Exploring Automated Solutions in International Shipping Documents

International shipping plays a vital role in the global economy. It serves as the process of transporting goods and commodities across borders of different countries by employing transportation mechanisms like ships, airplanes, trucks, etc, connecting manufacturers to consumers on a global scale.

As a dynamic and evolving system, international shipping requires collaborative efforts between governments, businesses, and logistics providers.

This comes with challenges like choosing the right transportation mode, whether it is a large product that can only be transported by ships or a time-sensitive item that can only be transported by air.

There is also the challenge of proper documentation which involves necessary paperwork processes such as invoices, packing lists, certificates, etc. International shipping documents play a very important role in ensuring compliance with local regulations and assessment before the goods can be transported to their various owners.

In this article, we will look at common international shipping documents and how these documents can be automated to save time, improve efficiency, reduce errors, and ensure customer satisfaction.

10 Common International Shipping Documents

Several common international shipping documents are essential for facilitating the smooth movement of goods across different countries.

Here are some of the most crucial shipping documents and why they are important in global trade:

1. Bill of Lading (B/L)

The bill of lading is a document issued by the carrier to the shipper, acknowledging receipt of goods for shipment. It serves as a contract of carriage, receipt of goods, and title document, and is essential for transferring ownership of the goods. The bill of lading holds significant importance in international shipping for several reasons:

  1. It serves as proof that the carrier has received the goods for shipment, confirming the quantity and condition of the items.
  2. The bill of lading outlines the terms and conditions of transportation between the shipper and the carrier, including responsibilities, liabilities, and the agreed-upon route.
  3. It acts as a document of title, providing evidence of ownership or the right to claim the goods.
  4. Customs authorities often require the bill of lading as part of the documentation process for clearing goods.

2. Invoice

An invoice is a bill issued by the seller to the buyer, detailing the goods sold, their value, and terms of sale. It serves as a legal document for customs clearance and is used for calculating duties and taxes. Invoices are important for several reasons:

  • It serves as a legal binding document that outlines the details of a commercial transaction between the buyer and the seller.
  • In the event of disputes or discrepancies related to the transaction, the invoice serves as a reference point for resolving disagreements between the buyer and the seller.
  • In many countries, invoices are required for tax reporting and compliance purposes.

3. Packing List

A packing list provides a detailed inventory of the contents of a shipment. This includes descriptions, quantities, and weights of each item.

It helps customs officials verify the contents of the shipment and aids in cargo handling and storage. Here are some of the reasons why packing lists are important in international shipping:

  • The packing list is often required by customs officials as part of the documentation needed for customs clearance.
  • Shipping and logistics personnel rely on the packing list to facilitate cargo handling and storage operations.
  • The packing list serves as a valuable tool for inventory management purposes.

4. Certificate of Origin

A certificate of origin is a document that certifies the country where the goods were produced. It may be required by customs authorities to determine eligibility for preferential trade agreements, tariffs, or quotas.

Here are key reasons why the certificate of origin is necessary for global trade:

  • Customs authorities use the Certificate of Origin to determine the applicable tariffs and duties for imported goods.
  • The Certificate of Origin ensures compliance with trade regulations and requirements set forth by importing countries.
  • The Certificate of Origin helps prevent fraud and misrepresentation in international trade by providing a verified declaration of the country where the goods were produced.

5. Insurance Certificate

An insurance certificate provides evidence of insurance coverage for the shipment. It details the type and extent of insurance coverage, including the insured value of the goods and the risks covered during transit.

Here are some of the reasons why you may need an insurance certificate:

  • Having insurance coverage provides businesses with peace of mind knowing that their valuable goods are protected against unforeseen risks during transit.
  • Lenders or financial institutions may require proof of insurance coverage as a condition for providing financing or loans for international trade transactions.
  • In the event of loss or damage to the goods during transit, the insurance certificate serves as proof of insurance coverage.

6. Export License

An export license is a government-issued document that authorizes the export of specific goods to certain destinations.

It may be required for goods subject to export controls or restrictions. An export license is crucial in international shipping for several reasons:

  • Export licenses ensure that businesses comply with government regulations and export control laws.
  • Export licenses help mitigate the risk of non-compliance with export regulations, which can lead to severe penalties, fines, or legal consequences.
  • Export licenses contribute to the smooth flow of international trade by providing clarity and transparency in the export process.
  • Export licenses are necessary for securing financing or obtaining insurance coverage for export transactions.

7. Import License

An import license is an authorization granted by a government or regulatory authority that permits an individual or business to import specific goods into a country.

Import licenses are typically issued for goods that are subject to import restrictions, quotas, or other regulatory controls.

Import licenses are important in global trade for several reasons:

  • They provide a mechanism for verifying that imported goods meet the necessary legal requirements, such as safety standards, quality controls, and import quotas.
  • Import licenses allow governments to control the importation of certain goods that may be restricted or prohibited for various reasons, such as public health, environmental protection, or national security.
  • Import licenses can be used as a bargaining tool in international trade negotiations and agreements

8. Air waybill

An air waybill (AWB) is a crucial document used in air freight transportation. It serves as a contract of carriage between the shipper (sender) and the carrier (airline), outlining the terms and conditions of transportation for goods by air.

Here’s why airwaybills are important in global trade:

  • The air waybill serves as a legally binding contract between the shipper and the carrier, outlining the terms and conditions of transportation.
  • Customs authorities require the air waybill as part of the documentation process for clearing goods.
  • The airway bill serves as a reference document for invoicing and payment purposes.
  • Airlines use the information provided in the air waybill to facilitate cargo handling and loading/unloading operations

9. Inspection Certificate

An inspection certificate is issued by an authorized inspector or agency, confirming that the goods meet certain quality or safety standards. It may be required for certain types of goods or in specific trading relationships.

Here are some of the reasons why an inspection certificate is important in global trade:

  • It assures that the goods being exported meet specific quality standards and comply with regulatory requirements.
  • Many importing countries require certain products to undergo inspection and obtain a certificate of inspection before entry is permitted.
  • An inspection certificate helps mitigate the risk of receiving substandard or defective goods by providing an independent assessment of the product’s quality and conformity to standards.

10. Letter of Credit (LC)

A letter of credit is a financial document issued by a bank, guaranteeing payment to the seller upon presentation of specified documents.

It assures the seller that they will receive payment for the goods, mitigating the risk of non-payment. The letter of credit (LC) holds immense importance in global trade due to its role as a secure payment mechanism that assures both buyers and sellers.

Here are several reasons why LCs are crucial in facilitating international trade:

  • LCs facilitate access to trade finance by providing a reliable mechanism for financing international transactions.
  • LCs ensure compliance with agreed-upon trade terms between buyers and sellers. The terms and conditions outlined in the LC, including shipping requirements, inspection procedures, and documentation standards, serve as a contractual agreement that must be met for payment to be made.
  • LCs provide a clear framework for resolving disputes that may arise during the transaction process.

These common international shipping documents help provide transparency and reliability when transporting goods on a global scale.

Automation in International Shipping Documents

Taking advantage of technology solutions such as a PDF document generator can help businesses expedite the movement of goods and improve overall efficiency in international shipping operations. Automating shipping documents simplifies the shipping process, by eliminating manual errors, and enhancing transparency and traceability.

By automating your shipping documents, you’re not just cutting down on manual labor- you’re also slashing the time it takes to get things done. Here are several advantages of automating shipping documents:

  • Automated systems help minimize the risk of human error in document creation and data entry. This reduces the likelihood of errors such as typos, misinterpretations, or missing information, ensuring that shipping documents are accurate and compliant.
  • With automated systems, documents can be generated, reviewed, and transmitted more quickly, leading to faster transaction processing and shorter shipping lead times.
  • Automation streamlines the flow of shipping documents throughout the supply chain. This integrated approach improves workflow efficiency and coordination, leading to smoother operations.
  • International trade regulations and documentation requirements can change frequently. Automated systems can be easily updated to adapt to these changes, ensuring that businesses remain compliant with the latest standards and regulations without significant disruptions or manual intervention.
  • Automation can help improve customer satisfaction, foster positive relationships, and increase loyalty and repeat business.

How APITemplate.io can help automate shipping documents

APITemplate.io offers a PDF Generation API designed to simplify the automatic creation of PDF documents using reusable templates, whether for official or personal purposes. This tool significantly reduces the time and effort required for manual document creation, making your paperwork tasks so much easier.

Here are some key features on how APITemplate can help with automation:

i. PDF Generation

APITemplate helps you automatically generate documents such as invoices, packing lists, certificates, and more, ensuring swift and efficient document generation.

This not only saves you valuable time that would otherwise be spent on manual creation but also expedites the process, allowing you to transport goods faster.

You can check out our article for invaluable insights on how to automate your business paperwork processes.

ii. Integration with no-code/low-code tools

APITemplate.io helps eliminate errors that may arise during manual invoice creation, ensuring accuracy and reliability in your financial transactions.

It integrates with third-party no-code/low-code tools like Zapier, make.com, bubble.io, retool, and more. This helps further enhance efficiency by automating and streamlining your paperwork processes. Check out our tutorials on how to generate PDF documents with bubble.io.

You can also explore more third-party tools, by checking out our tutorials on automation.

iii. HTML to PDF support

APITemplate.io also supports the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor for creating PDF documents. It helps convert HTML to PDF documents by taking advantage of this editor.

The WYSIWYG editor is an editing software that enables you to edit content in a form similar to how it would look on PDFs. The great thing about this editor is that you require no coding skill- at all.

You can use the editor without having to deal with HTML or CSS. Check out our existing tutorial on how to get started with the WYSIWYG editor.

APITemplate not only offers a PDF Generation API that provides a comprehensive solution for automating shipping documents but also improves workflow efficiency in global trade.


Automation in international shipping documents offers numerous benefits for businesses involved in global trade. By leveraging technology solutions, such as APITemplate, companies can streamline their shipping processes.

APITemplate’s PDF Generation API is a valuable tool that simplifies the creation of shipping documents, saving time and effort.

With features like PDF generation, integration with no-code/low-code tools, and HTML to PDF support, APITemplate empowers businesses to automate their paperwork processes and enhance productivity in international shipping operations.

Start automating your PDF generation today by signing up for a free account with us.

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