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Shipping manifests 101: Definition, importance and types

Mariluz Sampalo
Mariluz Sampalo
Feb 6, 2023
shipping manifests are necessary documents for larger shipments

Shipping manifests are only used for larger shipments that take place on an international level. However, once the scale of your international operation increases, you may experience the need to move products from your production location to selling points or distribution centers and warehouses that are located in a country where they are not produced. Even if you partner up with other businesses to sell your products or if you receive big orders from abroad, you may need to work with transportation manifests.

Let’s take a look at all you need to know about manifests including what they entail, why they’re important and which types exist, so that you can make your international operations as smooth and incident-free as possible.

What is a shipping manifest?

Shipping manifests or transportation manifests are necessary documents for the transportation of goods on an international level.

They include:

  • A description of the products
  • The quantity
  • The weight
  • The value of each item
  • The exporter
  • The importer
  • The payment method

Manifests are important for both the buyer and the seller, as they protect both sides and include the obligations and rights relevant to the transportation process.

Shipping manifests have many functions and play a massive role in trade. Here’s why:

Why are shipping manifests important?

Shipping manifests are part of the paperwork that needs to be presented during the customs clearance process.

cargo manifest example form

Source: MaritimePage

Moreover, they can be used to verify the content of a shipment, inform the shipping company of what it’s transporting and help solve disputes and claims regarding lost, stolen or damaged items.

Types of transportation manifest

Cargo manifest

A cargo manifest is a list of all the goods present on the vehicle in question (ship, plane, train, etc.). It also includes the type of cargo, the quantity, the destination, the shipper’s name and even the route that the vessel will or has taken.

Freight manifest

A freight manifest isn’t very different from a cargo manifest. It also includes the name of the items, the quantity and weight of each item, the type of item, and the name and address of the consignor and consignee. Additionally, it includes the cost of the shipment, so that it can be used as billing information.

Out-of-gauge manifest

This type of shipping manifest is only generated when the items that are being shipped have dimensions that don’t fit in a shipping container. Although they’re not very common, it’s important to know that out-of-gauge manifests exist. They generally include the same content as a cargo or freight manifest, but with some additional information that the authorities, carriers, buyer and seller may need to ensure safe and timely deliveries.

Reefer manifest

Reefer manifests are generated when the goods are delivered through a cold chain shipment. The information they include is generally the same as with other manifests, but with the addition of the necessary temperature, humidity and other settings that the reefer containers should have.

Hazardous cargo manifest

The hazardous cargo manifest lists all the hazardous materials or goods (HAZMAT) that are being transported on a vehicle. The manifest includes all the general information stipulated in the cargo manifest, with additional information on the hazardous materials, including the materials themselves, how they need to be transported, safety measures, first aid protocols, and procedures in case of an accident.

The hazardous cargo manifest also shows the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) codes for the shipped goods, Medical First Aid Guide (MFAG) details, etc.


Shipping manifests may not be as commonplace as shipping labels in the retail industry,  but once your operations grow, you’re likely to start encountering them — and if you’re already a manufacturer, you’re probably using them already. 

This article covered all you need to know about transportation manifests. Normally, as a retailer or exporter, you don’t need to generate these documents yourself, but it’s important to know under what circumstances a manifest is necessary, what it includes, the difference between each type and, generally, how they’re beneficial to you and your business.

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