What is the difference between a document or non-document shipment?

4 Mins Read
facebook sharing button
twitter sharing button
linkedin sharing button
Smart Share Buttons Icon Share

When it comes to international shipping, it is mandatory for all customs and border authorities to regulate and authorise the exportation and importation of cargo. As an exporter or importer, you must comply with the standards set by these authorities. One of the main requirements is to classify your shipment properly.

Every cargo shipped in or out of a country has to be categorised as either a document or a non-document shipment. Should a cargo be erroneously classified, it would be subjected to a wrong amount in terms of customs duties, as well as face complications and clearance delays at the customs.

How to differentiate between document and non-document shipments

Here are the differences between these two types of shipments:

Document shipment (Non-dutiable)

Document shipments are also known as non-dutiable shipments. According to customs regulations, they are not considered as items of commercial value. As a result, a commercial invoice is not required for your shipment. As its name implies, the word document refers to items that are a source of information in material form and as such, document shipments are items of no commercial value packed in envelopes for shipping.

The shipping costs associated with document shipments are relatively low, as they are not subject to customs duty, and the shipping duration is short. Also, the clearance process of document shipment is relatively straightforward, with your shipping partner helping you classify the shipment correctly before it is being shipped out.

Non-document shipment (Dutiable)

All other shipments that do not qualify as documents are categorised as non-document shipments. These items are generally shipped for commercial purposes. Prior to clearance, various procedures are imposed by the relevant custom authorities for this type of shipment.

For non-document shipments, you must attach a certificate of origin, commercial invoice, purchase order, and other documents such as a bill of lading and airway bill to the cargo in question. These documents are important as they are used to file custom declarations.

Document Shipment

How to categorise your cargo correctly 

If you want a smooth logistics flow of your cargo, you must avoid the misclassification of your shipment at all costs. This is where the knowledge and expertise of an experienced and reliable international courier service such as DHL Express come in handy.

Before your items are shipped, the courier service fills a shipping label with essential information for logistics and handling. This label contains a section that should include shipping details. These details include the shipment's weight, quantity, value, and dimensions.

Examples of document shipments

Identity documents, invoices, and certificates are some common examples of document shipments. When setting up your parcel, you must describe the contents as precisely as possible. Vague or generic descriptions are discouraged to avoid ambiguity.

Image showing discover app on a mobile screen

Subscribe to the Discover newsletter

  • Fortnightly insights, tips and free assets
  • We never share your data
  • Shape a global audience for your business
  • Unsubscribe any time
Image showing discover app on a mobile screen

Some regulations will classify some documents as non-documents based on their shipment destinations, weight, and value. For example, books, magazines, and educational materials are treated differently based on these attributes. To be sure, always seek the advice of your shipping partner and border authorities beforehand.

Items that qualify as non-document shipment

For the most part, commercial exporters deal with non-document shipments. The clearance process for these types of shipments is long and defined. Items in this category vary, and can range from clothing to automotive spare parts. Non-document shipments are also known as product shipments.

To ensure that there are no issues throughout the whole shipment process, the transportation and delivery of non-document cargo will require due diligence by all parties involved. As mentioned earlier, relevant documents have to be produced to verify the nature of the cargo. This is a basic requirement by customs authorities worldwide. The clearance process for non-document shipments is more stringent because there is a need to control the transportation of prohibited, restricted, and counterfeit goods.


Apply for a Corporate Account

What would happen if you classify your cargo in error?

Correct classification of shipment should always be one of the primary steps in the international shipping process. This is because the category of your shipment greatly impacts the subsequent processes. There are bound to be problems with misclassification, such as a lack of proper documentation to accompany the cargo. Such problems would include border delays. For example, should you incorrectly label an item as a document, but it is a box of traditional chinese medicinal herbs, this shipment will then experience delays due to checks and verifications at the customs as it is a non-document shipment. 

Additional costs would also be incurred. In this example of incorrectly labelling a shipment of traditional chinese medicinal herbs as a document shipment, this cargo will be subjected to costs associated with its overall weight, quantity, value, and dimensions. There might also be potential penalties such as additional taxes and fines, as the customs authorities might assume that you are trying to evade customs and taxes.

Always bear in mind that shipments be it document or non-document will be scrutinised, with non-document shipments undergoing a more stringent inspection process. Inspection is a customs clearance guideline to ensure all cargo is safe and compliant according to the respective countries’ trade rules and regulations.

Ship with DHL Express

DHL provides the best domestic and international shipping services in Singapore. All processes that go into planning, transportation, and delivery of cargo are covered for you. DHL will help you categorise your shipments correctly (document/non-document) to avoid delays and extra costs.