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The complete shipping process: step-by-step

International shipping is anything but simple. There are many milestones that must be reached during the process of getting cargo from point A to point B. Here is an overview of the entire shipping process, detailing the documents necessary for each milestone and what steps both the shipper and freight forwarder must follow in order to successfully ship products. 

You can either jump straight to the section you want to know more about by clicking the link, or start at the beginning to have a good overview of the whole shipping process: from getting the necessary information about your company and product, completing the paperwork, to receiving your shipment.


We also have an interactive infographic to visualize this process, check it out here

Before you ship

The shipping process

For companies that are exporting and companies that are registered outside of the United States

Before you ship

  • Company information

The first step a shipper in the US must take is to set up a company and have the Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.

It is important to understand the status of the company (registered corporation, limited liability company, or sole proprietorship), designated person with signature authority, the company’s board members and officers if applicable. It is also important to make a note of any other names (Doing-Business As, or DBA) the company is registered under.

  • Product

Before shipping products, a shipper must choose which products they require and place the order with a manufacturer. It is important to have well-defined contracts and incoterms with the manufacturer.

When placing an order, make a note of the shipment’s details such as size, weight, number of pallets, etc., as well whether or not the goods require a certificate of origin. This information will be necessary later. The manufacturer will provide a ship date stating when the products will be ready for pick up by a forwarder, and the shipper should ask the manufacturer to create a Packing List and a Commercial Invoice for the order.


The shipping process

  • Step 1: Request quotes

Clarify details of shipment, including the ship date, detailed origin and destination addresses, and the dimensions of your freight. Once this is done, you should start getting quotes from forwarders. You can either do this by calling, emailing forwarders; waiting for few days for quotes to get back to compare.

Or more conveniently, you can get quotes for your ocean or air shipment on Fleet. By providing the key information that you've already prepared; with one click you will receive multiple quotes from different carriers.

Any special requirements should be enumerated – this can include shipping of hazardous goods, shipping to an Amazon warehouse, requiring a liftgate for residential delivery, and listing whether or not a customs broker will be needed. 

  • Step 2: Choose the quote that you prefer

With all the quotes that you've gathered, you can pick the one that best fit your target rate or preferred transit time.  

  • Step 3: Prepare necessary documents for the shipping process

We have included links to the explanation of each document in this section for your easy reference.

Step 3.1: If your company is registered in the US and you are importing, complete the following documents:

Power of Attorney (POA): The POA template will be provided by your forwarder and it requires notary services only if the company is a sole proprietorship.

A copy of the social security card may be required.

Bond application if applying for a continuous bond

If the company is a US-based proprietorship then a copy of a Photo ID (for example: driver license) which provides an accurate birth date will need to be provided.

If your company is not registered in the US, and you are importing goods to or exporting goods from the US - refer to the end of this article for the list of documents you will need to complete.

Step 3.2: Upload the required documents about your shipment to Fleet:

  Packing List

  Commercial Invoice

  Other documents as requested by your forwarder (for e.g. certificate of origin)

It is highly recommended to pass these documents to your freight forwarder 48-72 hours before the cargo is loaded in the origin port.

Once your documents are completed correctly you can get verified or pre-verified if applicable by the customs broker.

  • Step 4: Confirm the shipment details on Fleet
  • Step 5: Book your freight on Fleet

Please note: Step 4 and Step 5 are applicable if you book your shipment on the Fleet platform. With the exception of customs, all other charges will be presented for you to review before you book your shipment. This ensures that you will not receive any surprise charge. If everything looks good, you can book the shipment.  


We strongly encouraged you to try Fleet if you have a shipment coming up. Start with getting instant quotes from top ocean and air freight carriers. Getting quotes is free and instant on Fleet. And not only one quote, with just one click - you will receive multiple quotes to choose from. The Fleet platform is the easiest, safest and fastest way to find the best option to ship your goods.



  • Step 6: Track and manage your shipment online, 24/7

Once you receive a booking confirmation email from Fleet, you can start tracking your shipment online and real-time. Other shipment management features are also available on the platform: invoice, document and contact organization. 


  • Step 7: Shipment passes through customs inspection at port of entry
  • Step 8: Receive and pay the bill for customs duties and taxes

The bill will include duties and taxes directly from the forwarder. Bill must be paid directly to forwarder. Most forwarders accept payment via check or bank transfer.

If you requested your forwarder for inspection service, this charge will also be billed directly to you.

  • Step 9: Receive the shipment

Fleet's instant rate search and booking feature also works for LTL freight (Less-Than-Truckload). Regardless whether you use Fleet's ocean or air freight services, you can always instantly search and compare LTL rates for millions of freight routes across the US.  Booking LTL freight or any other trucking services for your final delivery can be done easily on Fleet.




For companies that are exporting and companies that are registered outside of the United States

  • If your company is registered in the United States and you are exporting, you will need to complete:

Export POA and Shipper's Letter of Instruction (SLI): Export POA is a one time document, SLI is needed for each shipment and needs to be completed by the US Principal Party of Interest (USPPI)

  • If your company is registered outside of the United States and you are importing goods into the US you will need to complete:

Foreign Power of Attorney FPOA (Requires notary services if company is a Sole Proprietorship)

CBP 5106 Form: The customs broker, either appointed by you or your forwarder, may submit the form on your behalf once a duly completed FPOA is received. The information that you provided the broker and the information in the existing POA record in US customs systems should be consistent.

Do note that CBP 5160 form is only needed if the company is foreign, does not have a us-based EIN (tax id number) and has not imported into the US before.


For a more interactive demonstration, check out Fleet's infographic about the international shipping process. You should also take a look at these other posts which have been our readers' favorites:


Bill of Lading: Everything You Need to Know

5 Things Freight Forwarders Usually Do Not Include in Their Quotes

9 Tips to Negotiate with Your Suppliers Overseas

Incoterms: Which One Should I Use?

Insurance: Do I Need It? When and Why?

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