Shipment Planning & Documentation: Step-by-Step Guide

Trade Guide

14 April 2024 • 19 min read

Shipment Planning & Documentation: Step-by-Step Guide

Zoheb Kamran

This guide simplifies the shipment planning process, outlining each stage and its required documents from pre-booking to discharge. It offers tips for optimizing logistics, including digitization, tracking, partner selection, transport options, communication, customs readiness, and paperwork management. Enhance operational efficiency with these insights.

When goods intended for export are cleared for dispatch, they are called a shipment. Planning a shipment is a labor-intensive process involving many steps and stages. It starts with booking the goods on a shipping line and ends with the final delivery of the goods. In between, the exporter and the importer deal with the entire supply chain that makes up the international shipping process. This includes but is not limited to:

  • The carrier/shipping line

  • Ports at origin and destination

  • Packaging and loading services

  • Inland transport services (truck/trailer/rail/barge) 

  • Customs authorities at origin and destination

  • Banks on both sides of the transaction

  • Freight forwarders and customs agents on both sides

  • The insurance company

In this blog, we will take you step by step through the shipment planning process and talk about the documents you will need to prepare.


Documents in Shipment Planning 

When you plan a shipment, you plan in stages – pre-booking, booking, post-booking and discharge. There are numerous documents to be prepared and submitted at each stage. We look at the main ones here: 

1. Pre-Booking Stage

  • Proforma Invoice – Preliminary bill of sale

  • Commercial Invoice – Contract of sale 

  • Packing List – Itemized list of the shipment’s contents

  • Certificate of Origin – Establishes the country of origin of the goods

  • Letter of Credit (if used) – Promise by the importer’s bank to pay the exporter an agreed upon sum  

2. Booking Stage

  • Booking Note – Contract for reservation of carrier space 

  • Dangerous Goods Declaration (if required) – Declaration by the exporter that the shipment contains goods classified as dangerous or hazardous ‍

3. Post-Booking Stage

  • Shipping Checklist – Checklist released electronically by customs prior to the filing of the Shipping Bill  

  • Shipping Bill/Bill of Export – Application by the exporter seeking customs clearance of the goods

  • VGM Declaration – Declaration of the shipment’s verified gross mass (VGM)

  • Gate Pass – Permission for the goods to enter the port

  • Shipping Instructions – Exporter’s instructions to the carrier/freight forwarder for shipment invoicing

  • Marine Insurance – Document certifying that the goods are insured

  • Let Export Order – Endorsement by customs allowing the goods to be handed over to the carrier for export 

  • Draft Bill of Lading – Draft released by the carrier before it issues the final Bill of Lading  

  • Bill of Lading – Contract of carriage of goods

  • Electronic Export Information (for US exports to other countries) – Online cargo declaration mandated by US Customs rules  

  • EIC Certificates (for food products) – Certificates issued by the Export Inspection Council (EIC) vouching for the quality and safety of Indian exports    

  • Phytosanitary Certificate (for plants/plant-based commodities) – Document certifying that the goods are free of pests  

4. Discharge Stage

  • Bill of Entry – Legal document filed by the importer with customs on or before the arrival of imported goods  

  • Delivery Order – Document issued by the carrier to the importer to take delivery of the goods

  • Certificate of Analysis (for food, wine, drugs, etc.) – Statement that the goods comply with product specifications and production standards 

  • Fumigation Certificate – Confirmation that wooden packaging material used is free of pests


Additional Documents

  • Importer-Exporter Code (IEC) – Business identification number mandatory for starting an import-export business  

  • Export License – License to export “restricted goods” (live animals and birds, endangered plant and animal species, sandalwood) 

  • Dock/Warehouse Receipt – Receipt of goods received at the carrier’s dock/warehouse 

  • Container Load Plan – Document detailing how cargo is loaded in a container, prepared at a container freight station

  • Inspection Certificate – Certifies that the goods (usually perishables, industry equipment) comply with the terms of the sale contract   

  • Certificate of Conformity – Declaration that the goods conform with the importing country’s standards. Required by Russia, Romania and Belarus among others 

  • Consular Invoice – Invoice for the shipment attested by the embassy of the importing country. Demanded by countries such as Australia, Kenya, Tanzania and Iraq 

  • Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) – Document detailing the physical, chemical, explosive and radioactive characteristics of dangerous goods  

  • AMS/ENS/CTN Filing:Mandatory electronic declaration of goods imported by the US, European Union and certain African countries, respectively 

  • Electronic Bank Realization Certificate (eBRC) – Confirmation of payment issued by the exporter’s bank

  • FEMA Declaration – Declaration of foreign exchange remittance made by the exporter under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). Not required for exports to Nepal and Bhutan

  • AR4 & AR5 – Forms for claiming excise duty rebate. To be filed by the exporter at least 24 hours before the goods leave his factory for shipment     

  • Destination Control Statement (for US exports) – Statement that the goods are intended for export only to the country of final destination for use by the final consignee. It is included in the Commercial Voice  

  • Proof of export – Purchase order issued by the importer to the exporter  

  • Sampling and Laboratory Test – Report of laboratory testing of cargo sample 

Optimizing the Shipment Planning Process

While planning a shipment is good, it might not be enough. Optimizing the process can help you cut costs and increase operational efficiency even more. But how do you optimize? Let’s look at the ways: 

  • Digitize: It’s the age of Industry 4.0. Gone are the days of keeping manual records of bookings, documents and cargo movements. Using professional shipment management software not only eases the process, but it also helps you make better logistics choices. Cogoport’s booking management tool allows you to a) make bookings within minutes, b) manage all your shipments through your smartphone, c) access documents and shipping records in one place, and d) coordinate and collaborate with all service providers.  

  • Track: It is now possible to track your shipment in real time, which helps you take immediate action if there is a delay or disruption. Try the Cogoport Dashboard to track all your shipments, no matter where you’ve booked them, in one place. You can also use your smartphone to track the GPS-enabled truck/trailer ferrying your shipment.  

  • Hire right: Hire a capable freight forwarder or clearing and forwarding (C&F) agent to take care of your transportation and customs-related activities. An experienced forwarder or C&F agent can take appropriate action when problems arise or, better yet, anticipate a problem before it happens. At Cogoport, we connect you only with verified freight forwarders and customs agents you can trust to get your shipment delivered on time.  

  • Choose right: One of the challenges of planning a shipment is selecting a carrier, route and transport provider that gives you the best value for your money. At Cogoport, you can receive multiple freight rates instantly and compare them to find your best option, use the Special Rate Request tool to negotiate for the best rates and extra free days, and choose the right truck/rail/barge service for your needs.

  • Communicate: Shipment planning is all about working with multiple partners. If you are an exporter, sharing all the details of your shipment with your logistics partners helps them do their job better. If you are an importer, you can do your bit to stay informed by using a tracking system or signing up for an SMS service that provides delivery status updates. Integrating your IT system with those of your partners to create a connected supply chain also makes communication simpler and more efficient.  

  • Be customs-ready: The all-important customs clearance stage has a high likelihood of problems and delays. Be on top of your game by providing accurate information in your documents, knowing about the requirements of the importing country, and making timely online cargo declarations, which are mandatory for exports to the US, Europe and many other countries.  

In conclusion, effective shipment planning, and documentation are crucial for smooth international trade operations. By digitizing processes, tracking shipments in real time, hiring reliable partners, choosing the right carriers, and maintaining clear communication, businesses can optimize their logistics and ensure timely deliveries. Being customs-ready and managing paperwork efficiently further streamlines the process. With Cogoport's comprehensive solutions, including booking management tools and cargo tracking dashboards, businesses can navigate the complexities of global shipping with ease. Start optimizing your shipment process today for cost savings and operational efficiency.

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