Shipping and transportation involve a complex web of vendors, paperwork, and coordination. As a company that deals with these issues on a daily basis, it’s important to understand the most commonly used shipment documentation and the records management best practices that will ensure you have easy digital access to all the paperwork involved in your shipping and exports.

The Non-Negotiable Air Waybill (AWB)

Also known as an air consignment note, an air waybill is essentially a receipt. It’s issued by an international airline in exchange for goods, and it serves as a certificate or evidence of the contract of carriage. Note that it is not a title to the goods. As a result, it’s non-negotiable. It’s the most important shipment documentation a carrier issues, as it covers the transport of cargo or freight from one airport to another. Each air waybill has a unique number, consisting of 11 digits, which can be used to make bookings, to check on the status of a particular delivery, and to find the exact location of the shipment.

Commonly Used Shipment Documentation Include Several Types of Bills of Lading

Put simply, a bill of lading is an invoice document a commercial carrier uses to detail merchandise they’re shipping. The title of the goods is given to the party the item is being shipped through. The purpose is to guarantee that an exporter will get the payment they’re entitled to and that importers will get the merchandise they’ve paid for. Straight bills of lading are used when payment is made in advance, and an order bill of lading is used if the merchandise is shipped before payment is made. Bills of lading can be endorsed to third parties and used as collateral or security.

A Commercial Invoice May Not Be What You Think It Is

Foreign trade often involves commercial invoices, which can be used as custom declarations when a person or company is exporting goods across international borders.

These types of invoices have no standard format, but there are numerous pieces of information that they must include:

  • Details on the parties involved in the transaction
  • A comprehensive overview of the goods being transported
  • Identification of the country that manufactured the goods
  • Harmonized System codes for the goods in question

Commercial invoices are used for tallying up tariffs, for customs, and for other uses. When first encountering commercial invoices, it’s often surprising that they’re not typically used for payment.


Certify Goods with a Certificate of Origin

Known by several abbreviations, including C/O, CoO, and COO, a certificate of origin is used in international trade processes. It’s generally completed by the person or company exporting goods and is then certified by a recognized body. Said certifiers must attest that the goods in the shipment were made, produced, or processed within a specific country. Digitizing records makes it easy to complete the form, have it certified, and get the shipment on its way.

Show Proof of Insurance with a Certificate of Liability

A certificate of liability proves that a business is protected by insurance in the event of loss.

This certificate includes the following required information:

  • Policy numbers
  • Effective dates
  • Expiration dates
  • The types of policies a company has
  • The limits of said policies
  • Details on the coverage
  • Standard disclaimers


A Packing List Goes by Many Names

Though it’s often simply called a packing list, this document also goes by the names shipping list, packing slip, unpacking note, docket, manifest, waybill, customer receipt, and various other terms. It’s the document that’s typically included in freight deliveries and itemizes details within the package but does not include pricing. The purpose is to inform everyone involved in the transaction—including transport agencies and government authorities—what’s in the shipment so it can be treated accordingly.

No matter which type of documents your company receives or issues, records management best practices require that a company keep copies of these and other commonly used shipping documents. Digitizing records is the easiest way to do this and eFileCabinet provides comprehensive solutions that keep documents safe, secure, and easy to access.