Shipping products domestically is easy. The paperwork is simple, the packaging requirements are fairly loose, and the cost isn’t terribly high. However, if you operate an ocean liner that offers shipping freight services to exporters, your shipping process is quite a bit more complicated. Shipping products and merchandise internationally requires a range of ocean freight shipping documents that you never have to worry about when shipping domestically.

The most common of these freight shipping forms is the commercial invoice. Including information about the importer, the exporter, and the merchandise contained in the shipment (everything from product descriptions to serial numbers), the commercial invoice is important for getting shipments through customs in a legal and efficient manner.


What Is a Consular Invoice?

In certain situations, you will also have to worry about a different kind of foreign shipping invoice called a consular invoice. The details conveyed in a consular invoice are usually the same as the details included in a commercial invoice, such as information about the exporter (or “consignor”), the importer (or “consignee”), and the value and contents of the shipment. The difference is that a consular invoice must be processed through the consulate or embassy of the country to which the shipment is being exported. Consular invoices are certified by consulate officials, who review the shipment and approve it to be exported to their country.

Over the years, the use of consular invoices as required ocean freight shipping documents has declined. In fact, the United States has previously proposed to the World Trade Organization that the entire process of consularization—which includes consular invoices—be abolished. However, there are still several countries that require consular invoices on import purchases. If your ocean shipping freight company is exporting to one of these countries, then you must go through the consularization process to avoid problems for your shipment at Customs.


The Process (and Hassles) of Obtaining a Consular Invoice

If you are putting together freight shipping forms for an upcoming export and realize that you do need a consular invoice, be aware that consularization complicates the exporting process considerably. To obtain a consular invoice, you will need to schedule an appointment or at least open up lines of communication with the appropriate consulate or embassy officials. Only the importing country and their consulate can provide you with the forms necessary to apply for a consular invoice, and only consulate officials from that country can prepare the invoice for you. To make the necessary preparations, the consulate will have to review your shipment and its contents.

The convoluted process for obtaining a consular invoice as one of your ocean freight shipping documents is complicated further by the fact that materials and fees for the documentation can be steep. Each country has different requirements for imports, and if you fail to meet them you could be fined or forced to shoulder extra expenses accumulated by the buyer or importer. An inaccurate, incomplete, or absent consular invoice can represent one such failure, and can result in your shipment being held at a customs dock or warehouse for an indeterminate period of time.

Another hassle associated with consular invoices is that they are often required at least in part due to language barriers. Like commercial invoices, consular invoices are used by customs officials to assess shipments and collect taxes or duties. Unlike commercial invoices, consular invoices must include a copy of the original commercial invoice that is translated into the native language of the importing country. Naturally, consulates take this step to ensure that their customs officials can fully comprehend the details of a shipment. For ocean freight shipping companies, this means that dealing with consular invoice problems at the customs stage is rendered more complicated by the language barrier.


Circumnavigating Common Freight Shipping Form Problems

Needless to say, when you reach out to a consulate or embassy to obtain a consular invoice, organization is pivotal. Failing to provide all of the necessary information about your shipment can result in you not receiving a consular invoice and having to cancel an order. The expense of consular invoices and the opportunities for long hang-ups at customs if invoice information is inaccurate or incomplete are among other reasons that some international shipping companies hire lawyers to handle consulate affairs, or simply opt out of shipping to countries where consularization is required.

However, as long as you go into the consular invoicing process with all of the details and documents that you need, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Having a smart shipping document management system in place can do wonders in this regard, from making it easier to fill out the additional commercial invoice form, to simplifying communications with customs officials if problems do occur.

Securing a consular invoice starts with ensuring that everything is in order on your commercial invoice, which in turn means knowing everything there is to know about your buyer (their name, address, and contact information) and your shipment (product descriptions, serial numbers, quantities, prices, and more). You can keep all of this information organized and accessible on an electronic document management system like eFileCabinet.

With eFileCabinet, you will be able to store all of your inventory information and manage all of your shipping forms electronically. For instance, with eFileCabinet’s sophisticated organization hierarchy and text search you will be able to find all of the shipment and client information you need to fill out a commercial invoice. You will then have that information accessible electronically from anywhere—including via mobile devices, thanks to our app—which should help to simplify your meetings with consulate officials. Finally, you will be able to store all of your consular and commercial invoices in one place, so you can quickly pull them up if you have to deal with customs problems.

Are you interested in trying out eFileCabinet and learning what it can do for your shipping document management? Visit us on the web today at, and click the “Demo” tab on the side of the screen for a free 15-minute preview of our software in action.