If you have any question about import documents when shipping from China by air freight, ocean freight or rail, the answer is right here.

So, read this guide to avoid any costs or delays that may be caused by non-compliance.

What are Import Documents?

They are the forms and letters, which often accompany a particular consignment getting into the country from a foreign destination.

These documents outline various elements revolving the imports, including the importer, country of origin, nature of goods, and the final destination, among others.

Some of the aspects typical import documents capture include shipment date, specifications of the consignment, quantity, name of the customer, and shipping method.

These documents might also vary depending on the import policies set by the customs clearance department in a particular country.

Import documents

How do you Ship Imports Internationally?

Shipping is one of the core elements of importing goods internationally.

It is usually a complicated process, which requires a high level of understanding to enhance seamlessness, convenience, and efficiency.

If you are importing a consignment from a foreign nation, there are a few options you can consider depending on numerous prevailing factors.

Water vessels, airplanes, trains, and automobiles are all modes of transportation you can utilize when importing commodities from a foreign country.

Even so, it’s vital to understand different postage methods fit different situations.

Here are the common shipping methods;

Airfreight – It is one of the popular means of importing goods from foreign nations. It merely involves use of cargo planes to airlift various types of shipments from the origin to destination.

China airlines cargo

Air freight has been used for a long time and is often regarded as the fastest and most convenient means.

However, it is comparatively costly than other means of transport.

Sea Freight – It is also a traditional shipping method, which has been used globally to ferry millions of containers.

It entails use of water vessels of different sizes to transport consignments from the seaport of the exporting country to importing nation.

It is considered as the cheapest means of importing goods, irrespective of quantity and size.

However, it is a bit slower compared to other shipping methods.

COSCO Shipping

Rail freight-It refers to the use of train vessels to transport goods from one country to another.

This method is effective where there is a rail network linking different countries.

It is relatively faster than sea freight and also transports a large number of goods at the same time.

Express shipping – In all likelihood, this is the shipping method you are most familiar with.

It works more or less like postal service, but this involves direct delivery of an item to your door.

In most cases, a courier is used for importing items, which are less than 100kg.

It is also an effective way of shipping personal items and gifts.

It is fast, reliable, convenient, but relatively expensive.

Express shipping from China

What are the Documents needed for Importation?

They are quite a number but, in some cases, tend to vary depending on the importation policies of a particular country.

Also, different countries have wide-ranging bilateral agreements as far as international trade is concerned.

Of course, this may lead to exemptions when it comes to documentation requirements for customs clearance.

Nevertheless, the standard import documents for shipment include the following;

Bill of entry – It is a legal document filed by customs clearance agents or importers before or upon arrival of the shipment.

It has details of the consignment, merchant, types of goods, and country of origin.

Commercial invoice-It is a primer document outlining all the items sold and the amount of each issued to the customer by the manufacturer or dealer.

It is a fundamental import document since it helps in determining customs duty during clearance.

Bill of lading – It is a document, which a carrier issues to the person consigning the goods as an acknowledgment receipt for cargo shipment.

It confirms the quality, condition, and quantity of goods received by the carrier.

Import license-It refers to a legal document issued by the government authority of a particular country approving importation of certain commodities into its terrain.

Insurance certificate-It is an importation document demonstrating support against the merchants as far as terms of delivery are concerned.

It enables the customs department to verify and determine the exact amount of payable import duty.

Purchase order-It is a letter or document issued by a creditor, an assurance of the merchant honoring payment to exporter in completing a transaction.

Technical write-up– This is a document, which provides details of the function or purpose of the imported commodity.

The essence of this document is to enable the customs authority to derive the precise market value for import duty.

COO certificate – It is a document, which merely proves the imported goods were manufactured and acquired in the specific country of origin.

Test report – It is a document, which shows the commodity meets the quality standards set by the government or authorizing agency. It is a mandatory document for specific imports.

Health certificate – It is a legal document, which approves the commodity’s, especially food and beverage material suitability for human or animal consumption.

How do Shipping Documents compare to Import Documents?

The primary difference between these two is that shipping documents tend to lean mainly towards the freight or transportation of the consignment.

They are critical in facilitating and safeguarding the safety of the shipment while in transit.

On the other hand, import documents tend to lean towards the clearance of the shipment into the country.

They are essential in facilitating approval and clearance of commodities upon arrival to get into the country for the target market.

Both shipping and import documents are used in international trade for facilitating movement of shipments from one country to another.

They are also assessed and evaluated by the customs department for clearance of the consignment to leave and enter a country, respectively.

Shipping and import documents are legal forms, which must be stamped and signed by appointed customs officials.

What are the Steps for Importing from China?

Typically, importing from China is a process laid down properly to enhance convenience and efficiency.

It is important to understand how the process works to make your work easy, especially if you’re importing goods for the first time.

Also note, the complexity or simplicity of importing commodities here may vary.

This depends on the nature of products, quantity, shipping method, and destination, among others.

Here are the steps involved in importing goods from China;

1) Determine the goods you want to buy – This is the first but critical step in importing goods from China.

This country produces millions of items hence the need for making sure you identify what you require.

Once you get this step right, it becomes easy for you to maneuver through other ensuing steps.

2) Find out legality or illegality of the goods in your country – Not all goods manufactured in China are permitted to all countries.

There are nations with some restrictions; hence can only allow limited quantity.

So go through the customs policy of your country to determine the specific goods you can import before you start sourcing.

3) Classify your goods and determine the lading cost – For every commodity you import from China, there is always a 10-digit tariff classification number.

This classification number and COO certificate are used for calculating payable duty rate during importation.

It then allows you to find out the land cost before placing your order.

It enables you to figure out whether you are working with a flexible or limited budget.

4) Find the right supplier – This is one of the ultimate stages when importing from China.

Typically, China has several manufacturers located in different parts of the country.

So you have to do a thorough background search concerning a particular supplier before settling on one.

While at it, you must also agree on all modalities revolving purchasing and shipping of the goods.

5) Organize for your cargo shipment – Ideally, shipping of consignment involves several aspects, particularly as far as cost is concerned.

You must figure out each cost individually to determine the approximate amount of money you’ll spend.

Get a reputable carrier to give you the quote and find an ideal freight forwarding company such as Bansar to facilitate the process.

6) Track your cargo – At this stage, your shipment is on the verge of arriving in your country.

It is in the shipping process, which might take shorter or longer, depending on means and distance.

At this stage, verify your commercial invoice and all other related freight documents.

It will enable you to arrest or troubleshoot a possible issue with the customs officials by the time your shipment arrives.

7) Get your shipment – Once the consignment arrives in the country from China, it has to go through the normal customs clearance procedures.

It can take time here also depending on the nature of the shipment, traffic, and other formalities.

But once it goes through and comes out from the customs clearance, you can pick your goods and leave.

Are Shipping Documents the same for Import and Export?

Not necessarily, but in most instances, they tend to complement each other.

On many occasions, you’ll notice you require more or less the same shipping documents when importing or exporting goods.

The major difference is that each is used at different stations for a different purpose.

In other words, shipping documents for imports are used at the port of entry.

On the other hand, export documentsare required at the port of the country of origin of the shipment.

Is an Import License Mandatory in International Shipping?

It depends on the nature of product you are importing and the bilateral agreements between the two countries.

There are specific products where the merchant must obtain this license before importing.

Failure to acquire this document lead to seizure of the shipment at the customs of the destined country.

In instances where there is a bilateral agreement between the two trading countries regarding a particular product, it might not be mandatory.

Even so, this document is necessary for international shipping since it facilitates ease of movement of shipment from one country to another.

What is a Shipping Advice Document in Import?

It refers to a commercial document issued by the exporter who happens to be the beneficiary of the purchase order.

It is issued to the importer to provide shipment details, which happens to be the applicant of a letter of credit.

The essence of shipment advice is to enable the importers to organize for applicable shipping insurance promptly.

Creating shipping advice is always starts as soon as shipping details are available.

The recommended timeline for creating this document is between three and five days.

Typically, shipping advice entails all the information about the shipment.

This way, it makes it easy for the importer to make insurance coverage with details provided by the shipment advice only.

Do you get Charged Customs for Importation?

Absolutely right!

Apart from the specified goods such as donations, all imports are charged customs duty upon arrival in the country.

Of course, the customs duty might vary depending on various elements, such as the product classification.

Nonetheless, if the product is not exempted from customs levy, the importer must pay the respective duty accordingly.

How do you Process Import Documents?

Once you venture into international business, you’ll need different types of shipping documents.

Such documents facilitate the clearance and shipping when importing a consignment.

Processing import documents is a vital element, which you must also consider in the entire venture.

In some instances, it can be somewhat demanding, depending on the inter-country relations.

The general procedure involved in import document process include the following;

1) Receive an inquiry-The process starts upon expression of interest from a potential customer regarding purchase of your products.

In many instances, the customer will send a letter of inquiry and request a formal quote for the product.

2) Evaluate the potential customer – The moment you receive the inquiry, it is imperative to ensure you can do business with them.

Therefore, screen the potential customer accordingly.

This enables you to know whether or not they are viable to sell to.

Check the nitty-gritty to make sure you capture all the details before engaging them further.

3) Issue profoma invoice – Once you realize the customer is “clean” and viable for business, give them the profoma invoice.

This document should cover all the details of your company, product descriptions, and other important details.

It is a reflection of a commercial invoice, and in some countries, it is a legal document for controlling their currency.

4) Complete the sale – After issuing the profoma invoice, the buyer is at the discretion of either accepting rejecting or negotiating.

Once you agree on various aspects revolving around the terms and conditions, you’ll have a written contract.

In some instances, a verbal contract would suffice.

The contract covers different elements other than the payment and shipping of the products.

5) Get the goods and shipping documents ready – After sealing the contractual terms, prepare the products and all the relevant shipping documents.

Primarily, this involves sorting and packing the goods accordingly.

The shipping documents may vary depending on many factors, such as type of goods, country of origin, and mode of shipping, among others.

6) Run a restricted party scanning – Before you dispatch the goods from your warehouse, do a restricted party scanning once more.

The essence is to guarantee nothing’s altered on any restricted party. It is also vital when it comes to paper trail during the audit process.

7) Prepare other relevant forms and ship the goods – Since the shipping process is usually extensive, here are a few documents you may as well need to capture and prepare.

Some can be optional but may be helpful when it gets to paper trail and record keeping for future reference.

Once this is over, you can simply ship the goods to the predestined location.

What is the Best Way to Send Import Documents?

Since import documents are quite sensitive, there is a need for ensuring they are safeguarded until they get to the importer’s hands.

Usually, you can use different ways to send them over to the merchant.

One way is by including in the shipment so the merchant will pick them upon arrival.

This is usually a bit slow and hence can lead to unforeseen inconveniences.

The second approach is tasking your forwarding and clearance agent to scan and send the copies of the document electronically.

It’s among the safest means since other than preventing loss, alteration, or damage of the documents, and it also upholds privacy.

It is also convenient since this can happen in real-time.

However, it becomes a challenge when the customs department insists on the original hard copies to facilitate clearance process.

And lastly, you may as well consider sending the documents via courier services.

It is arguably the safest means since you get the documents within the least time possible.

The courier services also offer unmatched convenience since they deliver the documents directly to your home.

But this can be a bit costly, depending on the distance and other prevailing factors.

What is a Packing List in International Import?

It refers to a shipping document usually, which indicates all the goods or commodities a particular consignment contains.

It is an important document because it compliments the commercial invoice hence necessary for fast-tracking clearance process.

This document outlines the description of the product, quantity, weight, and other fundamental factors for the shipment.

It helps in the verification process, especially at the customs.

It also comes in handy in determining the customs duty payable for the consignment since it outlines the weight.

Sample packing list

Who Prepares a Packing List for Importation?

Preparation of packing list is the sole responsibility of the supplier.

It is the supplier who must capture all the items in a shipment in regards to description, weight, and quantity.

The packing list also needs to bear the name and logo of the supplier.

It thus makes it necessary for the document to come from the manufacturer or supplier.

Who issues an Import Bill of Lading Documents?

It is the carrier who prepares and issues the bill of lading documents to the shipper.

They also retain a copy for record-keeping in case there is a dispute surrounding the inbound import.

In essence, this document contains all the titles of goods in the consignment.

Secondly, it also acts as a receipt for all the shipped products.

And more importantly, it acts as a representation for the agreed contractual terms for shipping of the consignment.

Sample bill of lading

What do you Check in a Bill of Lading in International Shipping?

In many instances, a bill of lading often consists of business and legal jargon, which can make it difficult for a newbie to understand.

Such cases could lead to confusion due to misunderstanding of the actual meaning of the terms.

When checking a bill of lading, some of the vital elements to look into before signing it include the following;

Identify of the shipper – Always ensure the name, identity, and address of the shipper is on the bill of lading.

It helps especially when issues surrounding the indemnification of the carrier and back freighting of the consignment arises.

Quantity and description of commodities-Before approving this document, make sure the quantity and description of products are correct.

The value for the same should also match what is loaded or what is already onboard.

Counter check the shipment documents with the receipts the shipper is providing.

Port of discharge – It is vital to ensure the vessel precedes with all the dispatch to the indicated port of discharge.

Condition of the goods – Make sure you verify the commodities are in good physical condition.

Confirm whether there are dead-freights or short-loading and if the document mentions the same.

Freight – Ensure the bill of lading is stamped “freight paid” only if it true.

If possible, find the written agreement between the shipper and shipowner regarding status of freight.

Conflicting terms – At no point or situation should there be a conflict between bill of lading and charter party terms.

And in case the bill is claused according to the party terms the references should be clear.

Port and date of loading – The loading date should match the receipt. It indicates the origin of the shipment.

It can as well determine the permissibility of the products into the country and the customs duty structure.

Signature – The bill of lading must bear the signature of the shipper and shipowner.

It is the only way you can raise a valid claim in case an issue such as loss, damage, or short -loading arises.

What is the Difference Between Shipping Bill and Bill of Lading in Import Business?

Shipping bill refers to the document with details pertaining to the shipment.

Some of the information includes the product, origin, destination, date, address, weight, quantity, and value, among others.

It is an important document often used by the customs authority when clearing commodities for shipment.

On the other hand, a bill of lading is the document issued by the shipping company to the shipper or transporter when they load the commodities to the vessel.

It is equally an important document, especially at the inbound port, for the clearance process.

How do you Generate a Shipping Bill?

It varies depending on the country you are importing the goods from.

For instance, when importing from China, you have to generate this document online.

The process can be tedious, depending on the nature of goods you are shipping.

But a general overview of how to generate a shipping bill include the following;

  • The supplier has to register with the relevant customs authority in the country.

And this is only possible upon submitting all the relevant and verified documents.

  • Upon submission of the documents, there is a checklist generated to ensure your submission meets all the requirements.
  • The details of the vendor upon verification are captured in the system for easy access.

Once the data is in the system, it generates the shipping bill number, which is also endorsed the back of printed checklist.

It is then issued to the supplier or exporter.

  • The entire generation of shipping bill is automated in many countries hence does not require human intervention. But this only happens based on vendor’s or exporter’s declarations.
  • The exporter or vendor will get the shipping bill at the service center once it is ready.

What is the Difference Between Straight and Order Bill of Lading Documents?

Straight bill of lading refers to a non-negotiable issued to the transporter by the freight forwarder upon loading of the commodities in the vessel.

It is common in instances where the goods are already paid for or do not necessarily require payment.

Under the straight bill of lading, the forwarder or shipper can never re-assign it to anyone else.

Some of the common commodities, which utilize straight bill of lading include donations and gifts, among others.

The consignee, in this case, will receive the shipment from the shipper upon presentation of their identification documents.

Order bill of lading, on the other hand, is the type where the named consignee is the ultimate owner of the cargo.

The consignee can as well order for the shipment to be shipped by a different entity by simply endorsing the bill of lading to the particular party.

This type of bill of lading outlines the particular conditions the shipper imposes.

Why are there 3 Original Bills of Lading in Import?

Ideally, there is no restriction when it comes to the number of bills of lading to be issued.

You can issue as many as possible.

The most important thing is making sure the number of copies issues is indicated on the bill.

For security purposes, it is advisable to only produce a few copies, specifically for the consignee, transporter, and banker/broker/freight forwarder.

The lesser the number of these bill documents,the lower the chances of theft and release of goods to the wrong address.

It also lowers chances ofunauthorized release of goods, and fraud, among others.

These three entities must receive the original copies of the bill since they are all directly involved in the consignment.

How do you File a Bill of Lading for Imports?

Generally, there is no standard template for bill of lading.

Different entities have different binding terms and conditions and policies on this document.

You can fill a soft copy form of this document online or hard copy physically.

Even so, some of the basic information a bill of lading must capture include the following;

  • Date
  • Bill of lading number where applicable
  • Reference number
  • Shipper and consignee names, address, and zip codes
  • Third-party name, address and zip codes (where applicable)
  • Desired time-based service, delivery date and time
  • Cost of the product
  • Number of shipping units
  • Class specification
  • Correct weight of the shipment
  • Length, width, and height of the shipment
  • Declared value of goods
  • Shipper’s name and signature

How many Types of Shipping Bills are there in Imports?

They include the following;

Free shipping bill – It is applicable on shipments, which are exempted from tax and not entitled for duty drawback.

Drawback shipping bill – It is applicable in instances where a refund of duties is acceptable on the goods exported.

Dutiable shipping bill-It applies to goods, which attract import duty. It may be or may not be entitled to duty drawback depending on different circumstances.

Ex-Bond shipment shipping bill – It applies to imported goods designed for re-export and are kept in bond.

What is an Import Clean Bill of Lading Document?

It refers to a document, which declares zero-damage, tampering, or loss of the goods during shipment.

The carrier issues it to the consignee after thorough inspection and verification of the shipment.

The consignee only signs the clean bill of lading after ensuring there is no damage, deviations in quality, and missing quantities.

Itremoves any liability from the carrier once the consignee appends its signature on the document.

What is the Difference Between an ImportBill of Lading and Bill of Entry Document?

Import bill of lading is a document, which lists all the details about items the shipper receives and the destination.

It can also serve as an acknowledgment receipt for the second party the moment they receive the items.

In simple terms, it is evidence of shipment and proof of receipt of goods by the shipper from an individual or entity providing the cargo for shipping.

Bill of entry, on the other hand, refers to a document prepared at the customs department confirming billing or importation of the goods.

It is filed by the importer or customs department agents and used as part of a clearance procedure at the port of discharge.

Preparation of this document is on the basis ofseveral import documents, including commercial invoice, bill of lading, and packing list, among others.

What is the Difference Between a Profoma Invoice and a Commercial Invoice?

A profoma invoice is a reflection or speculation of the cost of an order before it filled.

It shows the seller’s commitment to sell the commodities according to predetermined terms and conditions.

The essence of a profoma invoice is to provide the buyer with a clear idea of what to expect when purchasing the goods.

It provides the quotation of the items before payment and also provides room for negotiation for a better deal.

The buyer can use it to obtain a purchase order or letter of credit from the bank or any other creditor.

And you can as well decide to buy or not to buy the goods upon reviewing the profoma invoice.

Commercial invoice is a reflection of the actual situation since it shows the price and quantity of the goods sold.

The purpose of a commercial invoice is to request payment for the goods sold.

It is also used as acknowledgment receipts for goods sold.

What is the Significance of a Commercial Invoice in Import?

Sample commercial invoice

  • It shows the actual amount to pay for all the goods sold.
  • The vendor can use it to request payment from the buyer
  • It provides the final statement reflecting all the occurrences during the process of completing a project.
  • It comes in handy during auditing, tax, and accounting purpose.

Which Items should you Include on your Import Commercial Invoice?

A commercial invoice should capture all the relevant details regarding the transaction.

It is the final document authorizing the transaction process.

Some of the common items that this document must capture include the following;

  • Invoice number and date
  • The buyer’s name and address
  • Reference number
  • Mode of payment
  • International term of sale
  • Product description, merchandise number, unit and total price
  • HTS classification number
  • Country of origin
  • Seller’s signature or stamp

What is an Import Declaration Form?

It refers to a form, which lists the details of goods being imported whenever the importer gets into the border of the destination country.

It allows the importer to declare all the items obtained from the country of origin.

This form is also essential in allowing the customs department to filter the items, which are subjected to or exempted from customs duty.

It can be filled by the importer or the customs agent handling the imports.

In short, once you understand every concept here, importing from China can be a simple process.

However, in case you have any question about import documents, BanSar team is always here to help.