Understand the Export Documentation required for your export shipments..

Ben Thompson
7 min readJul 29, 2017

So you have confirmed your export order. Now you have to get your goods delivered to the buyer!

You may be wondering exactly what documents you have to create to get your goods exported to your customer overseas? You must ensure that you create all of the correct export documents that are required to get your goods delivered through the port, cleared customs, meet all compliance and regulations, then loaded on board the correct vessel. All export documentation must be completed correctly to avoid any missed shipments, port demurrage charges or fines to your business.

Below is an overview of the most common export documents that you will need to create to export your products overseas:

Export Commercial Invoice — Detailed invoice showing all product and buyer details

Packing List (Container) — Details how goods are packaged inside containers

Packing List (LCL / Airfreight) — Details how goods are packaged inside LCL and Airfreight shipments

Shipper’s Letter of Instruction (SLI) — a detailed document the shipper gives to their Freight Forwarding company so they can handle the transport & logistics of the shipment.

Verified Gross Mass Declaration (VGM) — Only required for Full container shipments, it’s a very important legal document stating the shipper’s Verified Gross Mass of the shipment.

Packing Declaration ISPM15 — A document stating the types of packaging materials used inside export shipment (refers to pallets, crates and dunnages)

Certificate of Origin (COO) — A Certificate stating the country of origin of products. Relates to Free Trade Agreements between 2 countries, which can reduce or eliminate import duties for the importer.

Types of shipping documents to create for International Trade Shipments.

So, what documents do you need to create?

Well it depends on the types of products, type of shipment, the country of Export and the country of import.

Are you shipping a full container (FCL) shipment?

Are you shipping a Less than Container Load (LCL) shipment?

Are you shipping by airfreight?

A Certificate of Origin is a document that relates to Free Trade Agreements and duties on imported goods. If the country of export and country of import have a Free Trade Agreement in place, the importer may request a ‘Certificate of Origin’ to reduce or eliminate the import duty payable in their country. Some COO’s have to be signed, stamped and certified by local Chamber’s of Commerce.


Once you have received your International order you will need to prepare a commercial invoice and include it with your shipment. The commercial invoice is the document that describes the export transaction from start to finish. It displays all shipper and consignee’s details, product information, IncoTerms, port of loading, port of discharge, currency and value of products sold. This invoice provides important information and instructions for your buyer, freight forwarder, Customs, agents and your bank (if required). The commercial invoice does not show local taxes as International transactions for export are not subject to local taxes. If the commercial invoice does not contain all relevant information it can cause delays to your shipment and confusion to your buyer and freight forwarder.


A packing list is a detailed document that states all of the product and packaging details of each shipment. Your freight forwarder will use this information when preparing the Bill of Lading with the shipping line so that the cargo can be moved around accordingly. It can be used by Customs in the country of import to understand exactly how shipments are packaged and loaded to check product and packaging compliance and any import duties or taxes payable in the country of destination.

Key information detailed in the packing list includes:

  • Shipper and consignee name, address, contact details
  • Measurements and total Net Weight and Gross Weight of cargo
  • Detailed list of how goods are packaged and number of packages
  • Any relevant shipping marks or seal numbers used
  • Any other important information or special instructions related to the loading and packaging contained in the shipment


A Shipper’s Letter of Instruction (SLI) is an important legal document created between the exporter and the freight forwarder that is organizing the export and logistics for your shipment. It is a detailed document which gives your freight forwarder all specific instructions relating to the export of your goods. The freight forwarder will use the Shipper’s Letter of Instruction to correctly arrange transport of your cargo and provide Australian Customs with all product details used for statistical purposes and to make any extra special arrangements.


The Verified Gross Mass certificate is a very important legal document. This document represents a statement of total mass in accordance with IMO Verified Gross Mass requirements (SOLAS Regulations — Safety Of Life At Sea). The Verified Gross Mass must be determined in accordance with Australian National Measurement Institute Standards as legislated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. You must ensure this document is completed correctly to avoid huge fines!

There are 2 approved methods that must be used to declare the Verified Gross Mass:

  • METHOD 1 — Actual weight is taken of the whole container including tare when the container is packed.
  • METHOD 2 — The Shipper declares the total Verified Gross Mass.

Again, you can make this declaration yourself and create your own Verified Gross Mass certificate if you are confident the shipment falls within any weight restrictions. Using method 2 you will have to declare the weight of the whole cargo (including packaging) and declare the tare weight of the container, to get the total gross mass of your shipment.


A container weight declaration is a document which is required to give to the truck driver before he can pick up your container of goods from your premises. The trucking company must not permit a driver to transport a container unless the driver has received a compliant container weight declaration from the shipper that states the total weight of goods inside the container. It is to ensure that the container can be safely and legally transported on Australian roads. It will include shipper details, consignee details, type of container, commodity, total weight of products and type of cargo.

For containers for Export, if you create a Verified Gross Mass document then this will cover the Container Weight Declaration requirement for road transport.


A packing declaration is an important document which states the type of packing materials that are used to pack the goods inside your container. It is to ensure that any timber packaging used are ISPM15 compliant, to protect the spread of insects and disease which can be hiding away in timber packing materials such as pallets, create and dunnages. The shipper will have to provide a statement on company letterhead which states the type of packing materials used and if they have been treated or marked in compliance with ISPM15 or DAFF fumigation treatment requirements.


Certificates of Origin are certificates which are normally required by the consignee (the buyer importing the goods into the country of destination). Many countries all over the world have negotiated Free Trade Agreements to streamline International Trade between nations.

These Free Trade Agreements reduce or eliminate the duty fees that are payable by the importer when the goods are imported into the country of destination. It is common that the buyer will request that the shipper supplies a stamped and certified certificate of origin document before the goods arrive at their port so that they can clear customs in advance and take advantage of the duty savings on their side. You create your own declaration of origin document, but most countries will require that you get the document certified by and authorized body, normally your local Chamber of Commerce.


Agricultural products and some other export commodities are controlled by The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. This assures trading partners that the agricultural products will meet the other country’s strict import regulations and requirements. Businesses generally have to become export registered and even have your premises available for assessment by the relevant department. All export registered establishments, including vessels, involved in the preparation, handling and storage of dairy, egg, fish and meat products destined for human consumption must have an approved arrangement agreed by the department. Commodities which are controlled are:

  • Dairy Products
  • Eggs and egg products
  • Fish and fish products
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Grains and seeds
  • Hay and straw
  • Live animals
  • Meat and meat products
  • Organic produce
  • Plants and plant products

IncoDocs ensures you create 100% compliant shipping documents to get your goods exported without problems or delays. You don’t have to mess around with broken word and excel templates, or try to find example document layouts or templates, now you can easily create and download your export documentation. IncoDocs guides you through the whole process and gives clear explanations of all industry terms. You will not have to constantly re-enter data, all data entered will be transferred onto all of the shipping documents that you require.

Originally published at www.incodocs.com.



Ben Thompson

Co-Founder IncoDocs.com I love International Trade but hate that it's broken..