The Importance and Preparation of Import and Export Packing Lists

Pay attention to details when preparing international shipping documents

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A packing list accompanies an international shipment and is used to inform transportation companies about what they are moving. It also allows the customer and others involved in the transaction to check what has been shipped against the proforma invoice. It is a necessary safeguard against shipping incorrect cargo internationally. An export packing list, for example, is far more detailed than a domestic one.

To prepare your packing list, delete all the prices on the invoice and double-check to see that the number of cases, weight (net, gross, metric) and measurements appear on the invoice. Then rename the document "PACKING LIST" in big, bold letters. Never substitute a packing list for a commercial invoice.

Here are several reasons why a packing list is important:

  • It supports what is actually being shipped.
  • It can accompany an inspection certificate.
  • It can be used as further evidence to support a method of payment but (be advised) you must make sure you match your product description to that of any payment instrument.
  • It will be used by a Custom's Broker for clearance and entry into a foreign country.
  • It is used by the buyer-seller to compare what has been ordered to what has been shipped.
  • It is used to issue a bill of lading.
  • It is used for the electronic export information (EEI) and is often used by U.S. and foreign customs officials to verify goods.

    Why Packing Lists are so Important

    If you don't complete a packing list a myriad of problems can arise that can wreck havoc with your business. These problems range from not getting your goods delivered to the desired destination to not getting paid.

    An export packing list should be securely attached to the outside of each shipping container, preferably in a waterproof packet and an envelope that is clearly marked "Packing List Enclosed."  It is the responsibility of the shippers and forwarding agents to determine the total weight and volume of the shipment, and whether or not the correct cargo (as indicated) is being shipped.

    All of this information is based on the packing list. In addition, customs officials at the port of entry and port of exit may use the packing list to check the cargo.

    Advance Preparation

    Several weeks in advance of shipment, your freight forwarder, customs broker, bank, and customer needs to indicate how many copies they need and where each copy needs to be attached and distributed. You should always make three or four extra copies for your files, just in case.

    If you decide to process your shipment documentation online, select the appropriate packing list option and then contact all parties involved in the international sale to determine if your packing list needs to be signed.

    Because any mistake on the packing list may cause a delay in clearance at the port of destination follow all the necessary steps to ensure you get it right the first time.