Commonly Used Shipping Documents

There are four main documents commonly used in the international shipping of cargo. What are they and why are they needed?

1. Bill Of Lading

What is it?

It is one of the most important documents in the shipping industry. It is a contract of carriage between the carrier and the shipper. It states the terms and conditions of carriage and acts as a receipt of goods and proof of ownership. It is used as a verification document of goods received. 

It describes the goods, provides the quantity and their destination. It must accompany the goods on their journey and be signed by the carrier, shipper and receiver to confirm receipt of the goods and that they were received in acceptable condition. It is used by all types of carriers, freight forwarders and logistic companies. The carrier issues the bill of lading (BOL) to the shipper. It is generally provided to the shipper, the customs broker, freight forwarder or third party managing the import process.

The Importance Of A Bill Of Lading Part 2

Why is it needed?

The bill of lading is a means of declaring the freight to Customs. It is also provided to the customs broker to assist with preparing the documents of release and accounting for Customs. It ensures a proper declaration has been made to Customs and it is used to verify the piece count, weight, description of goods and date of pick-up or export. In Canada, bills of lading are enforced by the Bills of Lading Act.

2. Commercial Invoice

What is it?

The commercial invoice is an important shipping document. It is a legal document issued by the seller to the buyer and serves as a contract and/or proof of sale or conditions of trading goods. Unlike the BOL, it does not specify the ownership or title of goods.

Download your fillable Commercial Invoice here

Why is it needed?

It is required by Customs to classify the goods for the assessment of duties and taxes. It specifies the price paid, value if not being sold, quantity and includes the trade or sale conditions agreed upon between the seller and buyer. It assists Customs and/or the customs broker to properly and correctly value and classify the goods and determine if other documentation is required by Customs or other Participating Government Agencies (PGAs) which regulate the importation of certain goods.

3. Certificate of Origin

What is it?

A document that certifies that goods in a particular export shipment are wholly obtained, produced, manufactured or processed in a particular country. The certificate of origin may be prepared by the exporter or the manufacturer but it is generally certified by the exporting country’s Chamber of Commerce. Many countries around the world offer digital or electronic COOs.

Why is it needed?

The certificate of origin provides Customs of the importing country the “proof of origin'' of the goods imported to determine if the goods are subject to a specific trade agreement which may provide a preferential tariff treatment which results in a lower or no duty rate. It also determines whether the goods can be legally imported or exported. 

4. Carrier Manifest

What is it?

The carrier manifest is important in the international transport of goods. It acts as a record of a shipment entering or exiting a country. It is produced by the carrier, listing all the cargo and total number of goods. The manifest must include a unique reference number for each shipment that can be traced or tracked. Generally the cargo manifest lists all the bills of lading along with the details and total number of goods transported. The individual bills of lading are generally attached.

Why is it needed?

The carrier manifest must be produced to Customs and serves as their report of cargo. It enables Customs to control the movement of the goods and ensures a proper declaration is made for the payment of duties and taxes. All goods imported or moving in transit must be reported to Customs at the First Port of Arrival. The carrier manifest is a method of meeting this requirement whether in writing or electronically submitted via ACI.The carrier is responsible for reporting the conveyance and cargo through the submission of a conveyance report and a carrier manifest. 

There are many other documents that are important when it comes to international shipping. The four shipping documents described above are the main documents required in the import process. Further information on international shipping and related documents can be provided by one of our Trade Advisors. 


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About Author
Jan Brock

Jan Brock joined Pacific Customs Brokers in 2015 as a Senior Trade Advisor. She retired from Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in 2015 after serving more than 37 years. Jan started her career with CBSA as a summer student in 1976 and worked part-time until she graduated from U.B.C. with a Bachelor of Education Degree in 1980 . Shortly after graduating from U.B.C. Jan worked full time as an inspector with CBSA and within three years was promoted to Superintendent. She served some time in the Regional Operations office as an Operations Review Officer before she was promoted to Chief of Operations first at the Customs Mail Centre, then in the Metro District as the Commercial Chief and ending her career as a Chief at Pacific Highway Commercial Operations where she served as Chief from 1992 to 2015. During her career she was a member of the Customs Drug Team and a trainer in the National Enforcement Program. Jan also served as the Regional Coordinator Officer Powers and Use of Force for the Pacific Region. Jan served on many Commercial Program Reviews and committees both national and regional during her career and possesses an expansive knowledge of importing and exporting into and from Canada.

While we strive for accuracy in all our communications, as the Importer of Record it is incumbent upon your company to ensure that you are aware of the requirements under the new regulations so that you maintain compliance as always.