Importance of Accurate Packing Lists

Importance of Accurate Packing Lists

You’ve probably received an earful throughout your career in shipping on the importance of document correctness. But as you’ve most likely come to learn, not everything with documentation is black-and-white. Even HTS Codes don’t always contain every variation of a product, and it can feel as though there’s room for interpretation and relabeling. However, accurate documentation is still incredibly important. Without accuracy in documentation, you may be left dealing with fines, products being turned around, delayed shipments, or customer returns.

One of the documents you deal with for every shipment is a packing list. Unfortunately, many companies issue incorrect or misinformed packing lists which gives trouble to their business, their customer, and all involved shipping parties.

Importance of Having Accurate Packing Lists

Working at a business that is trading goods internationally means you’re dealing with tons of shipments. Amidst all of those shipments, it can be difficult to keep a keen eye out for every single details about all individual products loaded into a container. If your company is wondering about the purpose for packing lists as well as why you should be incredibly vigilant that all details are correct on these documents, here are a few general reasons:

1) Customs Cargo Exams

U.S. Customs frequently conduct cargo exams. These often take one of three forms:

  1. Document Exam: A document exam is when U.S. Customs will arbitrarily select a container/shipment and examine all associated paperwork with the cargo. As long as everything goes smoothly, the cargo will be released from the Customs exam often within hours. It’s a relatively short process.
  2. Container Exam: Customs may also choose to pull a container and open it to verify that everything stated on documentation is in the container. This examination process can take anywhere from 1-3 days, causing cargo delays.
  3. Full Shipment Inspection: The most extreme version of a cargo exam involves U.S. Customs removing all products from a container and individually inspecting all cargo. This can delay a shipment anywhere from 4 days to two weeks in extreme cases.

All the above exams involve cross referencing documentation to ensure that cargo is both eligible for entry to the U.S. as well as accurately reflected in associated shipment paperwork. The easiest document to verify is a packing list.

If a packing list does not accurately reflect the findings of a Customs exam on a container, shippers could be in huge trouble. This can lead to huge fines or delays, which leads to the next point…

2. Shipment Delays

Accurate documentation isn’t just a matter of legalities. While you could certainly be fined extensively for inaccurate documentation, you will also most likely have to deal with shipment delays. Either Customs will require that you send proper documentation their way for cargo re-evaluation, or the cargo will be rejected entirely, requiring you to pick up the cargo and redo all paperwork. In either case, you’re dealing with major shipping delays.

3. Customer Returns

If you’re just working with one customer overseas whom you are in close connection with and that already knows all specifics of the cargo being sent, you may not run into issues with inaccurate packing lists. However, when dealing with larger corporations, you can’t bank on the purchasing manager you spoke with being the one who receives the cargo at the dock. Unfortunately, a customer inspection revealing inconsistencies between your packing lists and cargo may result in cargo returns, leaving you to pay for shipping twice and potentially end up in legal trouble.


We could go on and on regarding various other negative consequences of inaccurate packing list and shipping documentation, but the summary at the end of the day is – double check your documentation to ensure all shipping paperwork is accurate! Inaccurate packing lists can lead to customer returns as well as huge shipment delays due to legal trouble with U.S. Customs. These types of issues can leave you at higher risk for Customs examination in the future and increase your chance of shipment delays for all following shipments.

If you have ever run into issues with inaccurate documentation, you’re not alone. We’ve helped tons of companies with shipping paperwork and know how each document should be handled and filed. If you have any questions regarding packing lists or other documentation, please reach out to one of our team members. We’d be happy to help you out!


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