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What Shipping Documents Do You Need?

Opening your business for local or international shipping can be exciting and expand your brand’s horizon. Shipping matters when it comes to business. However, ocean freight and air shipments require a gamut of documents that can be confusing if you are new to the business.

If you’ve wondered what documents are required to ship to Canada or what is required on a shipping document, this post should give you a head start.

Shipping Documents for Domestic and International Shipping

Domestic shipping documents may differ slightly since international shipping documents are more in number. Regardless of the different forms of shipping, common ship documentation have the following requirements.

Purchase Order

The purchase order contains detailed information about the transaction between vendor and buyer, the date of the purchase and the type of goods and is an official document. The purchase is more like a quote or a placement that you place with the vendor, but once you agree with the exporter/seller’s agreements, you draw up the final legal purchase order.

Why you need it

You need the purchase order because it states how much the vendor will deliver, at what cost and the delivery time. The purchase order is the first understanding between you and the vendor in the shipping documentation process.

Commercial Invoice

Also called the official proof of sale, the commercial invoice has all the required information about the buying process. So commercial invoice includes details such as shipping terms on the shipping forms.

Why you need it

A commercial invoice is an important shipping document that will be required for customs clearance in air or freight shipping. Customs officials also require a commercial invoice in order to classify the goods for taxes and duties, if any.

Bill of Lading

A Bill of lading, or simply BOL, is one of the most important documents for international shipping. It is a confirmed receipt between the vendor/owner of goods/shipper and the freight carrier. This shipping document is also used to confirm the receipt of goods shipped.

Why you need it

In Canada, BOL is enforced by the Bills of Lading Act under the Government of Canada. The customs broker requires a Bill of lading for international shipment while preparing documents for shipment release.

The Bill of lading also declares the goods’ description, weight, and the pick update. Once the freight shipment lands in the destination country, the Bill of lading is also used as the verification document for the received goods.

Packing List

The packing list is another important shipping document, especially for international shipments. The export packing list includes detailed information such as the packing type, itemized detail of dimensions, total weight, handling/safety measures, and package type.

Some countries and shipping companies also refer to the export packing list as the carrier manifest. The freight carrier is responsible for this list through an automated export system along with a unique reference number to track each shipment from the importing country until it reaches the ultimate consignee.

Why you need it

Freight forwarders require the packing list to clear customs, and courier services need the packing list to generate a Bill of lading. In addition, the buyer’s bank also requires a packing list in the letter of credit as proof of payment.

Sea/Air Waybill

Sea/air waybill or AWB is among the top shipping-related documents for domestic and international shipping. This official contract is a non-negotiable shipping document between the shipper and freight carrier/ airline carrier.

Why you need it

Airline and freight carriers need this important document to act as a receipt of goods shipped when it arrives at the destination country.

Letter of Credit

A creditworthy bank guarantees the payment of goods between the exporter and the importer through the letter of credit – one of the most important shipping documents. In a case where the importer fails to complete the payment to the exporter, the bank pays the remaining amount. A letter of credit is also a formally binding and legal document.

Why you need it

A letter of credit is important because of its role as the monetary guarantee that covers all the complex and changing rules and regulations in international trade and shipping. It provides a cover of safety for the shipped goods.

Warehouse/Dock Receipt

The warehouse/dock receipt is a critically important shipping document that includes information about dimensions, net and gross weights, and shipment size.

Why you need it

This shipping document is important because it proves that the international carrier received the particular export shipment in proper shipping condition and wholly obtained.

Certificate of Origin

The certificate of origin is a declaration about where the products were manufactured/produced/processed in a particular country. A certificate of origin is usually drawn by the manufacturer/exporter of the good, but the certification is done by the Chamber of Commerce of the originating country or the ICC.

Why you need it

A certificate of origin is necessary for customs clearance at the Canada Border Services Agency to determine taxes and duties and tax exemption in case of special/ free trade agreements. It is also part of the customs documents that the Canada Border Agency requires, along with other documents, including the NAFTA certificate.

Insurance Certificate

This shipping/legal document is part of international shipping documents that certify and proves that the exporter has the appropriate financial coverage for the goods shipped.

Why you need it

An insurance certificate in shipping is especially critical in an international transaction because ocean freight and airline carriers carry a certain amount of risk for exporters. In case of loss of shipment, the insurance certificate covers the liability.

Export License

An export license is issued by the particular country’s government declaring that the goods are ready for shipping internationally. Rules for the export license vary from one country to the other, so this is mandatory in some places, while others only require it under specific conditions. An export license is a must in Canada, and you can get it from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Why you need it

This legal shipping ocean freight document determines whether you can export a particular shipment or a particular good is qualified to be legally imported/exported.


Assembling all the required documents can be a time-intensive process, not to mention confusing. In addition, if any of the documents are incomplete or not furnished, it can disrupt the supply chain with devastating financial loss. Consumers now are always looking for quick and expedited shipping; don’t have any delays.

Hopefully, this post on shipping documents can help you get the most important ones so you can proceed with the local and international shipping without a lot of problems.

For help with shipping documents, get in touch with us today.