What shipping documents do you need for your business?

Filling out shipping documents is an essential part of transporting wine, beer, or spirits internationally. Providing the correct documents helps ensure your beverage reaches their destination on time and within budget. But when shipping internationally, it can be difficult to know exactly what documents you need to provide, and what they mean for your shipment. To help get you started, there are a few documents that you will encounter regularly when shipping that you should be aware of.

Shipping documents every importer and exporter should know

Importing and exporting products means navigating different rules and regulations for each country, which dictate what shipping documents you will need. So, while the specific documents you will need depends on your route and products being transported, there are some shipping documents that you are likely to encounter on most import or export journeys.

Bill of Lading

Probably the most important document to be aware of is a bill of lading. A bill of lading is a shipping document that sets out the shipping destination, type and quantity of goods. It is a ‘contract of carriage’ issued by the carrier and serves as a receipt for the shipment.

There are different kinds of bills of lading, including ‘express’, ‘original’, ‘master’ and ‘house’ bills of lading. Read our in-depth guide to a bill of lading for more information.

Sea, Air or Rail Waybill

Depending on your mode of transport, you will receive a Sea, Air or Rail Waybill. These shipping documents are issued by the carrier and are contracts of carriage. They also contain contact information, delivery instructions and a cargo receipt for the shipper.

A sea waybill, for example, is used for cargo transported on water, and is issued by the carrier 

Commercial invoice

A commercial invoice is an important shipping document that contains information about the import or export. It is used to create the customs declaration. Customs authorities use this document to decide what duties or taxes apply, and if the shipment can enter or leave the country. You will need to complete a commercial invoice for every consignment.  

Arrival Notice

Also known as a cargo arrival notice, this document states that the shipment has arrived, or is scheduled to arrive at a certain location. Typically sent by the carrier 3-5 days prior to arrival, the arrival notice lets relevant parties in the supply chain know when they need to carry out their part of the shipping process.   

Customs Document

An official customs document that lists and details the cargo that is being exported or imported. It is lodged with the customs office by the owner of the shipment , which is usually the shipper.

Packing List

A packing list is a shipping document required when exporting goods. It is sometimes also called a shipping list, packing slip, packing note and manifest, amongst other names.

It contains information on the product, exporter, the shipper, and buyer. It also details the shipping method, type, origin, destination and date of departure. It is used by each party in the supply chain who handles the shipment on its journey. This ensures that each party is aware of how the shipment should be handled. This is important for sensitive goods, such as those that need to be kept cool or handled more carefully.

Letter of Credit

A letter of credit (LC) is a financial instrument used in international trade transactions to guarantee payment to the seller. In shipping, a letter of credit is commonly used to ensure that the seller will be paid for the goods they have shipped before the buyer takes possession of them.

Certificate of Origin   

A certificate of origin is an international shipping document that states the country where the goods have come from. It certifies that the products were produced, manufactured, or processed in a specified country. For countries with trade agreements, the certificate of origin also lets customs officials know that the products may be subject to lower taxes and duties.

Export/ Import License

Depending on the goods, origin and destination of your shipment, you may also need an export or import licence. For example, wine imports to the EU will need to be accompanied by a VI-1 document. This shipping document also applies to any shipments to the UK that will be re-exported to the EU. It certifies that the wine complies with EU regulations, unless it’s exempt. Each country or trade region may have its own requirements for export licences, so you should check the relevant country’s customs authorities’ website.

Being aware of these shipping documents is a good foundation to build on, but you will also need to know about any special documents required for your route and product.

What documents are used in shipping? Country-specific examples

Each country requires different shipping documents for wine and alcoholic beverage shipments. Understanding the documentation requirements for your trade route will make your product’s journey to market much smoother.

Import and export shipping documents for Australia

As the 5th largest wine exporter, Australian wine is exported to over 100 destinations around the world. Taking Australia as an example, here are the shipping documents you would need as a wine importer or exporter.

Shipping documents for Australian imports:

  1. Ocean Bill of Lading
  2. House Bill of Lading
  3. Commercial Invoice
  4. Packing List
  5. Packing Declaration
  6. Country of Origin Certificate – particularly for countries that Australia has a Free Trade agreement with.

    Other documents required for certain products:

  7. Age Certificate for some Spirits
  8. Manufacturer's Declaration for Foodstuffs, along with an Ingredients List.
  9. Customs Declaration – lodged for Clearance once all the above has been provided
  10. Quarantine Direction – must be lodged for some products for Quarantine Clearance

Shipping documents for Australian exports:

  1. Ocean Bill of Lading
  2. House Bill of Lading
  3. Commercial Invoice
  4. Packing List
  5. Wine Permit Approval from the Australian Wine Corporation
  6. Export Declaration lodged prior to cargo acceptance at the wharf

Import and export shipping documents for China

China is another growing market for wine exports, but with different import and export rules:

Shipping documents a supplier who intends to export wine to China must provide:

  1. Contract
  2. Commercial Invoice
  3. Packing list
  4. Certificate of origin (for distilled spirits and malt beverages)
  5. Certificate of bottling date
  6. Sanitation and Health certificate
  7. Analysis report
  8. Wine label
  9. Registration as overseas manufacturer on GACC, CFRA number ( GACC decree, applies from 1 January 2022)

 Shipping documents that an importer in China must provide:

  1. Business licence
  2. Registration as food importer
  3. Authorization letter for customs declaration
  4. Element for customs declaration
  5. Translation on wine label and Chinese label

Trade relationships between countries will also impact what shipping documents you will need and how you can obtain them. For example, the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement means that authorised bodies, such as Wine Australia, can issue Certificates of Origin for Australian exporters.

We can help make your shipping documents simple

Your carrier or freight forwarder can do more than simply transport your wine, beer or spirits. As your shipping partner, Hillebrand Gori can provide tailored shipping services. This can include assisting you with declaring your exports to customs, understanding duties, taxes and tariffs, obtaining an organic wine licence, and completing your commercial invoice, certificate of origin, phytosanitary and other licences. Our expertise in alcoholic beverage shipping means we can explain exactly what shipping documents you need. 

For more, check our glossary for information on other shipping documents, such as an Importer Security Filing and a Shipping Order. And if you need a quote for comprehensive freight forwarding, you can request a quote here.


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