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Top 5 Most Critical Air Freight Export Documents


Exporting cargo shipped via air freight can come with unwanted complications. Making sure your freight forwarder has extensive knowledge in export documentation is vital for a smooth shipment once your international sale has been secured to your foreign buyer. Exports of physical goods can prove to be risky and expensive if not handled correctly. Consequently, it is imperative the exporter is aware of the documents used to ship the cargo, thus becoming critical knowledge in any shipper’s supply chain.

1. Known vs. Unknown Shipper Documentation

Post 9/11 has brought a heightened level of security and awareness to the air freight industry. United States Aviation Authorities have applied strict regulations around export air freight security. A section of these regulations involves the “known” shipper registration. Air freight from shippers who are not registered or “unknown” can only be exported on freighter aircrafts. Known shippers have the ability to ship goods on passenger flights.

2. Bill of Lading

A document issued by a carrier, or agent, to acknowledge receipt of cargo for the shipment – essentially a contract between the owner of the goods and the carrier. The Bill of Lading is typically the first document used in international shipping as it states the commodity being shipped, where it is being exported from, and destination location. The Bill of Lading doubles as a receipt from the carrier once the shipment is delivered to the pick-up destination.

3. Certificate of Origin

A document certified by a governing body or chamber of commerce and then issued by the manufacturer of the goods. The Certificate of Origin is used to note the country where the goods originated.

4. Commercial Invoice

Once the international sale has been secured and the goods are ready for shipment, a commercial invoice is issued. This invoice details the entire transaction from start to finish. This document provides valuable information to everyone involved including the consignee, freight forwarder, U.S. and foreign customs, import broker, banks involved, carriers, etc.

5. Packing List/Export Packing List

An export packing list is generally more detailed than a typical packing list primarily used for commodities shipping domestically. This document lists the goods being shipped, packing information, how the goods are numerically itemized, and commodity dimensions. The packing list is often used by the freight forwarder when preparing the Bill of Lading. Other information itemized by the export packing list could include:

  • Freight cost (USD)

  • Complete contact information of the shipper

  • Company ID number

  • Specifications of the commodity in detail

  • Place of origin

The importance of proper documentation goes without saying. The smallest most redundant actions taken by an international air freight forwarding company can be the difference between a smooth export and severe consequences. The proper management and understanding of these documents are just as important as the shipment and export of the commodity itself. Even minor errors can result in delayed shipments, no shipments, accrual of expensive storage fees, fines, and omitted payments from the consignee. Make sure your air freight export specialist has extensive knowledge and a proper understanding of documents and any updates regarding air freight documentation. This process should be a top priority for any freight forwarder.

Click here to contact a global logistics expert if you have any other questions regarding export or import of goods on an international level.

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