Before you have a chance to make some profit from buying Chinese products, some formalities are required.

Each importer should prepare and collect the necessary documents and submit them to customs officials or other authorities so that you can pick up your goods at the port of destination.

Although, depending on the place, the list of required documents may be different, but the following are the most basic and common documents used in foreign trade.

Ensure that you receive these documents before the arrival of the goods, so that you can sit back and relax without having to pay any storage fees at the port.

The following list is not complete, but it can give you an idea of the types of documents required to successfully ship your goods.

Bill of Lading (B/L)

The ocean bill of lading is relative to the ocean.


There are a lot of information on the B/L, including the name of the shipper, the name of the consignee, the name of the ship, the place of origin and destination, as well as the mark and quantity of the goods. It is one of the most important documents in international transportation.

For the buyer, the bill of lading is a proof of ownership of the goods. Whoever holds the bill of lading has the right to require the carrier to deliver the goods and has the right to possess and dispose of the goods.

Nowadays, the telex bill of lading is commonly used, which means that the consignee does not need the original bill of lading, and can exchange the order and pick up the goods with the stamped bill of lading.

The so-called telex bill of lading refers to the bill of lading and copy of the bill of lading marked with “Surrendered” or “Telex Release” issued by the shipping company or its agent.

Make sure you receive the bill of lading before the goods arrive at the port of destination, otherwise you are not eligible to pick up the goods.

Air waybill

The air waybill is relative to air transport.

The transport document is issued by the air carrier or its agent.

It is the receipt of the cargo received by the carrier and the contract of carriage between the shipper and the carrier. The air waybill is non-negotiable.

Proforma invoice(PI)

The proforma invoice provides all the necessary information about the shipment (how many products are shipped, what are their characteristics and dimensions).


Importantly, it contains final pricing, which helps importers make final purchasing decisions. It is not a real invoice, but is regarded as a legally binding agreement.

The proforma invoice is prepared by the exporter. In some countries/regions, the customs office may accept (and request the commercial invoice to be delivered later).

US Customs may use proforma invoices to assess tariffs. Banks and other financial institutions usually accept proforma invoices in order to open letters of credit on behalf of the importer.

Commercial invoice(CI)

A commercial invoice is a document issued by the seller containing the name, quantity and price of the goods.

A commercial invoice is actually a bill or invoice from the seller to the buyer, which describes the agreement between the two parties on the terms of sale or purchase of goods.


Commercial invoices are mandatory in international trade. It’s used for customs clearance and tariff collection. Customs in some countries require original invoices.

It also records the goods being transported, the location of the transport, and the names of the parties involved in the transport of the goods.

Consular invoice

The consular invoice is a special invoice issued by the consulate of the importing country in the exporting country. The exporter fills out a specific form provided by the consulate and issues an invoice through a consular visa.

The invoice certifies that the goods are exported, and the importing country uses the invoice to prevent dumping of the goods. Since it can be used as a basis for calculating import tariffs, it is convenient for the goods to pass the customs of the importing country smoothly.

Some countries require consular invoices. It is much like a commercial invoice, which will contain the value of the goods, the names and addresses of buyers and sellers, and other relevant information.

Certificate of origin(CO)

It is a document certifying that the goods in a specific export goods are completely obtained, produced, manufactured or processed in a specific country/region.


The certificate of origin is a document issued by the relevant government agency of the exporting country to certify the origin or manufacture of the goods. It is mainly used by the customs of the importing country to implement differential import tax rates as the basis for different national policies.

The certificate of origin is provided by the exporter. Generally, there are two types of certificates of origin.

The first one, the non-preferential certificate of origin, specifies the place of origin, but the goods do not meet any special treatment. The preferential certificate of origin refers to countries that have trade agreements with China.

If you import from China, the certificate of origin is issued by the customs department of the Chinese government.

You must contact your supplier before receiving the goods. This is a charge, but it does not exceed 50USD.

Import license

Some countries require importers to obtain licenses to import certain commodities in advance, otherwise they cannot engage in this business.

These countries restrict imports for local protection. Therefore, if foreign companies want to import some goods, they must apply for an import license.

Packing list

The packing list is a document that details the items contained in the shipment.


As a supplementary document to the invoice, it sets out the details of the packing items agreed by the buyer and the seller, so that foreign buyers and the customs can inspect the goods when they arrive.

Our suggestion

Knowing how to properly prepare these documents is very specific, you must do it well, otherwise, even minor errors in the documents will be enough to delay your goods at customs for a long time.

To make matters worse, you will have to pay a fine. To avoid this situation, it is best to ask your international transportation provider or customs broker to assist you in meeting all document requirements.

International shipping is a complicated matter, and the needs of each country are constantly changing, and many different paperwork needs to be processed.

You don’t know the requirements related to transportation and import, and you can’t handle them.

When you ship from China, one thing you should always take the time to do is to conduct a comprehensive consultation with the freight forwarder.

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