Commercial Invoice: One page that specifies exactly what you are sending, its country of origin, and its value (for example, 50 T-shirts, made in China, worth $50). When you are shipping internationally, this is your single most important document, because that's what customs looks at to assess your duty and tax.

Bill of Lading: This is a legally binding contract between you and your carrier and is generated by the carrier. This is your most secure document from a legal point of view. When you sign the bill of lading in your office, you are agreeing to its terms and conditions. On the destination side, the bill of lading will be signed by you, your agent, or hotel personnel, and thereby it will become your proof of delivery. At that point, you are releasing the carrier from responsibility. The bill of lading states where the shipment was picked up, where it gets dropped off, how many pieces are part of the shipment, and it has a tracking number. It doesn't list the contents.

Shipping Label: Include the destination address, when it must arrive, a piece count, and a contact number. If your box ends up alone on a warehouse floor with no commercial invoice or bill of lading, you're in a better position when there is a shipping label that says “2 of 10” and has a phone number.

Proof of Delivery: This comes from the signature on the bill of lading. From your office, track your box through to proof of delivery. Find out when it arrived at the hotel and who signed for it.

ATA Carnet: A document used in very specific cases to allow a shipment, with restrictions, to move into a country without paying duty and tax. (Used, for example, to help a large display travel to multiple countries over the course of a year.)

Copies of Everything: “Carry with you the original bill of lading that includes the tracking number and the commercial invoice,” says Griggs. “I would also carry an inventory of each piece. This inventory would include a description of the box, the piece count number (1 of 7, for example), and the contents. The third thing I would take is a copy of any critical documents that were shipped and a disk or memory stick with the same. With this information, you can quickly see what is missing if part of the shipment fails to arrive. For example, you are missing piece number 4 of 7, which is blue plastic container, 24 inches by 24 inches by 24 inches, that contains all your registration forms. You can tell your freight forwarder exactly what they're looking for, and meanwhile you can reprint the forms from your disk or memory stick.” Finally, carry the mobile and office numbers of all suppliers involved with the shipment. That includes contact names and numbers of the local companies working for you. If there is a problem at your destination, local suppliers may need copies of all your paperwork.