shipper, carrier and consignee – and 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 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. Some countries use hay, chaff, bamboo and used cardboard from fruit and vegetable boxes. Australia doesn’t allow any of these packing materials into the country. Australian quarantine staff will also check that timber 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