Click. Click. Ship.
International Trade

10 Documents Required for International Shipping

All international commerce transactions rely on two essential types of papers—import and export documents. These documents orchestrate a long chain of actions. From offering the parties that are responsible for import and export with accounting data, the companies that are handling shipping and transportation with what needs to be done with a particular parcel, and the banks with the right tools to ensure that the payment is collected.

The documents that ensure a smooth process of import and export are of different types and classifications. Some documents are official, some commercial, while others are related to insurance and finance.

Purchase Order

This document acts as official confirmation that an ordered has been processed. It contains vital information about the nature of the transaction, the parties that partake in it, the nature of the goods, and the date that this agreement has been signed.

This document covers an entire set of essential functions. First, the help clearly defines what the vendor should deliver and how much he should be paid for the said product. Secondly, they assist businesses in managing orders in a more efficient manner, and they’re also significant for efficient budgeting.

Commercial Invoice

This form incorporates all the essential specifications about the nature of the product that is being transported, from the identification of the item to its market value, to the way it’s supposed to be paid for. This document is essential to a set of functions like providing the authorities with a harmonized tariff code and put a specific value on the good that is shipped.

Similarly, it is an essential asset for the party responsible for importing the good, considering that it will be the document that will specify all the peculiarities of the transaction to the tax authorities.

Air Waybill

An Air Waybill is a document that travels along with the products that are being transported from point A to B. The Air Waybill has all the essential shipping information like the names addresses of both the shipper and purchaser, the specific airport code, the established price for the goods that are being transported, along with specifications regarding the number of items that are being transported, and their weight.

It is often the case that this document contains special instructions to the package, such as being flammable or fragile.  

Packaging List

It’s very similar to a Commercial Invoice, but it doesn’t contain any information on the market value of the goods that are being transported. The packaging list must also provide a large number of specifications about the goods, along with an invoice number,  the weight of the package, and whether there are any shipping marks and/or numbers. 

Bill of Lading

This is another crucial piece of documentation since it provides the shipment staff with essential information throughout the cargo’s shipment process. It contains detailed information on where the package is headed, how many items the package comprises, and details on how the package needs to be handled.

It also will provide the shipping crew whether the package contains hazardous elements, and will provide them with a comprehensive list of security measures when interacting with the cargo.

Letter of Credit

This letter is typically released by a bank, which ensures that the purchaser’s payment will be processed in a timely manner for the rate, which the parties have previously agreed on. In case that the buyer won’t be able to process the payment on time, it will be the bank’s responsibility to cover the remaining amount of money necessary to “close” the transaction.

Considering the complexity of international commerce and all the peculiarities that come with it, such as differences in legislation, the inability of meeting every party in person, and the distance between the parties, this document has become one of the essential elements of a smooth collaboration.

Multimodal Bill of Lading

This is an essential document that accompanies a package is sent from point A to point B, and the transportation is executed via multiple types of transport like aerial, rail, naval, and land. This document is can also be called intermodal bill of lading, or multimodal transport bill of lading.

Certificate of Origin

This is a document that must sometimes need certification from a chamber of commerce or a consulate. It serves an essential identification function so that authorities of shipping companies can establish the provenance of the cargo.

The party that is responsible for the export of the goods must prepare the Certificate of Origin in conformity to the laws and standards of the border control of the country that the goods are imported to.

This document must be notarized by the chamber of commerce, and only then the document can accompany the cargo. Other regulations are defined by the specific rules of the country that the goods are imported to.

Proforma Invoice

This s a document, which confirms the vendor’s responsibility to provide the purchaser with services or products at the rate that has been established by the parties. This isn’t an invoice as such, but it can be considered a precursor to an invoice.
These documents are used when a party needs to specify the exact rates and the exact services and/or products that the other party will receive. These invoices are generally used as a way to declare the goods at customs.

Dangerous Goods Forms

When you’re looking forward to shipping dangerous goods overseas, you’ll need to have a Dangerous Goods Form that will accompany the cargo. These forms are there to specify the nature of the hazardous materials that are being transported, determine the origin of the load and the final point of its arrival.

Always make sure that your Dangerous Goods Forms are up to date since the regulations behind the transportation of hazmat goods are regularly updated every two years or so.

Act with care

Although many of the documents mentioned above have a very specific structure and can often be generated on specialized websites, it is always essential to have some dedicated budget for high-quality legal writers and niche translators. Always look for professionals with a proven record of successful projects. Opt for researching professionals on websites that collect reviews on writers and agencies like PickWriters.


It is essential to note that although these documents may seem impenetrable at first, by studying their main intention, you’ll be able to orient yourself towards a clear understanding of shipping documentation.

Subscribe to our blog