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What Are International Shipping Acronyms?

When shipping is a key aspect of your business, understanding the myriad of acronyms used by professionals in the field is fundamental. This guide breaks down some of the most essential acronyms to help you understand the processes, documents, and regulations that govern international trade.

PackMojoPublished 8 min read
What Are International Shipping Acronyms?

Whether you are importing from China or exporting to the US and Europe, mastering these terms will give you the tools to handle shipping arrangements more effectively and ensure compliance with international standards.

Shipping and Acronym Categories

For the purpose of this article, we have identified 4 main macro-categories that group some of the most popular logistics abbreviations in similar "buckets". The four categories are:

  1. Terms of Sale (or Incoterms): These are standardized agreements used globally to define the responsibilities of sellers and buyers. Incoterms clarify who is responsible for paying for and managing the shipment, insurance, and tariffs at various points during the transportation process.
  2. Documentation and Process: This category includes the essential documents required for international shipping, such as bills of lading, air waybills, and certificates of origin. These documents serve as proof of the contract of carriage, detail the goods being shipped, and certify their origin, all crucial for customs and regulatory compliance.
  3. Shipping Methods: Terms like LCL (Less than Container Load) and FCL (Full Container Load) fall into this category. They describe how goods are loaded into containers for shipment, affecting cost, timing, and handling requirements. Understanding these terms helps in selecting the most efficient and cost-effective shipping method.
  4. Operational Metrics and Regulations: This group includes metrics and codes used to manage and regulate shipping operations, such as Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) and Harmonized System Codes (HS Codes). These are vital for planning and compliance in international logistics, helping to ensure smooth customs processes and timely delivery of shipments.

Terms of Sale Acronyms

These terms are crucial as they define the roles and responsibilities of buyers and sellers engaged in international trade, particularly focusing on logistics, insurance, and freight costs. Each term specifies who is responsible for paying for and managing various activities such as loading the goods, transportation, insurance, unloading, and customs clearance.

1. FOB - Free On Board

FOB means that the seller is responsible for delivering the goods on board the ship at the specified port of shipment. Once the goods have crossed the ship’s rail, the risk transfers to the buyer, who bears all costs thereafter.

Usage: Commonly used in sea and inland waterway transport.

2. CIF - Cost, Insurance, and Freight

CIF is when the seller covers the cost of goods, insurance, and all transportation and miscellaneous charges up to the port of destination. Risk transfers to the buyer once the goods are loaded on board the ship.

Usage: Ideal for buyers who want a simple cost when importing from overseas without the complexity of arranging for insurance.

3. EXW - Ex Works

In the case of EXW, the seller makes the goods available at their premises or another named place (i.e., works, factory, warehouse, etc.). The buyer covers all transportation costs and also bears the risks for bringing the goods to their final destination.

Usage: Suitable for buyers who can handle the complete shipping process from the seller's location.

4. CFR - Cost and Freight

When a shipment is CFR, the seller must pay the costs and freight necessary to bring the goods to the port of destination, but risk is transferred to the buyer once the goods pass the ship's rail in the port of shipment.

Usage: Used for sea and inland waterway transport when the buyer wants to control the insurance.

5. CPT - Carriage Paid To

CPT means that the seller pays for the carriage of the goods up to the named place of destination, but the risk transfers to the buyer as soon as the goods are handed over to the first carrier.

Usage: Applicable for any mode of transport, including multimodal.

6. CIP - Carriage and Insurance Paid To

CIP is similar to CPT, but the seller also pays for the insurance against the buyer's risk of loss or damage to the goods during the transport.

Usage: Suitable for all modes of transport where the seller wants to provide insurance for the cargo.

7. DAT/DPU - Delivered At Terminal/Delivered at Place Unloaded

The seller delivers when the goods, once unloaded from the arriving means of transport, are placed at the disposal of the buyer at a named terminal at the named port or place of destination.

Usage: Useful when the seller can manage the cost and risk until unloading at the terminal.

8. DAP - Delivered At Place

With DAP shipments, the seller delivers when the goods are placed at the disposal of the buyer on the arriving vehicle ready for unloading at the named place of destination.

Usage: Ideal for buyers and sellers who want the seller to handle all transportation costs and risks until the specified place.

9. DDP - Delivered Duty Paid

The seller delivers the goods with all costs and duties paid, including transport costs and assuming all risks until the goods are ready for unloading at the destination.

Usage: Best for buyers who want to pay a flat rate for goods inclusive of all taxes and duties.

10. FAS - Free Alongside Ship

FAS is when the seller places the goods alongside the ship at the named port of shipment. The buyer is responsible for all costs and risks of loss of or damage to the goods from that moment.

Usage: Often used in situations where the buyer has direct access to the vessel for loading, e.g., bulk cargo.

These Incoterms play a key role in reducing misunderstandings among traders by clarifying the tasks, costs, and risks involved with the delivery of goods in international trade. Getting a grasp of each term is vital for exporters and importers to ensure smooth and efficient transactions.

When getting custom packaging from PackMojo, you can choose Incoterms that best meets your business' needs.

FedEx Plane

Documentation and Process Acronyms

These acronyms relate to the documents required for the transport and handling of shipments, providing evidence of contracts, shipments, origins, and deliveries.

1. BOL - Bill of Lading

The Bill of Lading is a critical document issued by a carrier to acknowledge receipt of cargo for shipment. In a legal context, it serves multiple roles: a contract between a freight carrier and shipper, and a receipt of goods. It also serves as a document of title, which can be crucial when transferring ownership of goods.

Usage: The BOL is used in all modes of international transport, particularly in sea freight. It includes all necessary details such as the type, quantity, and destination of the goods being shipped.

2. COO - Certificate of Origin

The Certificate of Origin verifies the country in which the goods were manufactured. This document is crucial for determining tariff rates under various trade agreements, as well as ensuring compliance with import and export regulations.

Usage: The COO is often required by the customs authority of the importing country for the assessment of duties and tariffs and to confirm that the goods meet local criteria for import.

3. AWB - Air Waybill

The Air Waybill acts as a receipt of goods by an airline, which is also a contract of carriage between the shipper and the carrier. Unlike the BOL, the AWB is never negotiable, and thus does not specify ownership of the cargo, making it purely a transport document.

Usage: It's used specifically for air cargo and includes information such as the consignor, consignee, origin and destination of the shipment, and details about the goods shipped.

4. POD - Proof of Delivery

Proof of Delivery is an important document used to confirm that the recipient has received the goods. It serves as a key indicator for the fulfillment of delivery obligations by the carrier and acceptance of the goods by the consignee.

Usage: This document is crucial for resolving disputes about delivery and as a confirmation tool in payment processes, especially in businesses that maintain tight controls over inventory and accounts receivable.

Understanding these documents and their correct usage ensures efficient and legal transport of goods across borders. Each plays a role in safeguarding the interests of all parties involved in the shipping process, from the exporter to the carrier to the importer. 

By properly supplying the documentation required for international shipping, businesses can avoid costly delays and legal complications, ensuring a smooth supply chain operation.

Shipping containers

Shipping Methods Acronyms

These terms refer to the types of load configurations and the roles of different carriers in shipping, focusing on how goods are consolidated and transported.

1. LCL - Less than Container Load

LCL shipping is an option used by shippers who do not have enough goods to fill a standard container. Instead of waiting to accumulate enough cargo to do so, shippers can opt for LCL, which allows their goods to be shipped in a container shared with cargo from other shippers.

Advantages: This method is cost-effective for smaller shipments as you only pay for the space you use. It also offers flexibility in shipping smaller quantities more frequently.

Considerations: While LCL offers reduced costs, it may lead to longer transit times compared to FCL. This is because additional logistics are involved in consolidating and deconsolidating various shipments within a single container.

2. FCL - Full Container Load

FCL shipping means your goods fill an entire container, either by volume or by maximum weight. This method is typically used by shippers with enough cargo to fill one or more containers on their own.

Advantages: FCL not only secures your cargo in one container, reducing handling and potential damage, but it also speeds up shipping time since no consolidation or de-consolidation is required.

Considerations: FCL is generally more cost-effective for larger shipments. However, if your cargo does not entirely fill a container, you may still choose FCL for better cargo security or faster transit but at a higher cost compared to LCL.

3. NVOCC - Non-Vessel Owning Common Carrier

An NVOCC acts as an intermediary between shippers and the vessel operating carrier. They do not own ships but lease space on various carriers to offer their own containers and shipping services.

Advantages: NVOCCs can often provide more flexible, tailored solutions and potentially better rates due to their ability to consolidate multiple smaller shipments into FCLs for cost efficiency.

Considerations: Choosing an NVOCC can be particularly beneficial for smaller shippers without the volume to secure lower freight rates directly with carriers. However, it’s important to select reputable NVOCCs with reliable partnerships and an extensive network to ensure smooth handling and delivery of goods.

Operational Metrics and Regulations Acronyms

1. ETA - Estimated Time of Arrival

ETA indicates the date and time when a ship, truck, or other transport vehicle is expected to arrive at a specific location. It is crucial for planning and logistics, helping businesses prepare for receiving goods and managing inventory.

Significance: ETA is used throughout the transportation sector to ensure that all parties involved, from warehouse managers to customer service teams, can coordinate effectively around the anticipated arrival of goods.

2. ETD - Estimated Time of Departure

ETD represents the date and time when a vehicle is expected to depart from a specific location. This metric is essential for scheduling the shipment of goods and ensuring that vehicles leave on time to maintain the flow of a supply chain.

Significance: Accurate ETDs are vital for optimizing shipping schedules and maintaining tight delivery windows in logistics operations.

3. GRI - General Rate Increase

GRI refers to the periodic increase in base shipping rates imposed by carriers, typically due to changes in market demand, fuel costs, or regulatory factors. GRIs are common in the shipping industry, especially in ocean freight.

Significance: Understanding GRIs is important for budgeting and financial planning in logistics, as these increases can significantly affect the cost of shipping goods internationally.

4. HS Code - Harmonized System Code

The Harmonized System Code is an internationally standardized system of names and numbers used to classify traded products. These codes are used by customs authorities around the world to determine tariffs and maintain records of international trade.

Significance: HS Codes are critical for compliance with international trade laws and for ensuring the correct application of tariffs and duties. They help streamline customs procedures and reduce the risks of delays in shipping.

5. SCAC - Standard Carrier Alpha Code

The Standard Carrier Alpha Code is a unique two-to-four-letter code used to identify transportation companies. It is administered by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) in the United States and is used in freight identification and tracking.

Significance: SCACs are essential for the efficient exchange of electronic data between carriers, shippers, and regulatory bodies, facilitating smoother operations in logistics and transportation.

Final Considerations

In this article, we explored a selection of the most common shipping and logistics acronyms; we broke them down into four main categories, each of which plays a role in managing the flow of goods in international trade.

From Incoterms, documentation acronyms, shipping methods and operational metrics abbreviations, we provided an overview that should make it easier for anyone involved in the shipping and logistics sectors to get an understanding of the critical aspects of international trade and its vocabulary.

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