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A Guide for Common Documents When Importing and Exporting


At Image International Freight we understand that navigating the different acronyms of trade terms and documents can be confusing for our clients. As such, we have listed some of the most common document types when importing or exporting, and provided short summaries of what these are and why! Let's start with the Bill Of Landing:


A bill of lading is a legal document between the shipper of goods and the carrier detailing the type, quantity and destination of the goods being carried.

  • The bill of lading also serves as a receipt of shipment when the goods are delivered at the predetermined destination.

  • This document must accompany the shipped goods, no matter the form of transportation, and must be signed by an authorized representative from the carrier, shipper and receiver.

House Bill of Lading (HBL)

A bill of lading issued by NVOCC (Non-Vessel Operating Common Carriers) or acquired by a Freight Forwarder is called the House Bill of Lading (HBL).

In House B/L, we write the name and address of an actual exporter in the Shipper column, and the name and address of an actual importer in the Consignee column. And the format is the forwarder’s B/L format.

House B/L also includes the company name and address of local agents and subsidiaries, in other countries of the forwarder. This local company will issue an Arrival Notice and D/O on the import side.

If you don’t receive Arrival Notice as an importer, you can make an inquiry here.

Master Bill of Lading (MBL)

After receiving goods from the shipper, the Freight Forwarder books the same cargo to the main carrier who is the vessel owner. Once the cargo is received, the main carrier issues the Bill of Lading to whom the cargo is booked with him. This is the Master Bill of Lading.

Shipper column contains the name and address of the exporting forwarder, and the Consignee column contains the name and address of the importing forwarder. This is a direct contract with the shipping line. It means that it is a forwarder, who is an agency of shipping line.

Master B/L format will be the shipping line’s format. The company information of the import side will be the local branch of the shipping line, or its local agent.

House Bill of Lading Vs. Master Bill of Lading

Master Bill of Lading - Maritime transport contract between the shipping company and the freight forwarder.

House Bill of Lading - Maritime transport contract between the freight forwarder and its sending customer.

The main difference between the HBL and MBL is that an HBL is issued by an NVOCC (or freight forwarder) and usually lists the actual shipper and consignee, whereas the MBL is issued by the carrier. Both the House and Master Bill of Lading contain the same accurate, precise, and detailed information about cargo (the number of containers, seal numbers, weight, measurements, etc.). It’s also worth noting that the shipper, consignee and notify party is the only details that will be different in the HBL and MBL.  

A bill of lading, regardless of the vessel, guides the actions of the proper parties along the entire route of the shipment and tells the cargo handlers where the shipment is going, how the goods should be handled, what the piece count should be and how it will be billed. 


Is a bill for the goods from the SELLER to the BUYER. These invoices are often used by government to determine the true value of goods when assessing customs duties. The government that uses the commercial invoice to control imports will often specify its form, content, number of copies, language to be used, and other characteristics.

1 – Exporter’s Details

This includes basic company contact information including company name, logo, address, phone numbers and personal contact details.

2 – Consignee & Buyer (if not Consignee)

This includes basic company contact information including company name, address, phone numbers and personal contact details.

3 – Shipping Details Important shipping and logistics details are included to help the consignee, logistics companies and customs brokers to correctly arrange the transportation, customs clearance, and final delivery of goods. Shipping details include:

  • Method of Dispatch – Road, Rail, Air or Sea Freight

  • Type of shipment – FCL, LCL, Breakbulk or other

  • Country of Origin

  • Country of Final Destination (where the goods are delivered through to final address)

  • Vessel / Aircraft Name

  • Voyage No

Port of Loading (POL)

  • Port of Discharge (POD)

  • Final Destination (Country)

  • Marine Cover Policy No (if applicable)

  • Letter of Credit No (if goods are sold under a Letter of Credit)

4 – Reference Numbers & Additional Information These sections include reference numbers, dates and additional information:

  • Seller’s Invoice number

  • Date (when invoice is issued)

  • Bill of Lading Number (if known)

  • Buyer reference number (usually the buyer’s Purchase Order number)

  • Additional Reference (if needed)

  • Terms/method of payment (the methods of payment and payment terms, i.e. 30% deposit, 70% balance upon Bill of Lading)

  • Additional details (any packaging, delivery notes or additional details)

5 – Product Details The exporter will add a detailed list of the products that have been sold. This includes important information such as:

  • Product Code (unique product reference number)

  • Description of goods (detailed)

  • HS Code (to classify goods through customs clearance)

  • Unit Quantity

  • Unit Type

  • Price (per unit type)

  • Any additional fees or charges (usually mold, setup fees, transport costs or taxes)

  • Incoterm® & Place – The selling term and place agreed between the buyer and seller

  • Currency of transaction

6 – Bank Details

The seller’s detailed bank information. This usually includes:

  • Beneficiary Details

  • Beneficiary Business Name

  • Beneficiary Business Address

  • Payee Bank Details

  • SWIFT Code (Bank ID

7 – Authorized Signature To finalise the document, the seller can add their signatory details:

  • Place of issue

  • Date of issue

  • Signatory Company

  • Name of Authorized Signatory

  • Digital Signature (using IncoDocs, sellers can draw or upload their digital signature)

  • Digital Company Stamp (using IncoDocs, sellers can create or upload their digital company stamp or seal)


Itemized list of items usually included in each shipment, specifying the quantity, description of goods and weight. This document is prepared by the shipper and sent to the consignee for accurate tallying of the delivered goods.

A Packing List accompanies the international shipment and is used to inform transportation companies about what they are moving as well as to allow the customer and others involved in the transaction to check what has been shipped against the pro forma invoice. It is a good safeguard against shipping incorrect cargo.

The Packing List doesn’t state the prices / costs as they were shown on the invoice. The Packing List can be used to cross-check all the details as declared in the Commercial Invoice such as number of cases, weight (net, gross, metric) and measurements. However, never substitute a packing list for a commercial invoice.

A freight forwarder, customs broker, bank, and customer should indicate how many copies they will need, and where each copy will need to be attached and distributed, some weeks in advance.


Is a document that tells the quarantine / inspection agency the type of packing material used in your goods and shows how clean the container and the goods are. Grass, seeds and dirt on your goods or container can also bring pests into the country. This is only required for sea freight shipments (commonly for FCLs).

In Australia there are laws covering the import of wood, bark, and straw. Pests can live in wood, bark or straw and once introduced into Australia, can cause problems with the ecology. These pests need to be killed by fumigation to make sure that they don’t enter Australia.

If your goods do contain wood, bark, or straw then you need to arrange fumigation by an Australian Quarantine Inspection Service approved company up to 21 days before shipment. Arranging the treatment/fumigation overseas before the goods leave is the most cost-effective method for fumigation.

Packing Declaration Requirements

  • Packing declarations must be either on a letterhead or have a company stamp both of which must provide full contact details of the responsible party that is making the declaration. Any alterations or additions to a Packing Declaration must be endorsed with a company stamp.

  • A container number should be included on the packing declaration; however, other acceptable forms of consignment identification can include a bill of lading number, commercial invoice number, preferential tariff certificate number or a packing list number etc. There must be a direct numerical link between the Packing Declaration and these other forms of consignment identification

  • Packing Declarations must provide statements regarding the use of Prohibited Packing Materials, Timber, and the presence of Bark on any timber used. Further if timber is used, the declaration may also declare if the timber has been treated and marked with ISPM 15 compliant markings. Timber packing that has been treated and marked with ISPM 15 does not require a bark statement.

  • Each packing declaration must contain a statement about the use of solid timber packing. AQIS does not consider there to be any quarantine risk regarding packaging made from plywood, veneer, or peeler core. Reconstituted wood being Particle board, Medium Density Fibre board (MDF), High Density Fibre Board (HDF) and similar packing such as Inka pallets are also of no quarantine concern.

  • A cleanliness statement must also be included for FCL and FCX containers.

  • A Packing Declaration must be signed by the person making the declaration and must be dated.


In international trade, to protect the domestic resources, countries will implement compulsory quarantine procedures on all the imported products. And the fumigation of the wood packaging is a mandatory measure taken to prevent the pests from damaging the forest resources of the importing country. Therefore, exports of goods containing wood packaging must be fumigated before the shipment. Therefore, it is an effective way of Disinfection.

Fumigation is a method of killing pests, termites, or any other harmful living organisms to prevent transfer of exotic organisms. Fumigation is executed, by suffocating or poisoning pest, within an area of specified space by using fumigants. Normally, fumigation is done for wood material used for packing of goods to be exported. In some cases, empty container before stuffing of cargo is fumigated. Most of the cases, fumigation is done after completion of stuffing of cargo and closing the door of container. The result of such fumigation is more effective, as the gases used for fumigation circulates all spaces in the container without spreading gas outside, as the container is closed. However, this method of fumigation is not allowed for the cargo for certain food products for direct consumption and other specified goods.

If a Fumigation Certificate in international sea freight shipping is required but not presented or incomplete, then additional costs related to fumigation of the international sea freight shipment may occur upon arrival of the international shipment to the destination. Noncompliance WILL RESULT in wooden packing materials and wooden pallets being destroyed by the destination country port authorities at consignee’s cost and may result in delayed customs clearance. Shippers/Consignees will bear the cost of the fumigation and/or delayed customs clearance due to this noncompliance on the international shipping procedures related to international shipping of sea freight containing wooden packing material.


A Certificate of Origin (CO) is an important international trade document that certifies that goods in a particular export shipment are wholly obtained, produced, manufactured, or processed in a particular country. They declare the ‘nationality’ of the product and serve as a declaration by the exporter to satisfy customs or trade requirements. COOs are requested by customs, banks, private stakeholders, and importers for several purposes. Almost every country in the world requires CO for customs clearance procedures: when determining the duty that will be assessed on the goods or, in some cases, whether the goods may be legally imported at all. There are two types of COs that chambers can issue:

  • Non-Preferential COs which certify that the goods are subject to no preferential treatment. These are the main type of COs that chambers can issue and are also known as “Normal COs”.

  • Preferential COs, which certify that goods are subject to reduced tariffs or exemptions when they are exported to countries extending these privileges. These COs tend to be closely associated with Regional Trade Agreements.


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