Export documentation is a tedious but necessary process that all exporters must pay close attention to, as documentation requirements vary considerably by country, commodity, and situation. Although exporters must fill out and submit many different forms for each international shipment, most require similar data elements and can (and should!) be duplicated precisely from one document to the next.

    Shipping documents are the key to international trade, and have been used for thousands of years. Documents outline the sale, shipment, and responsibilities of each party so that the full transaction is understood and complete without delay or additional costs. Documents also ensure compliance with applicable regulations.

    Using an experienced Freight Forwarder will help you to avoid problems and secure your relationship with your customers. Consider providing your Forwarder with a suitable “letter of authorization” to act as your agent on overseas documentation matters. Although not a required or standardized document, preparing a thorough and well organized “Shipper’s Letter of Instructions” (SLI) is a good practice for your company to establish. You can give your Forwarder limited authorization and initial instructions with an SLI as soon as the shipment details emerge, which allows time to prepare documents, make arrangements, and ask questions.

    Below are some factors to consider when determining which documents are needed for a particular shipment.

    Country of origin and destination, as well as transshipment

    Mode of transportation — truck, rail, ocean, air

    Commodity — agriculture, livestock, Machinery, chemicals etc.

    Size — value, volume, weight, dimensions

    Parties to the transaction — shipper, consignee, agents, brokers, banks

    Based on these factors, many of the following documents may be required for an international shipment. These documents can be prepared by the exporter and then processed or forwarded by a Freight Forwarder.

    Invoices — Commercial

    Packing Lists

    Bills of Lading (B/L) — Ocean B/L, Air Way Bill, or LR (Lorry receipt)

    Shipper’s Export Declaration

    Certificates of Origin (COO)

    Declaration of Dangerous Goods (DGD) — Hazmat

    Certificates — Insurance, Inspection, Phytosanitary

    Miscellaneous: Letters of Credit, ATA Carnet, Duty Drawback etc.

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