August 5

Three mandatory Import/Export documents


Documents play an important role in import/ export transactions. An incorrectly organized or missing doc can cause immeasurable trouble for all the stakeholders involved. Importers and exporters cannot surrender or acquire their shipment if the office work is not completed. There might even be a penalty and, worse yet, a setback to their credibility.

Here are the topics we’ll explore:

  • How the authorities reduce documentation for export-import
  • In order to export products via sea, exporters need three key documents
  • In order to import products that are arriving via sea, importers need three key documents

In addition, you may find it of interest to read our blog post on which shipping documents are necessary for customs clearance.

How the authorities reduce documentation for export-import operations

First, a brief description of import-export documentation necessities in India and current government guidelines.

Till 5 years ago, exporters and importers needed to prepare seven to 8 obligatory documents – together with any extra documentation that is probably required, based on the type of the products shipped or regulations and guidelines precise to the importing/exporting country. As a result, the procedure was tedious and expensive. It was also cited as one of the reasons behind India’s poor performance at the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index. As of 2014, India ranked 142 out of 189 countries (it has since climbed to 63 out of 189).

Within the same year, the Department of Commerce established an Inter-Ministerial Committee to explore ways to reduce the amount of paperwork required in imports and exports operations. The goal was to improve the export-import process and India’s ranking in the Ease of Doing Business and double exports to $900 billion by 2020. The committee recommended whittling down the number of import and export documents to three each for imports and exports. Suggestions have been approved. A notification issued by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) – the department of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry that formulates and implements India’s Foreign Trade Policy – introduced the modifications. With the revised Foreign Trade Policy, effective from April 2015, the following are the 3 key docs for exports and the 3 key docs for imports.

Must-have Shipping Documents for Exports

  1. Bill of Lading

Exporters’ most important document in shipping. The bill of lading (lading is the act of setting a shipment on a ship) is a mandatory document that must be signed by three parties: the exporter, the shipping line, and the importer. For easy transportation of products from source to destination, the exporter needs an accurate and complete set of bills of lading from the shipping line/freight forwarder and dispatch it to the importer/ importer’s bank. This bill of lading consists of information such as:

  • Description, amount, weight of products
  • Name and address of consignee
  • Terms of sale

2. Commercial Invoice cum Packing List

This is a settlement invoice of sale issued by the exporter to the importer. Consequently, they can determine responsibilities and taxes due on the products based on the purchase price. It contains information such as:

  1. Name, address of seller (exporter)
  2. Name, address of buyer (importer)
  3. Value, amount of products

A packing listing is an itemized listing with information on the products. It facilitates their exam and corrects tallying at the point of clearance. It contains:

  • Description of the products
  • Quantity and weight (gross and net) of the products
  • Number of packages
  • Type of packaging (PP,Jute, BOP , Laminated etc)
  • Marks and numbers (symbols/numbers positioned on every piece of shipment in a cargo to discover them)
  • Carrier’s (ship) name
  • Date of export
  • Export licence number
  • Letter of credit score number

Previously, the economic bill and packing listing were separate files with the same fields.

3. Bill of Entry

The shipping bill or export bill is a type of customs clearance application submitted by the exporter. This information helps customs determine whether an exporter has benefitted from government incentives, such as:

  • Various tax exemptions, rebates, and refunds
  • Export benefits under various government programs

‍Documents required for Imports

  1. Bill of Lading

It’s a must-have document for both exporters and importers. Bill of lading must be shared between the exporter and the importer. The importer cannot accept the goods at his end without a bill of lading.

2. Commercial Invoice cum Packing List

As before, the importer also needs this document. Customs clearance is for the most part dependent on the commercial invoice cum packing list.

3. Bill of Entry

Lastly, importers must have a bill of entry. An importer makes a declaration based on which customs authorities inspect and clear goods at the port of entry. An insurance policy or sales invoice is matched with the information in this bill. This information includes:

  • Type of cargo
  • Value of the goods
  • Quantity of the goods

That was a quick overview of the three documents that importers and exporters should always have on hand. It doesn’t mean that these are the only documents needed. The shipping process is all about paperwork. Depending on various factors and case-by-case, importers and exporters may be required to submit additional supporting documents for their goods to be processed at customs.


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