Export Documents – Packing Lists

colourful boxes

New time exporters (and people who have exported before) often get confused about packing lists.

The function of a packing list is to provide an accurate listing of the goods shipped (which should conform to the contract agreement). Therefore, the description of goods supplied is usually much more detailed in a packing list than on an invoice. In addition, a packing list should also detail out the weight and size of those items or the packages that the items are being transported inside. This becomes quite important if the items (or packages) are large and/or heavy and the importer may need to have access to specialist equipment, such as a forklift or crane, to move the goods off the transport to their final placement. Sometimes they need to know the size of the item to ensure that they can fit it through a door or entryway.

Consequently, there are a number of unwritten rules which have evolved in International Trade regarding packing lists. The most common are noted below.

1. Ensure you keep a record of exactly what you are packing and in which box (if more than one) in order to ensure that when you come to print out your packing list, that the information on it is accurate. This might appear to be the dumbest of dumb suggestions, but it is extraordinary how many times no-one bothers to document what they have actually packed and then has to guess the information on their packing list.

2. Always check if your goods are on the hazardous goods listing. If so, such goods must be packed to the specific standards required for those goods, and have the necessary documentation to prove this.

3. Always describe the goods shipped as accurately as possible. Mis-declaring the goods could be perceived as a criminal offence.

4. When asked to supply a packing list, ensure it is entitled ‘Packing List’. If a document is supplied entitled Delivery Note, for example, then it might be rejected because it is not a Packing List.

5. The packing list should indicate the delivery address where the goods are going. If this differs from the invoice address, then both addresses should be noted on the document but clearly labelled as to which is which.

6. The first line of the packing list should be a summary of what is being shipped in total e.g. 5 cartons at a total gross weight of 200 kgs. This information should always be the same on all the documentation used for the shipment, from the invoice to the transport and insurance documents.

7. Nett weight means the weight of the goods alone, without any packing. Gross weight means the weight of the goods including any packing. Always state whether the weight is in kilos or pounds. There is a common presumption that the weight is always kilos, but there are some parts of the world (e.g. USA) where pounds are still used as a weight measurement.

8. Tare weight usually means the weight of a container. The tare weight should not be included in the gross weight unless specifically requested by the importer.

9. The dimensions of the item being shipped (packed or not) should always follow the formula of length x width x height. The height dimension should always be the last dimension quoted.

10. Always state whether the dimensions are in centimeters, millimetres or inches. Don’t leave it for people to guess, because otherwise they will presume centimeters.

11. Shipping marks should be indicated on a packing list. If this is the address of the customer then you can either state the full address or write ‘As Addr’. When sending a large number of items it can be helpful to itemise them e.g. Carton 4 of 5. Please do ensure that the shipping marks on the actual goods is the same as that declared on the packing list.

12. Ensure that the packaging used does not require any special documentation. For example, sometimes wooden packaging can result in the shipment being rejected and quarantined if the relevant fumigation documentation is not supplied.


Maria Narancic at Point to Point Export Services has been assisting her clients with their International Trade challenges for over 15 years. If you require assistance with any international trade matter please do contact her for more information on how she can help you at info@point-point.com or check out more articles on the Point to Point Export Services website at www.point-point.com

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