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What are Shipping Documents?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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Also known as transport documents, shipping documents are legal documents that are utilized in the process of transporting goods from one location to another. Documents for shipping are required for the legal transport of goods in domestic settings as well as with international shipping of all types. The exact documents required to manage the shipment and delivery of goods will vary, based on regulations and standards that apply at both the starting point for the shipment and the destination, as well as any points in between where the goods must be registered and inspected.

One of the most basic shipping documents is the bill of lading. Used in both domestic and international shipping efforts, this document is often issued by the carrier or an agent for the carrier. In some nations, the shipper may prepare the bill of lading in advance, as long as the document is in compliance with both national shipping regulations and the standards of the carrier. While the details contained in the document will vary, most will identify the shipper and the recipient, providing basic contact information for both parties. A description of the goods that are included in the shipment is also provided, along with the quantities of each good within the shipment and the total weight of the shipment. Carriers will usually include data regarding the pickup of the shipment, the anticipated delivery date, and information regarding the shipping charges, including whether those charges are prepaid or collect.

The packing list is another example of the basic shipping documents that are routinely included in the paperwork accompanying a shipment. This document often serves as the means for the recipient to verify that the items identified on the bill of lading are in fact delivered to the recipient. Policies of some shipping and receiving departments require that only shipments accompanied with a packing list or slip can be accepted.

With international shipments, there are several other types of shipping documents that are likely to be necessary. A certificate of origin establishes where the shipment originated and who was responsible for preparing the goods for shipment. An insurance certificate documents the coverage acquired to protect the shipment en route, effectively protecting the interests of both the shipper and the recipient. Customs documents are necessary to allow the goods to leave the country of origin and to be received into the nation where the recipient resides. If the shipment must pass through several nations along the way, the customs documents must meet the standards imposed by each port or stopping point along the way.

Shipping documents are important to protecting all parties involved in the shipping process. By complying with the shipping regulations that apply, it is possible to ensure that orders are correct, are delivered on time, are packaged in a manner that is in keeping with shipping standards, and that the rates charged for the shipping process itself are compatible with any contracts that exist between the shipper and the carrier. When any one of the shipping documents required by law are not prepared properly, there is a real chance that the shipment will be waylaid until the errors are corrected or replacement documents are prepared and forwarded to the location where the shipment is temporarily stored.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including About Mechanics, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
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Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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