The Packing List: A Vital Freight Document
An important shipping document for packaging during shipment
A packing list is one of several documents that help make the process of importing and exporting goods quicker and easier.
Its chief purpose is to inform others of what’s inside the box, crate, or another container without them having to open it. This is especially useful for customs officials who need to verify the contents of a consignment.
In this article, we look in detail at what a packing list is and does, outlining its purpose and the importance of accuracy when completing it. You can see a sample of a packing list and many of the other necessary international shipping documents on our documents list page.
What Is a Packing List?
Packing lists are used in international trade to provide precise information about the contents of a shipment. The document conveys several important pieces of information, including:
- Who is sending the package
- The destination of the cargo
- How many items the package contains
A packing list is compiled by whoever is responsible for packing the goods—usually the seller, exporter, or freight forwarder. It is essential for both ocean and air shipments. The document includes details about the nature, weight, and dimensions of the goods in the consignment. It also carries information about how the goods were packed, and notes any marks or numbers present on the exterior of the box, crate, or other container used to protect the goods during transit.
You may see or hear a packing list referred to using a variety of alternative terms, such as a:
- Shipping packing list
- Delivery docket
- Bill of parcel
- Shipping list
- Packing slip
- Delivery list
- Unpacking note
- Customer receipt
Packing lists are required for the majority of air and ocean freight shipments. The details on the form will be used by freight forwarders, customs officials, and others involved in the supply chain.
Customs teams at ports of origin and arrival will refer to a packing list when checking that the product and packaging comply with local rules and regulations. The document helps customs officials at the destination port calculate import duties or taxes payable and determine whether reduced tariffs or preferential treatment should be applied to a consignment.
A packing list also provides a source of vital information required to complete a bill of lading, another vital shipping document to which we’ve dedicated an entire article.
Why Do I Need a Packing List?
Your consignment will not necessarily need a packing list. For very small or low-value consignments, or goods that are easily identifiable, a packing list is regarded as a shipping document that’s ‘good to have’ rather than a ‘must-have’.
For freight that doesn’t fall into the above categories, a packing list brings efficiency to the shipping process as it serves several purposes:
- Provides details necessary for arranging shipment with an international cargo carrier
- Supports the verification of goods in a shipment for electronic export information (EEI)
- Shows vital information required for a certificate of origin
- Provides information required to issue a bill of lading
- Tells the buyer how many items are in the shipment
- Supports any reimbursement under the terms and conditions of a letter of credit
- Ensures the correct items are shipped
Who Needs to Provide the Packing List? It makes sense that whoever packages the goods takes responsibility for compiling the packing list. This is because the form must carry details about how the goods are packed as well as what they comprise. Although the seller or exporter will usually pack the goods for shipment, a freight forwarder might sometimes re-package goods in its warehouse. In such cases, the forwarder will take responsibility for filling out the packing list.
What Does a Packing List Need to Include?
A shipping packing list must contain accurate information about the source and contents of a consignment, including:
- The date the document was completed
- The date the goods are due to be shipped
- Details about the seller
- Details about the buyer
- Information about the shipper
- Commercial Invoice number
- How the consignment is being transported to its destination
- The number of items and packages in the consignment
- A description of the freight, including whether it’s hazardous
- How the goods have been packaged—in a crate, box, carton, drum, for example
- The net and gross weight of the consignment
- The dimensions of the package(s)
How Do I Fill out a Packing List? A packing list should be handwritten or typed and attached securely to the exterior of the package using a pouch.
All information on the form must be neatly written or correctly typed. The document contains a comments section for the inclusion of any additional information. Some shippers use this section of the form to provide details about the total value of the shipment, and the individual packages it comprises (if applicable).
The comments section can also be used to provide the seal number of the container in which the goods are being shipped. That can be especially useful, for example, if you are required to provide a packing list after the container has been loaded.
That said, it’s a good idea to complete the packing list while packing the goods. Relying on memory to recall what’s in a package or container after it’s been sealed is not advisable, as accuracy is vital. When the consignment arrives at its destination, customs officers will measure and weigh the consignment and compare their findings with the packing list’s details. If the two don’t match, costly delays might be the result, as goods cannot be released to the buyer if there are discrepancies.
The Shipping Document Packed Full of Importance While compiling a list of the contents of an international shipping package may seem a fairly mundane task, it serves many important purposes. Crucially, a packing list helps speed-up the movement of goods between sellers and buyers, contributing to more efficient worldwide trade.