For ecommerce businesses that have decided to expand into international shipping, there are countless opportunities to scale your growth. By moving beyond your country’s borders, you’ll be able to tap into new markets—and once you’ve done it once, you’ll have the infrastructure in place to expand across multiple countries.

That said, expanding into global ecommerce also adds a lot of additional requirements when it comes to international shipping, and it’s important that you’re well-versed in these requirements before shipping your products overseas. In this article, we’ll look at some common terminology around international shipping, and strategies you can use to streamline the process.

What is a shipping manifest?

A shipping manifest refers to a description of goods that’s required when transporting products by container or cargo ship. The shipping manifest includes a complete list of all the goods that the shipper is carrying between ports, and serves to confirm that the importer has received all of the items they ordered. Your shipping manifest should also detail any special handling requirements, such as if the shipment contains hazardous materials or dangerous goods. Ensuring that your shipping documents are thorough and accurate will help you avoid delays or issues with customs clearance, and will provide evidence of a contract in case items are not delivered or are damaged in shipment.

What types of shipping manifests are there?

Different cases call for different types of shipping manifests. Here are some of the most common forms of manifest documents you may need when shipping products internationally:

  • Cargo/freight manifest
    This document will include detailed information about the cargo onboard and their shipping routes, with additional details such as consignor/consignee names, the document number (or Bill of Lading), and a detailed description of merchandise being shipped, including quantity and type.
  • Import General Manifest (IGM)
    This manifest document is filed with the customs department of the importing country, ensuring that the products are legally allowed to be imported and that applicable tax is paid. This manifest must be submitted within 24 hours of arriving to the port, and the goods will not be allowed off the ship until customs clearance is complete.
  • Container manifest
    Each separate container on the ship also requires its own manifest, which is required to include the container contents, the loading sequence, the port of origin, and the destination port.
  • Dangerous cargo manifest
    If the container includes any hazardous materials, the exporter is required to list detailed information about what’s included. The dangerous goods are also required to be easily accessible to both emergency personnel and to law enforcement officers. In the United States, regulations for Dangerous Cargo Manifests are governed by the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Out of Gauge (OOG) Manifest
    This type of manifest document is reserved for items that are too bulky or heavy to fit inside a standard shipping container. The OOG manifest must include images that indicate the center of gravity, details on lifting points, and detailed instructions for loading and unloading the products, to ensure that the items do not break during transit.
  • Reefer Manifest
    It’s not what you think! This type of manifest document is used for items that require refrigeration while on board, and includes detailed information on the required temperature settings, humidity, and permissible temperature variance allowed. If the reefer manifest is not followed to the letter, you may end up with spoiled products.

Shipping manifests v. Bills of Lading

A Bill of Lading is similar to a shipping manifest, but has a different purpose: While a shipping manifest serves to document the entire inventory of cargo being shipped on a particular vessel, a Bill of Lading is issued for every separate shipment on the vessel or vehicle. Bills of Lading are used for any “less than truckload” (LTL) freight, ensuring that the carrier has the right information to ensure that the shipment reaches its proper destination and help the sender track the delivery status.

Bills of Lading include information about the type, quantity, and destination of the imported products, and serve as a legal document between the shipper and carrier. The Bill of Lading will not be turned over to the recipient until the recipient has signed off on the shipment and approved payment. It acts as a contract between the shipper, customer, and carrier, ensuring that all parties know their responsibilities regarding the export/import process.

The Bill of Lading can serve to protect the end customer in cases where an error was made on the exporter’s side. For instance, if your business orders a shipment of 1000 boxes of candy from England that you plan to resell in the United States, the Bill of Lading will specify if only 800 boxes were actually on board the ship. In this case, neither the carrier or the customer will be responsible for the difference, and you’ll have the right evidence to show that you are entitled to a discount or refund for the goods received.

Simplifying the logistics process

If you’re shipping bulk products to end customers overseas, there is a lot of paperwork involved in ensuring that you have set up proper delivery instructions — and there’s a lot at stake if you don’t do it correctly. Failing to properly document your exports on a Bill of Lading could mean that they are mishandled or misdelivered, and your company will be the one to pay for your error.

By choosing a 3PL partner that’s experienced in exporting goods, you’ll be able to outsource the complicated process of managing international shipping, with streamlined tracking so you’ll know when your packages are on their way to your customers. They’ll also be able to negotiate better freight charges, as they’ll be able to ship your products in a bulk shipment with other customers’ exports, and may have access to local distribution centers in the regions where you are exporting your products.

Finally, don’t forget that many ecommerce shipments end up in product returns.

International returns can also be a complex and time-consuming process, but using a returns automation platform like Loop can make things easier, enabling you to set conditions for your return merchandise authorization so that customers can initiate their own returns on qualifying products. Loop’s 3PL and logistics integration partners make it easy for your brand to get real-time visibility on the status of all of your return shipments, with hands-on partner support to manage the Bill of Lading and customs declaration processes. Loop’s analytics platform will make it easier to analyze the return metrics you need to track, such as return numbers, return reasons, shipping costs, and carrier delivery time frame, so that you can optimize your return operations. 

By expediting the reverse logistics process with automation, you’ll be equipped to get your inventory back to a regional distribution center quickly, making it easier to resell unwanted products and ensure that they don’t end up as landfill waste.

Ready to get a best-in-class solution in place to streamline your international returns? Get a demo of Loop today.