What Is a Packing List?

Matthew Chipchura
Matthew Chipchura
Jan 12, 2023
8 min read
A warehouse with pallets and shipments containing a packing list


When it comes to importing and shipping goods in the commercial world, it's important to have the key elements that will make your business transactions go smooth, slick and easy peasy. 

This includes a comprehensive and accurate packing list to help you avoid unnecessary headaches and delays. But let’s start first by explaining what exactly is a packing list and why is it so important in commercial trade?

Warehouse with pallets on the floor showing packing lists

What is a packing list?

A packing list is a document that is included in your shipment that outlines the details of the items being shipped along with pertinent details that include the product, quantity, type and type of packaging.

This list essentially serves as a checklist for both the shipper and the recipient and it ensures that everything is properly documented and accounted for.

In international trade it also supports the commercial invoice in the event that a customs official wants to investigate a shipment further and cross-reference the contents.

Below are some of the things you’ll often see included on a packing list:

  1. Description of goods: A detailed description of the item such as the item name, weight, quantity, dimensions, and order number.
  2. HS (Harmonized System) code: A standardized international classification system of goods that determines the tax or tariff applicable to the specific item.
  3. Country of Origin: The country of origin where the item is coming from.
  4. Shipper's Details: The name, address, and contact information of the person sending the goods.
  5. Receiver's Details: The name, address, and contact information of the person receiving the goods.
  6. Bill of Lading Number: A unique identifier used by the shipping department assigned to the shipment.
  7. Container Information: This refers to the number, size, type of container, and including seals used to secure the container.
  8. Gross Weight: The weight of the package which includes the packaging material used by the manufacturer to protect the goods.
  9. Packaging information: Specs and details of the packaging used for shipping goods which typically include size, weight, number of packages, and the type of container used.

These details are the ultimate travel companion to support your commercial shipment.

Just like making a packing list prior to leaving on a vacation ensures you have everything you need on your trip, your shipment shouldn't embark on its journey without one either.

What are other names for a packing list?

To be a savvy purchasing agent or importer, it’s wise to know the lingo that's used in the shipping industry. Both importers and exporters commonly use the term packing list, however, they're also referred to as shipping lists, packing slips, or shipment advice.

Why are packing lists important in commercial trade?

Here are 3 main reasons why a packing list document is so important in commercial trade:

  1. Preventing misunderstandings and disputes: A packing list provides a clear and concise record of the items being shipped, ensuring that both the shipper and recipient have the same understanding of what is being shipped. This helps to avoid any misunderstandings or disputes that could arise, especially when it comes to missing or damaged items upon delivery.
  2. Streamlining customs clearance: When a shipment arrives at its destination, it must have the supporting documentation to calculate taxes, duties, and fees to be paid. A packing list provides customs officials with additional information about the contents of a shipment, making the clearance process smoother and faster.
  3. Supporting insurance claims: In the event of damage or loss during transit, a packing list can serve as an important piece of evidence in the insurance claims process. It provides details of the items being shipped, their quantity, and their value, which can help to support any claims made.

What additional information is helpful to include in your packing list?

What should you include on a packing list to ensure smooth sailing through customs? Here are some key components to keep in mind:

  1. Date of shipment
  2. Name, contact information, and address of the shipper and recipient
  3. Description of the goods, including their description, type, and quantity
  4. Measurements and weight of the shipment
  5. Details of the packaging, including the number of boxes, pallets, or containers
  6. Any special instructions, such as handling or storage requirements
  7. Name and signature of the person responsible for the shipment

To create an effective packing list, include all relevant information and use a clear and concise format, such as a table or spreadsheet. Be sure to check for accuracy before attaching the packing list to international shipments.

10 benefits of using a packing list

  1. Facilitates customs clearance procedures
  2. Serves as a useful document that helps customs brokers
  3. Helps prevent disputes between the buyer and the seller
  4. Provides a clear and accurate record of what has been shipped
  5. Helps to ensure that all items are properly accounted for
  6. Reduces the risk of damage or loss of goods during transit
  7. Serves as a supporting document for a letter of credit
  8. Can be used to create a booking with the international carrier
  9. Helps indicate the information required for a certificate of origin
  10. It is used to generate a bill of lading and support insurance claims

Format of packing lists

Packing lists can either be in a physical or digital form and there isn't a set format that must be followed. It's typical to use either a table or a spreadsheet layout, with individual columns for each piece of information.

However, keep in mind that different countries may have specific requirements for the format of a packing list, so before attaching a packing list to an international shipment, be sure to verify the rules and regulations of the destination country.

Do I need to provide a packing list?

While a packing list isn't a legal requirement for many customs authorities, it does offer great advantages and is strongly recommended to include with all domestic or international shipments.

Having a supporting document such as a packing list that provides a detailed description of the items helps ensure a smooth and efficient customs entry when receiving an overseas shipment.

Additionally, in the event there are any missing items ordered, you can easily cross reference all the ordered items with your commercial invoice and packing list.

Who creates the packing list?

A packing list is typically created by the person or entity responsible for packing and shipping the goods. However, importers also have an important job in reviewing and validating that the information stated by the shipper is correct.

What are common mistakes to avoid when completing a packing list?

When creating a packing list, common mistakes to avoid include leaving out crucial details like the sender and recipient's names and addresses or the date of shipment and failing to double-check the packing list's completeness before sending it. Make sure that all measurements are given in the same units and refrain from using vague or unclear descriptions.

Is a packing list the same as a commercial invoice?

No, packing lists and commercial invoices are two completely different documents with different purposes.

What else should be included with a packing list?

When it comes to international shipments, there are several other essential documents besides just a packing list. Here are 10 of the most common ones:

  1. Commercial Invoice: This document gives a full description of the goods being shipped, including their value and the terms of the sale. It's important for customs clearance and figuring out duties and taxes.
  2. Bill of Lading: This legal document works as a contract between the carrier and the shipper. It confirms that the goods have been received for transportation and is necessary for shipping by sea, air, or land.
  3. Certificate of Origin: This certificate verifies the country where the goods being shipped are from. It's used for customs and to determine tariffs and trade agreements.
  4. Air or Rail Waybill: This document serves as a receipt for the goods being shipped by air or rail and provides details of the shipment, such as the origin, destination, and consignee.
  5. Export/Import Customs Declaration: This document is a declaration made to the customs authorities of a country detailing the goods being imported or exported. This document contains information such as the quantity and value of the goods, the origin, intended use, etc.
  6. Insurance Certificate: This certificate proves that the goods being shipped are covered by insurance. Typically it isn't mandatory, but it's recommended as it protects your goods from loss or damage during transportation.
  7. Dangerous Goods Declaration: This document gives information about the nature, handling, and transportation of hazardous goods. It's required for shipping hazardous goods by sea, air, or land.
  8. Importer Security Filing (ISF): This filing offers the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) details about the shipment, such as the anticipated arrival time and an outline of the goods being imported. Importers are required to file the Importer Security Filing (ISF) before shipments arrive in the US.
  9. Product Certificate: This certificate verifies that materials or products being shipped are made from sustainable sources or produced using acceptable methods (e.g. sustainable wood sources). It's mandatory in order to transport cargo into or out of areas that have specific regulations related to the production of these goods.
  10. Phytosanitary Certificate: This certificate states that the goods being shipped are free from pests and diseases that could harm local plants and agriculture. It's often required for shipping certain types of plants and plant products.

The specific requirements for the documents required in an international shipment can vary depending on the country of origin, the country of destination, and the type of goods being shipped. Therefore, it's important to check the regulations of the relevant countries before preparing and sending an international shipment.


In summary, a packing list is as critical as your shipping address. It doesn't make sense to send a shipment without one. That’s why we ensure that every shipment we send has a bulletproof packing list. 

Delays and mistakes are costly. It’s essential to provide a clear and detailed record of the items being shipped to help to prevent any mistakes, misunderstandings and disputes. By providing a detailed and accurate packing list, you’re streamlining the customs clearance process, supporting any insurance claim issues and improving supply chain communication.

Matthew Chipchura
Matthew Chipchura
Founder, Advanta Sourcing

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