Documenting your international shipments does not begin and end with the commercial invoice. A commercial invoice is not a substitute for a packing list, and a packing list is not a substitute for a commercial invoice.
The commercial invoice may be first in a line of export documents that you must issue to get your goods shipped from the United States, cleared through customs at the final destination, and delivered to your customer’s warehouse. However, an export packing list provides important information to all the interested parties.
Export Packing List Purpose
The export packing list provides the exporter, the international freight forwarder, and the ultimate consignee with information about your shipment, the packing details, and the marks and numbers noted on the outside of the boxes. (You'll find an export packing list template here.)
Your freight forwarder uses the packing list to prepare the bill of lading for the international carrier and to prepare export clearance documentation, such as the Electronic Export Information required for filing through AESDirect on the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) platform. It itemizes the amount and kind of merchandise contained in each individual package that is to be loaded aboard a truck, railcar, vessel or aircraft.
A packing list is also used as a supporting document in the event of a dispute between the carrier and the exporter regarding the measurement and weight of the cargo.
It is a means by which customs authorities in the importing country assess security and compliance. And, it is a required document to file a claim with the carrier or insurance company in the event of cargo damage or loss.
If the term of payment is a letter of credit, the bank issuing the letter of credit will require a packing list be presented under instruction from the buyer.
What to Include on an Export Packing List
A good packing list provides fairly detailed information about the merchandise:
- Product description;
- A reference to the relevant commercial invoice number and/or item number;
- The type of package(s), e.g. box, carton, vials, etc.;
- The net and gross weights of each package stated in pounds or tons and converted into a metric equivalent, except where the buyer or government regulations require otherwise;
- The legal measurements expressed in inches and cubic feet and converted into a metric equivalent, except where the buyer or government regulations require otherwise;
- Package markings; and
- Buyer and seller references.
Remember, a packing list is not the same as a pick list, which is a document that lists the material to be picked for manufacturing or shipping orders.
The packing list is an important document to you, your customer, your freight forwarder, and customs. All the particulars in this document will facilitate the shipment of your goods.
This post was originally published in June 2002 and has been updated to include current information, links and formatting.