Packing LIst

Understanding the Importance of a Packing List 

A packing list is your silent communicator in the international shipping process. It speaks volumes about the contents of your boxes, crates, or other containers, without requiring them to be opened. This is a godsend for customs officials who need to confirm the contents of a consignment.

So, what exactly is a packing list, and why is it so important? Let’s dive in.

Packing iist

The ABCs of a Packing List

At its core, a packing list is like an ID card for your shipment. It tells the story of what’s inside each package, making it a crucial tool for customs officials who need to verify the contents.

Accuracy is the name of the game when it comes to filling out your packing list. Think of it as the first impression your shipment makes on customs officials. A clear and accurate packing list can pave the way for a smooth, delay-free customs clearance.

Water is Wet, and Accuracy is Vital

When it comes to your packing list, there’s no such thing as ‘close enough’. Every item, every detail counts. An accurate packing list can be the difference between your shipment breezing through customs or getting stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire.

Want a sneak peek at what a packing list looks like? You can find a sample packing list, along with other essential international shipping documents, on our documents list page.

Remember, a well-prepared packing list is your passport to a stress-free international move. So fill it out with care!

What Is a Packing List?

Packing lists are the unsung heroes of international trade, providing a clear snapshot of your shipment’s contents. Let’s look at the key information this document carries:

  • Who is Sending the Package: The identity of the shipper is a crucial piece of information on the packing list. This helps customs officials and the receiving party know who is responsible for the shipment.
  • Destination of the Cargo: The packing list clearly states where the cargo is heading. This ensures that the shipment reaches the right place and aids in the tracking process.
  • Quantity of Items: How many items does the package contain? The packing list answers this question unequivocally, helping to prevent discrepancies and misunderstandings.

In essence, the packing list is a concise yet comprehensive roadmap of your shipment, guiding it seamlessly from your old home in China to your new one, anywhere in the world.


A packing list is a crucial document in the world of international trade, one that’s compiled by the party responsible for packing the goods – usually the seller, exporter, or freight forwarder. It’s not just a list, but a detailed record that’s indispensable for both ocean and air shipments.

Here’s what a packing list typically includes:

  • Nature of the Goods: What exactly is in the shipment? The packing list answers this question.
  • Weight and Dimensions of Goods: These details help in planning for transport and storage.
  • Packing Details: It records how the goods were packed, aiding in tracking and accountability.
  • Marks or Numbers: Any marks or numbers on the exterior of the packing container are noted. These can be useful for identifying and tracking shipments.

This document goes by many names, including shipping packing list, delivery docket, bill of parcel, shipping list, packing slip, delivery list, manifest, unpacking note, or customer receipt.

Packing lists are a must for the majority of air and ocean freight shipments. They’re referred to by various parties involved in the supply chain, including freight forwarders and customs officials.

Customs teams at both the origin and destination ports rely on packing lists to ensure the product and packaging comply with local rules and regulations. The document also helps them calculate import duties or taxes payable and decide if a consignment qualifies for reduced tariffs or preferential treatment.

Furthermore, a packing list provides vital information needed to complete a bill of lading, another crucial shipping document. We’ve dedicated an entire article to the bill of lading, underscoring its importance in the shipping process.

In a nutshell, a packing list is more than just a list – it’s a key player in ensuring a smooth and compliant shipping process.

Do I need a packing list?

This question is one that pops up quite often when planning an international move. In some cases, like for very small or low-value consignments, or easily identifiable goods, a packing list is seen as a ‘nice-to-have’ rather than a ‘must-have’.

However, for other types of freight, a packing list is a key tool that brings efficiency to the shipping process. Here’s why:

  1. Arranging Shipment: It provides the necessary details for arranging shipment with an international cargo carrier.
  2. Verification of Goods: It supports the verification of goods in a shipment for electronic export information (EEI).
  3. Certificate of Origin: It shows vital information required for a certificate of origin.
  4. Bill of Lading: It provides the information needed to issue a bill of lading.
  5. Buyer Information: It tells the buyer how many items are in the shipment.
  6. Letter of Credit: It supports any reimbursement under the terms and conditions of a letter of credit.
  7. Shipping Accuracy: It helps ensure that the correct items are shipped.

Who’s responsible for providing the packing list? Logically, this task falls to whoever packs the goods as the form needs to detail how the goods are packed, as well as what they comprise. Usually, this is the seller or exporter, but if a freight forwarder re-packages goods in its warehouse, they will take on the responsibility of completing the packing list.

In essence, whether you ‘need’ a packing list or not depends on the nature of your shipment, but it’s always a good practice to have one. It serves as a comprehensive record of your consignment, enhancing transparency and efficiency in the shipping process.

What Should Be Included In a Packing List?

A packing list is a concise yet detailed record of your shipment. Here are the key elements that a shipping packing list should include:

  1. Document Date: The date the document was completed.
  2. Shipping Date: The date the goods are due to be shipped.
  3. Seller’s Details: Information about the seller.
  4. Buyer’s Details: Information about the buyer.
  5. Shipper’s Information: Details about the shipper.
  6. Commercial Invoice Number: The reference number of the commercial invoice.
  7. Transportation Mode: How the consignment is being transported to its destination.
  8. Item and Package Count: The number of items and packages in the consignment.
  9. Freight Description: A description of the freight, including whether it’s hazardous.
  10. Packing Method: How the goods have been packaged—in a crate, box, carton, drum, for example.
  11. Net and Gross Weight: The net and gross weight of the consignment.
  12. Package Dimensions: The dimensions of the package(s).

Filling out a packing list can be done by hand or typed and should be securely attached to the exterior of the package using a pouch. All information on the form must be neatly written or correctly typed. The document also contains a comments section for the inclusion of any additional information.

Some shippers use the comments section to provide details about the total value of the shipment and the individual packages it comprises. The comments section can also be used to provide the seal number of the container in which the goods are being shipped. This can be especially useful if you are required to provide a packing list after the container has been loaded.

However, it’s good practice 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.

Customs officers will measure and weigh the consignment at the destination and compare their findings with the packing list’s details. Discrepancies can lead to costly delays, as goods cannot be released to the buyer if there are discrepancies.

While compiling a list of the contents of an international shipping package may seem mundane, it serves many important purposes. A packing list helps speed up the movement of goods between sellers and buyers, contributing to more efficient worldwide trade. Thus, it’s a shipping document packed full of importance.

Why is a Shipping Packing List an Important Document?

A packing list is a crucial supplement to a commercial invoice. It not only includes descriptions of the goods similar to those on the invoice but also provides detailed information on how the items are packaged for transport. This detailed packaging information is invaluable to customers, freight handlers, and customs officials.

Here’s why it’s critical for all parties involved in the supply chain:

  • Customs Authorities: They rely on the packing list to verify the contents against the commercial invoice, which helps in assessing the correct taxes and duties. The packing list also aids in detailed inspections of the goods.
  • Freight Forwarders: The list is essential for communicating with shipping and ground carriers, ensuring that all goods are transported safely and reach their intended destinations without damage.
  • Buyers: The packing list allows buyers to check for discrepancies between the goods received and those listed. It serves as a reference to verify the quantity and type of products delivered, and helps address any queries or concerns regarding mismatches by referring back to the packing list.

When to Use a Shipping Packing List?

The answer is straightforward: always.

No matter the size of your shipment, from small parcels to large freight, the packing list is vital. It acts as a safeguard, ensuring that all items are accounted for during shipping and arrive in the condition they were sent, thereby protecting both sender and receiver.

Shipping Packing List FAQ

Is a bill of lading the same as a packing list?

No, they are different. A bill of lading serves as a legal agreement that specifies the terms of transportation, whereas a packing list provides specifics about the contents of the shipment including packing details.

Does a packing list function as a receipt?

No, a packing list and a receipt are not interchangeable. A receipt acknowledges payment and specifies the details of the purchase, while a packing list describes the packaging details of the shipped items.

What are other terms for a packing list?

A packing list is known by various names such as packing slips, shipping lists, bills of parcels, unpacking notes, delivery dockets, delivery lists, and manifest shipping lists.

Should a packing list be signed?

Yes, the packing list should be signed by both the sender and the receiver. The sender signs it when sending, and the receiver signs it upon receipt as verification that all listed items have been received and accounted for.

What information is not included in a packing list?

A packing list does not contain the price of the shipped items nor does it include any payment terms or legal details concerning the shipment. Such information is typically found on the commercial invoice.

Is a packing list necessary?

While not mandatory, having a packing list is strongly advised. It helps ensure the accuracy of the shipment’s contents and provides a safeguard for both the sender and receiver against any discrepancies or missing items. Omitting a packing list could potentially delay the shipment and lead to expensive disputes.


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