The Importance and Preparation of Import and Export Packing Lists

Pay attention to details when preparing international documents

Rows of shelves with boxes in an export warehouse ready for shipping to a customer.
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A packing list accompanies an international shipment and is used to inform transportation companies about what they are transporting. It also allows the customer and others involved in the transaction to check what has been shipped against the proforma invoice. Other names for this list include the packing slip, docket, manifest, or bill of the parcel.

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.

The Necessity for a Packing List

The packing list is a necessary safeguard against shipping incorrect cargo internationally. An export packing list, for example, is far more detailed than a domestic one. The packing list must meet the requirements of all parties along the supply chain.

It supports what is being shipped from one business to another and can accompany an inspection certificate. The transporter will use the packing list to issue a bill of lading (BOL). A bill of lading is a receipt that acknowledges receipt of cargo for export or import shipment. BOLs are important in case anything happens to the merchandise in transit.

A Custom's Broker will use the packing list for clearance and entry into a foreign country. Because they will use this form to clear your goods, it must match the commercial invoice in quantity, description, and all other items. The list is used for the electronic export information (EEI) and is often used by the U.S. and foreign customs officials to verify goods.

The seller may use the list as a final double-check that an order has been pulled and filled correctly. For domestic shipments, they will place the document into the boxes of the shipment. Exported shipments will have the list affixed to the exterior of the box.

Once the shipment reaches its destination the buyer can compare what has been ordered to what has been shipped. It can be used as further evidence to support a payment. However, be advised, you must make sure you match your product descriptions to that of any payment instrument so there is no confusion.

Why Export Packing Lists are so Important

If you don't complete a packing list a myriad of problems can arise that can wreak 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 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. Also, 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 of the packing list 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, make sure to follow all the necessary steps to ensure you get it right the first time.