The documentation process in the shipping industry is just like the icing on the cake. One can do everything possible, but the work is never complete without documentation! The international trade industry lays its foundation on a pile of papers named after several significant authorities.

Yes, every trader has to know this is how crucial and essential it is to have in-depth knowledge about the entire process. Since the industry is an interconnected chain of three parties who coordinate using these documents, each paper out of that pile has its part to play! Although many shipping service providers in the market offer to help, importers and exporters have to understand it step by step.

The shipping documentation process took a lot of time and effort earlier when there was no convenient access to smartphones and the internet. But with everything we need is in our hands, the customs department and government authorities are offering online services. And to make things easier, there are these shipping service providers to extend a helping hand to the traders. One can utilize this served convenience by availing the facilities and understanding the shipping documentation rules. Here is a detailed guide to offer a clear picture!

Offline documentation process exhausted a lot of time and effort, for sure!

The 8-Step Guide to Shipping Documentation

Traders must know the name, utilisation, role and uses of all the shipping documents. It requires knowing the rules and filing process at every step of the freight shipment. CHAs (Custom House Agents) and service providers offer the backend support needed to get the ship sailing! Here is a step-by-step guide to the shipping documentation procedure.

#1. Receive the Import Enquiry

The shipping documentation process starts with the importer enquiring about certain goods. This commences the long procedure with the letter of inquiry that concludes everything the buyer needs. The importers use this letter to outline the terms and payment limits of their interests. If an exporter finds it pursuable, he makes the bid by proceeding with it.

#2. Send Out the Proforma Invoice

The exporters respond to the letter of inquiry with a Proforma invoice, written in a particular matter! Exporters make their first move using this invoice to make the first impression. One must be very careful with the details of the goods and its pricing. Using the right incoterms enhances the impact of this invoice.

#3. Process the Letter of Credit

If the importer approves of the Proforma invoice as one of the shipping documents, they prepare a shipping contract. This contract comes with a letter of credit if the importer is not ready to pay upfront. The letter specifies a money draft and the terms that explain that the exporter is liable to get his clearance once he receives the goods.

#4. File the Documents for Container Booking

There is a list of formalities and documents that the exporters should start to work on. There is the AD code, the shipping bill for customs clearance, the legal paperwork for the contract and so on. These shipping documents are necessary to complete the steps and get the freight on board!

#5. Get the Commercial Invoice Done

The commercial invoice cum packing list is one of the crucial documents that go on a long way. It specifies all the details starting from the description of goods to the information about the exporter and importer. One must file this document to get the shipping bill which is essential for the customs clearance.

#6. File the Export Documentation

Filing the export documentation means collecting all the necessary shipping documents and submitting them to the customs department while saving a copy in the office. The major documents include the COO (Certificate of Origin), Bill of Lading, shipping bill, declaration forms for dangerous or hazardous goods, manufacturer’s declaration, Shipper’s list of Instruction (SLI), commercial invoice, etc. The CHA takes care of all this paperwork with the help of the traders.

#7. Documentation by the Freight Forwarder

The freight forwarder is also responsible for filing a few documents like the Bill of Lading, Bill of Entry and IGM (Import General Manifest) documents. They need the last two documents for processing the import customs clearance with the help of the importers.

#8. Complete the Import Documentation

The importer has a petite role with the shipping documents apart from getting the import customs clearance. He has to prepare the importer’s declaration and Bill of Entry right to get the ownership of his goods. Most importers know the chain of shipping lines and freight forwarders to make the process easy and fast!


The shipping documents are as important as the money exporters/importers receive from their business! There is no way to get the job done while missing even a single document out of the list. There are CHAs and logistics service providers to share the burden and get the economy running. After all, this mutual international reliance between all the countries cannot be anything simple!



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