What Is a Shipper’s Letter of Instruction and Why Is it Important?4 min read


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One of the many documents that you may need to arrange when organising a freight shipping overseas or export is the shipper’s letter of instruction, letter of instruction or simply SLI. Read on to find out why is this document so important and how to fill it out.

What is the Shipper’s Letter of Instruction?

Have you been asked to issue an SLI but are now wondering what is indeed the shipper’s letter of instruction in freight shipping (SLI)? The Shipper’s letter of instruction is a document that the shipper (person or company that is sending the goods) provides to the freight forwarder (the company who transports the goods) where are stated the characteristics and requirements of the cargo, the contact person for any questions concerning the cargo or the export itself and the reason for the export.

What is Shipper’s letter of instruction used for?

  • Having all the information in one place. The SLI contains all the information concerning the shipment from collection to delivery in one single document making it easier for a freight forwarder to process the shipment.I
  • Issuing Export documents. If you are not familiar with export-import requirements, issuing a shipper’s letter of instruction is the best way to assure that the freight forwarder has all the required information to issue other requested export documents such as the Bill of Lading and the Electroniс Export Information extract.
  • Proof of the provided instructions. When providing an SLI to the carrier, the shipper has a written confirmation that all specifications, requirements and special needs concerning their cargo were passed on to the carrier.
  • Allows the freight forwarder to act on the shipper’s behalf. When provided with an SLI and a written power of attorney, the carrier can handle the cargo and oversee the transport on the shipper’s behalf.

Who fills out the shipper’s letter of instruction?

The exporter or shipper fills out or completes the SLI in advance in order to provide it to the freight forwarder. By filling out the SLI, the exporter can make sure that all the correct data and instructions are provided directly to the carrier and that the cargo will be properly handled, stored and loaded/unloaded during transit.

Is the shipper’s letter of instruction mandatory?

It depends on the country of the collection and delivery but, generally speaking, the shipper’s letter of instruction is not mandatory. However, in countries like the U.S., a complete shipper’s letter of instruction is required for all exports. Although there’s no mandate on issuing a shipper’s letter of instruction for just any type of shipment, many still decide to send their shipper’s letter of instruction to their freight forwarder. This way the shipper can give permission to the freight forwarder to act as an authorised figure to handle customs and export control. The carrier is, thus, the representative of the shipper and can oversee the transport operations in their name.

Which types of shipments need an SLI?

  • Exports from the US always require the shipper to issue this document. By doing so, freight forwarders can access a standardised file with all the relevant information they need about a specific shipment.
  • Most sea freight services will require an SLI. Because of the nature of the sea freight, the cargo ship will stop in multiple ports during transit. Issuing an SLI is an effective way to ensure that the cargo stays safe and is properly handled during the whole process.

How do I fill a shipper’s letter of instruction?

It will not take you a long time to complete a shipper’s letter of instructions and you can even find many templates online that you can simply fill out with the necessary information. These templates guide you through the process of issuing an SLI and refer you to the applicable legislation to follow. Most templates ask you to provide information such as:

  • The name and contact information of the freight forwarder
  • The name and contact information of the exporter
  • Information about the products being shipped
  • What is being shipped
  • Weight and dimensions, quantities
  • How is it packed
  • Special handling requirements
  • Whether there are exporting restrictions
  • Who is paying for the freight
  • Type of freight (road, air, sea, rail)
  • Whether or not the goods should be shipped alone or consolidated with other freight
  • Insurance info
  • Documents that accompany the shipment
  • Special instructions to the forwarder or carrier

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Do you need more information regarding what is a shipper’s letter of instruction and why is it important? Are you not sure on how to write the shipper’s letter of instruction to the freight forwarder? Contact our experts at Eurosender and we will help you navigate the complex world of logistics!

Last modified: December 27, 2019

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