Cargo travels on paper – here are the key documents you’ll encounter

According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), over 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea. There are various parties involved in making sure all of these goods arrive at their final destination – from freight forwarders like us at Twill, to shippers, carriers, and of course you the customer!

So how exactly does a global logistics industry function? The answer is documentation!

Your cargo travels on paper. You can have all of the containers and carrier space you need, but without the right documentation, your cargo won’t move an inch. The right documents establish everything from ownership and responsibility right down to individual costs and receipts. This is how the shipping industry works – it is still very paper-driven!

At Twill, one of our key responsibilities is ensuring our customers have all the right documentation at each stage of the process. So, here are some of the key documents you’ll likely encounter as you start shipping your cargo.

Bill of Lading

The Bill of Lading is the most important document in the entire transportation process. It is required by any carrier before a shipment is taken and acts as a receipt and contract for the carriage of goods as well as proof of ownership. It contains the following information:

  • Seller’s and Buyer’s (that’s you!) names
  • Names of the ports of departure and destination
  • Name of the vessel
  • Dates of departure
  • Itemised list of goods being transported
  • Weight and/or volume of the cargo

A Bill of Lading is required in all claims for compensation for any damage, delay, or loss, as well as for the resolution of disputes regarding ownership of the cargo. So it’s an important document and is increasingly being created and transferred digitally, to minimise the risk of loss.

Shipper’s Letter of Instruction (SLI)

An SLI is a note from the exporter to the freight forward of your cargo, with instructions on how a shipment is being sent and where it’s going. Each freight forwarder has their own SLI form, but they all request the same details, such as: routing info, shipment dimensions and weight, contact info for seller/buyer and more.

Packing List

A Packing List is for inspection and shipping purposes and shows how your cargo has been packed. It includes info about the shipper/buyer, description of goods, hazardous information if applicable and details about the type of packaging used.

Commercial Invoice

A Commercial Invoice is a key accounting document for any cargo being transferred from the seller to the buyer. It’s used to determine the true value of goods for assessing any Customs duties and to clear it through Customs.

It must be completed in full and include – among other things – the Incoterms rule, net and gross weights, description of the goods, value, currency and certifications.

Customs Documents

Laws and regulations differ from region to region – and this makes Custom documents a little more complicated than the other more standard documents covered here. Customs documents will be created when the buyer and supplier take their Commercial Invoice and Packing List and complete the Customs procedure with the local authorities; making sure they’re paying everything and are compliant with all local laws and regulations.

Buyers and suppliers will usually reach out to freight forwarders, like us at Twill, and we will help them complete this documentation.

Don’t forget Incoterms!

While not a document in itself, an International Commercial Term – or Incoterm as it’s more commonly known – is a universal term that defines a transaction between importer and exporter so that both parties understand their tasks, costs, risks and responsibilities. It forms part of your Commercial Invoice.

There are currently 11 different Incoterms which define these responsibilities in different ways. Some refer to all modes of transport and others to sea/water transport only.

This isn’t an exhaustive list and you’ll encounter others while shipping your cargo – but if you’re feeling a little daunted then don’t worry, that’s why we’re here! At Twill we can help you prepare the necessary documentation for your cargo. Get in touch with our team and book with us today –


5 key freight documents in international shipping

Five peak periods in logistics to be aware of

by Curtis Doyle

2019 is a new year and that means a fresh calendar of activity for the logistics industry, and your business, to prepare for. In this blog we take a look at five peak periods to be aware of and the effect they could have on your cargo.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is a yearly festival that is celebrated in varying forms across Asia – causing the largest annual mass human migration in the world! Beginning on 5th February this year, it will see almost all factories in the region close for over a week, with full productivity not resuming for almost a month.

This is easily the biggest holiday in the logistics calendar and prior to New Year, we see the number of containers raise 50% as people prepare their cargo. It also results in a busy start to the year as logistics companies, carriers and shippers deal with this demand and the subsequent backlogs once normal working resumes. Read more about it in our dedicated Chinese New Year blog.


Carnival is a festive season that occurs before Lent, involving public celebrations, parades and street parties. While it actually occurs in many countries around the world, the biggest and most famous Carnival celebration is in Brazil – where, like Chinese New Year, much of the country comes to a standstill for a week of festivities. This year it kicks off on 1st until 6th March.

Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America and 8th largest in the world – so when the country’s production slows the world takes notice!

It also means you have two of the world’s largest economies (Brazil and China) holding big holidays within weeks of each other. So it’s important to be aware of when these dates crossover in order to plan appropriately.

Holiday season

It may seem like a world away, but the holiday season will come around quickly! For those of us in the northern hemisphere our summer months are July and August; but of course on the southern hemisphere summer is already here. Depending on where you’re shipping your cargo from or to, you could be affected by the summer season as workers head off on their holidays.

The holiday season also sees heightened demand for certain commodities and produce – from food to garden furniture – so if you’re shipping anything seasonal it’s probably time to start planning for it now, well enough in advance that you’ll get your cargo when you need it most.

Black Friday / Cyber Monday

Black Friday and its recent partner, Cyber Monday, are huge dates on the consumer calendar. Starting in the United States – where Black Friday falls on November 29th following Thanksgiving – it has now spread across the globe from the UK to Mexico as other countries look to get a slice of the vast amounts of money that will be spent over the course of these two days.

Americans alone spent $5bn in 24 hours on Black Friday in 2018, while the UK spent over £7bn across the two days. In order to accommodate this huge demand, you’ll see many companies getting their cargo prepared as early as September.

Christmas / New Year

Before you know it, you will have made it through another year and the busy time of Christmas and New Year will be here. Add to this all the people starting to take holidays as well as more severe weather and it can get pretty stressful and disruptive – so it’s important to plan for this period well in advance.

You will have noticed the words ‘planning’ and ‘awareness’ popping up a lot in this blog – they’re both key to avoiding delays to your cargo during peak periods; as well as strong relationships with your shippers, carriers and freight forwarders like us!

In the coming weeks we’ll have separate blogs on those subjects, but for now get the diary out and plot these key periods in your calendar.

Don’t forget you can contact Twill today to book your cargo throughout the year –


Have you ever thought how Carnival, Chinese New Year or Christmas might affect your whole planning throughout the year?