Freight Forwarder Documentation

Correct documentation is vital for all movement of cargo especially when moving cargo internationally. Here are some tips on the relevant types of documentation that will be required.

It is worth knowing that exporters should consider allowing the forwarder to handle the not inconsiderable amount of documentation that exporting necessitates. This is simply because these companies are specialists in these processes.

Which of these are necessary for any particular transaction will depend on the requirements of the United States government and also the government of the country that the cargo is being imported into. Air freight shipments are handled by air waybills, which can never be made in negotiable form.

For your information, the following documents are commonly used in exporting.

  • A Bill of Lading is a contract made between the owner of the goods and the freight carrier. For carrier vessels, there are two types of this form. These are a straight bill of lading which is nonnegotiable. Then there is a negotiable shipper's order bill of lading. The shipper's order bill of lading is one that can be bought, sold, or traded while the goods or cargo are in transit. The customer generally requires an original as proof of ownership in order to take possession of the cargo (see our article covering the Bill of Lading)
  • A Certificate of Origin is another document that certain countries require. A certificate of origin is a signed statement describing the origin of the export cargo. The certificate of origin is generally signed via a semi-official organisation, for instance a local chamber of commerce. A certificate of origin may be required even if the commercial invoice contains all the necessary information
  • A Commercial Invoice is a professional bill for the cargo or goods from the vendor to the purchaser. This type of invoice is often used by governments in which to determine the true value of said goods when it comes to assessing customs duties. Governments of importing countries that use this commercial invoice in order to control imports will generally specify which form they require, its content, the number of copies, the language used and various other characteristics
  • A Consular Invoice is a document that in some countries is a requirement. The consular invoice describes the shipment of cargo or goods and displays such information as the consignor, consignee and also the value of the shipment. Certified by the consular official of the foreign country stationed in the United States, the consular invoice is used by the country's customs officials to verify value, quantity and nature of the cargo
  • A NAFTA Certificate of Origin is a requirement for products traded among the NAFTA countries, which are Canada, the U.S. and Mexico
  • An Inspection Certificate is required by some buyers and some countries to verify the specifications of the cargo. This action is generally performed by a third party and the certificate usually obtained from independent testing organisations
  • A Destination Control Statement is something that will appear on the commercial invoice and the ocean or air waybill of lading. This is to notify the freight carrier and all other foreign parties involved that the cargo item can only be exported to certain destinations.
  • A Warehouse Receipt and a dock receipt are used in order to transfer accountability when the export cargo or goods item is moved by the domestic carrier to the port of embarkation and then left for export with the shipping line
  • An Export License is a government document which provides authority for the export to a certain destination of specific goods that are in specific quantities. This export license is generally required for most or all of the exports made to certain countries. It is also required under special circumstances for exports made to other countries
  • A Shipper's Export Declaration is used to control exports and also to act as a source document for the use of official United States export statistics. Shipper's Export Declarations must be prepared for all shipments made through the United States Postal Service when the value of the shipment exceeds $500. Shipper's Export Declarations are also required for all freight shipments that are not using the United States Postal Service and when the value of the export commodities, classified under any single Schedule B number, exceeds $2,500. Shipper's Export Declarations are required to be prepared, regardless of the value, for all goods shipments that require an export license or are destined for certain countries which are restricted by the Export Administration Regulations. Shipper's Export Declarations are generally prepared by the exporter or in some instances by the exporter's agent and are delivered to the exporting carrier. The exporting carrier is then required to present the necessary number of copies to the United States Customs Service at the port of export. In many instances the Shipper's Export Declaration is a document prepared as a by-product of the Shipper's Letter of Instructions
  • An Export Packing List is a document that is considerably more informative and detailed than a standard domestic packing list. An export packing list itemises the materials in each individual package. It also indicates the type of package, for instance a box, drum, crate or carton. An export packing list also displays the individual net, tare, legal and gross weights as well as measurements for each individual package in both Imperial and metric systems. Package markings must be displayed as well as the shipper's and purchaser's references. The export packing list is used by the cargo shipper or freight forwarding agent in order to determine the total weight and volume of the shipment as well as indicating that the correct cargo is being shipped. Additionally, the list may be used by both United States and foreign customs officials to check the cargo
  • An Insurance Certificate is necessary to prove to the consignee that the forwarders insurance is comprehensive enough to cover any damage to or loss of the cargo during transit

The quantity and type of cargo carrier documents that the exporter has to deal with will vary depending on the shipment's destination. As each country will have different import regulations, the onus is on the exporter to be careful that it provides all of the necessary and correct documentation.

This kind of documentation has to be precise as any slight discrepancy or omission could prevent the merchandise from being exported, or it could result in nonpayment, or in extreme cases result in the seizure of the exporter's goods by customs officers in the United States or in foreign countries. Collection documents are generally subject to very precise time limits and run the risk of not be honored by a bank should the time limit have expired. Most cargo documentation is routine for both freight forwarders and customs brokers. However, the exporter has the privilege of being ultimately responsible for the correctness and accuracy of its documents.

We hope you found this article informative and useful.


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