First-time importers from China are often overwhelmed by the complexity of the process and the documents involved. Even though you may have preferences regarding the port you want your goods shipped to, the port is often at the supplier’s choice and convenience. In rare cases, you will have a supplier located between ports, and you will have a choice on which port is the most convenient for you. Shanghai is the world’s busiest port, and many importers choose to move their cargo through this port. We have created this guide to help you understand four freight documents you will encounter when importing from Shanghai to the UK. From the supplier’s end:

  • The Bill of Lading, and
  • The commercial invoice, and

From the freight forwarder’s end,

  • The shipping quote, and
  • The booking confirmation.

The Bill of Lading

When transacting with your supplier in Shanghai, one of the questions you will encounter regards the Bill of Lading, specifically, whether you prefer the original BOL or a telex BOL.

Once you accept a freight forwarder’s quote and agree on a contract, your forwarder will draft the House Bill of Lading which includes the terms and conditions of shipping on the reverse side, and send you a draft. (There’s another BOL called the Master BOL. More on that later)

Once you receive the draft BOL from your forwarder, carefully confirm that the weights, dimensions, and other information match the seller’s invoice. Any discrepancies between the two documents could trigger costly inspections and fines at the Shanghai port.

The House BOL also serves as a receipt to prove that the seller handed over the goods to your freight forwarder in good condition. The freight forwarder hands it over to the seller at pickup, and the seller needs to send it to you so that you can get your goods cleared by UK customs upon arrival. It’s best to go with the telex option to avoid the risk of losing the original BOL in the post. However, there are cases where getting a telex BOL is not an option, for example, when you pay the seller via a letter of credit. If you and your supplier agree to go with the original BOL, you need to be very careful not to lose it.

If you receive the original BOL, you will need to present or send it to the UK shipping line office once your goods arrive to have them cleared. Once your goods arrive at the forwarder’s warehouse in the UK, another Bill of Lading, called the Master BOL, is drafted. The Master BOL is a contract between your forwarder and the carrier transporting your goods from the forwarder’s warehouse to you. Your forwarder won’t provide you with the Master Bill of Lading, but you should get the BOL number to track your shipment.

The Commercial Invoice

Once you agree with your seller on the items you want to purchase and send the payment, the seller will draft an invoice as proof of sale. You or your freight forwarder will need this document to clear with customs at Shanghai port and the UK. The commercial invoice includes:

  • Details of the seller
  • Your details/Buyers details
  • The notifying parties e.g. your freight forwarder
  • A description of the goods and their HS codes
  • The value of goods – both customs offices will calculate duty and VAT based on this.

The Shipping Quote

When looking for a freight forwarder, you will most probably request freight quotes from different companies to compare. The freight quote estimates cost based on the information you have provided on the weight, dimension, and type of product you are importing.

Once you make a booking and the forwarder receives/fetches your goods from the supplier, you will receive a shipping quote with the actual costs. The actual cost may be identical to or higher than the estimated cost depending on the accuracy of the information you provided.

On the shipping quote, you will find a breakdown of the individual stages of the shipping process and the charges incurred at each location. Since shipping costs fluctuate with peak and off-peak seasons, you need to check the expiration date of your shipping quote to see its validity.

Booking Confirmation

A booking confirmation serves as a receipt for the main shipment (i.e., ocean or air). It includes:

  • a booking number,
  • equipment used (e.g., size and numbers of pallets),
  • transport plan (origin, destination, ETAs), and
  • load itinerary.

The booking confirmation number serves as the main shipment tracking code. Each local carrier provides one to your freight forwarder, who then forwards it to you.

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Here at Barrington, we pride ourselves on being professional and easy to work with. We have a team of experts ready to assist you with the import process without bombarding you with complex shipping terms. You can sit back and let us handle everything when you choose us, from port delivery, packaging, insurance, import customs, and pallet delivery to your location. When your goods arrive in the UK, you can choose our speedy next-day delivery service, and we will transport your items to you in 24 hours. Contact us for an instant quote!