Documents Required for International Shipping: Complete List

International shipping is a great way to expand your business and spread your products globally. It brings exciting growth possibilities while opening your business to new markets over the world.

However, you need to understand a few rules, regulations, and documents required for international shipping before undertaking that venture.

The most important is proper shipping documentation fulfilling set forth by both the origin and the destination country. You need to be prepared with the details about your shipment, business, and products and the reason for shipping. In some instances, you might need proper licensing for your products.

Documents Required for International Shipping

Proper documentation decides the fate of your international shipment. So, ensure that you have all the following documents before you ship your products:

  • Proforma Invoice.
  • Commercial Invoice.
  • Purchase Order.
  • Packing List.
  • Bills of Landing.
  • Certificate of Origin.
  • Insurance Certificate.
  • Letter of Credit.
  • Shipper’s Letter of Instructions.
  • Dock/ Warehouse Receipt.
  • Export License.
  • Dangerous Goods Forms.

10 Most common Documents Required for International Shipping

Proper documentation is the key to experiencing smooth international shipping. All the shipping documents must be in compliance with the import and export regulations, legal requirements, organizational requirements of the logistic companies, and shipping couriers facilitating the shipment transactions. 

List of documents Required for International Shipping

Below is the list of ten most common documents required for international shipping and their importance:

Proforma Invoice

Proforma Invoice is basically the inquiry form that you receive from an international prospect requesting a quotation or any information regarding your products. It contains the details like buyer and seller, goods description, a harmonized system of classification, price, payment term, currency, delivery details, and expiry date of the quote.

Importance: It is important for financing, application of import license, and opening the letter of credit.

Commercial Invoice

The commercial invoice is the official proof of sale. It is the receipt of the purchase containing the complete details of the transaction and shipping terms. It also includes information like the purchase order number, customer reference number, marine insurance information, and additional banking and payment information.

Importance: It is important for providing most information regarding the international shipment and for clearing customs.

Purchase Order

Purchase Order is the official confirmation of receiving an order. It contains detailed information, involved parties, transaction date, product type, and payment details.

Importance: It is an important document for understanding the owner and the customer regarding the product, cost, and delivery.

Packing List

Packing List is the shipping document that contains the detailed list of the shipment. It includes information like height, net and gross weight, imperial and metric measurements, package type, and safety measures. It must also identify any unique marks appearing on the packages and indicate any special instructions required to ensure the safety of goods.

Importance: The freight forwarder needs to create bills of landing for the bank to make the payment under the letter of credit and for the customs officials to inspect the packed items. It may also be used in case of any disputes between the shipper and the carrier.

Bills of Landing

Bill of Landing is the official contract between the business owner or the shipper and the freight carrier. This document confirms the receipt of goods signed by an authorized carrier representative on receiving the shipment and contains information like item details, shipping destination, and package handling.

Bills of Landing are of three types:

Inland Bill is the contract between the shipper and the exporter, consigned to the carrier of international goods.

Ocean Bill is for the goods shipped by ocean vessels serving as a title document and contract of carriage. 

Airway Bill is for the goods shipped by planes serving as the contract of carriage between the shipper and airline carrier.

Importance: It is important to fully understand the information regarding shipments to ensure that they are legally received.

Certificate of Origin

Certificate of Origin is the document certified by a semi-official organization like the consultant office or the chamber of commerce declaring the origin country of the goods manufactured.

It is the exporter’s responsibility to provide the certificate of origin as per the laws, rules, and regulations of the destination country. For certain cases, you might have to provide a country-specific origination certificate in addition to the generic certificate of origin.

Importance: The treaty agreements for international trade need to ensure the export eligibility of goods. 

Letter of Credit

Letter of Credit is a payment guarantee issued by a credit-worthy bank to assure the shipper that if the customer fails to clear the payment method, the bank will take the responsibility to pay and close the transaction.

Importance:  It is important as a monetary guarantee to ensure a safe form of economic transaction.

Shipper’s Letter of Instructions

Shipper’s Letter of Instructions is the document that contains all the necessary information to handle the shipment and ensure a successful transaction.

Importance: It is essential to provide the forwarder with a written record of instructions that must be followed while handling the package.

Export License

Export License is the official and legal document issued by the government allowing the shipper to ship specific items in particular quantities. This document is usually required in certain specific cases but can be mandatory for certain countries.

Importance:  It is important to export certain goods that might have some legal bindings successfully.

Dangerous Goods Form

Dangerous Goods Form is the document required to be included with your shipment if your products are considered dangerous because of certain hazardous materials that they may contain. 

Importance: It is important to warn the carrier of the dangerous goods to assign someone trained to handle the shipment of such hazardous materials.

International Shipping Documents FedEx 

Below is the list of documents required for international shipping with FedEx:

  • Commercial Invoice: Customs officials require this document to process your shipment. So, make sure you provide all the accurate data here.
  • Certificate of Origin: It’s required for determining the duty which will be applied to the imported goods.
  • Export License: It’s required to grant the permission of transactions for certain restricted products due to security concerns.
  • Export Packing List: It’s required to provide shipment details and as a supporting document in case of disputes.
  • Insurance Certificate: It insures the consignee against the loss or damage of the shipments during transit.
  • Inspection Certificate: It’s required by independent testing organizations for specific destinations. 
  • Shipper’s Letter of Instructions: It grants the exporter the permission to act as the authorized agent for export control and customs.
  • Electronic Export Information: It’s used for compiling export statistics as well as for export control purposes.

International Shipping Documents UPS

Below is the list of documents required for international shipping with UPS:

  • Commercial Invoice: It has two important parts: description of goods and valuation of goods. You are required to provide as much detailed information as possible about the international shipments and be accurate in the declaration. The invoice should also communicate the reason for the export. 
  • Certificate of Origin: It authenticates the origin country as the manufacturer of the products that are being shipped. It is required as certain nations restrict the import of goods or limit the number of products imported from specific countries, or gives preference to certain kinds of goods imported from other countries. 
  • Electronic Export Information: This information is used by the government to develop export statistics and control. It is required for single shipments with values over $2500 or for products that need license or license exemptions.

International Shipping Documents at USPS

For international shipping with USPS, you only need to fill out a customs form to complete the documentation procedure.

For your USPS shipments to clear customs at the destination country, you need to fill custom forms either online via their website or offline via Post Office. Fill the PS 2976-R form for Priority Mail Express International, the PS form 6182 for specific countries, and the GXE International Air Waybill for Global Express Guaranteed

Shipments to military bases and embassies require custom forms. You don’t need a customs form for First-class Mail International that requires only the non-negotiable documents and correspondence.  

International Shipping Documents DHL 

Below is the list of documents required for international shipping with DHL:

  • DHL Express Waybill: The waybill will contain all the information that DHL needs to ensure the successful delivery of international shipments.
  • Commercial Invoice: It serves as the shipment bill issued as the evidence of transaction by the shipper to the exporter. It’s required to ensure that duties and taxes are assessed accurately to clear customs. 
  • Electronic Export Information: It is submitted to the government to compile trade statistics and control exports. However, this is not mandatory for all shipments but is required for certain specific shipments only.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the most important document for shipping internationally?

A: The topmost important document for shipping internationally is the Commercial Invoice. It is one of the paperwork that must accompany your shipment as it includes most information regarding the international transaction.

Q. What is the process of international shipping? 

A: The three essential parts of the international shipping procedure are:

Documentation and Paperwork: Gather all the crucial shipment information, fill out the required form, complete documentation and required paperwork.
Clear Customs: To make sure that your shipments clear customs, you need to hire a customs broker from the freight forwarding company that you are using for your international shipping.

Track Result: Lastly, you must keep tracking your international shipment to ensure that it reaches its final destination.

Q. How do I ship something internationally?

A: Take the following steps to ship internationally:

Step 1: Ship the product to the forwarder’s premise.
Step 2: Submit the required documentation to the authorities.
Step 3: Load the shipment at the supplier’s warehouse.
Step 4: Ship the package via ocean or air freight. 
Step 5: Clear the import customs.
Step 6: Unload the shipment at the destination.
Step 7: Clear export customs.
Step 8: Deliver the product to the customer.


 Understanding the process of documentation for international shipping will save you time and effort in delivering your shipments all over the world. It will also reduce the potential risks of delays in shipment delivery and customs clearance.

So, make sure that you conduct proper research regarding the policies, laws, regulations, taxes, duties, and overall documentation requirements of the countries you want to ship your products before you venture forth to expand your business globally.

Avatar for Jaren Helms

Jaren worked for over a decade in the industry as a Package Handler. He started his career with FedEx but he later also worked with companies like USPS and Deutsche Post.

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