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Shipping and Courier Terms Glossary

Courier and shipping terminology explained

International courier services are packed with complex terms that most people don't understand.
At ParcelHero® we aim to like to make things easy, so we have compiled a useful glossary of shipping terms
that will help you better understand the world of logistics.

Access Point

An access point is a collection or drop of location, normally a local retailer. This is sometimes referred to as a click and collect point. When using an access point service, the user normally has the option to either drop off (A2D - Access Point to Delivery), or collect (D2A - Delivery to Access Point), or both (A2A - Access Point to Access Point)

Act of god

An act of god is an event outside of the control of the carrier, for example bad weather, war or other significant event which delays transportation. This is sometimes referred to as Force Majeure.

Air Waybill

An Airway bill is a contract between the shipper and the air carrier, containing the terms by which the shipper agrees to adhere when shipping goods by air with the carrier. When a number of shipments are consolidated into a single bulk shipment, they may travel under a master Air waybill, with each of the individual shipments having their own 'child' airway bill.


Air freight is the carriage of goods by air. Normally the goods are commercial goods on behalf of a business but not always. Air freight may be transported by airlines or integrators.


Airport-to-airport is an air freight term, where the shipper does not require collection or delivery and only requires their goods to be transported from one airport to another.


A company that offers delivery by road, air or sea. Carriers like DHL are also referred to as integrators.

Cash on Delivery (COD)

A system where the receiver has to pay for the goods prior to delivery being made by the carrier. The carrier then transfers the funds back to the shipper less any commissions charged.

Certificate of Origin

An document used for international trade, which certifies the origin of the goods contained within a consignment, confirming they were produced, processed or manufactured in a particular country.


Used to commission a transportation vehicle such as an aircraft or motor vehicle, for a dedicated purpose.


CIF stands for Cost, Insurance and Freight. It's used when the buyer requires the seller to deliver goods by sea to a designated port, at their cost. Learn more about CIF

Click & Collect

Enables consumers and businesses to collect goods from a local retailer or collection point rather than receive delivery at their home or office.

Collection cut-off time

The collection cut-off time is the latest time that the courier can collect. Collection cut-off times vary by collection postcode and are always stated on our website at the point of booking.

Collection point

The place designed by the shipper that they wish the goods to be collected from. This could be either their home or business address, or a local drop off point (Access point)

Commercial Invoice

An official document created by the exporter detailing the commercial contents contained within the shipment, its value and the reason it's being shipped along with any other information relevant for customs clearance. Learn more about commercial invoices

Common Carrier

A carrier which provides delivery services to the general public.

Common Law

Often referred to as case law, common law is based on the outcome of previous court cases rather than statutes. Common law is mainly used in the UK and US.


Also known as the shipper or sender, a consignor is the person or business who is contracting the carrier or transportation company to deliver goods on their behalf.


Also referred to as the receiver or recipient, the person or business who will be receiving delivery of the goods. In most transportation movements the consignee is also liable for any import duty and tax charges applied by customs in the recipient country.


A consignment is a shipment which is consigned by the shipper to a carrier for delivery to the receiver.

Consolidated freight

Where multiple shipments, often from multiple consignors are consolidated and shipped by a carrier in a container or master air waybill.


Containers are normally either 20ft or 40ft long and used for transporting bulk freight by air, road or sea. Containers can be transported by truck, detached and left on site for loading or unloading.

Controlled Atmosphere

Used for storage or foods, pharmaceuticals or chemicals that require specific storage conditions. A atmosphere warehouse or vehicle, will regulate temperature, humidity and even oxygen.


A courier can either be a transportation company, or an individual or employee who transport goods for their customers.


Customs is a department appointed by each government to regulate the importation of goods and collect duties and taxes. We've all seen how customs work at airports, well customs work in a similar way for goods being imported into the country, except that at an airport not every suitcase is inspected, whereas for goods every single shipment must be reviewed and categorised, so the correct level of import duty and tax can be applied. Learn more about customs

Customs Clearance

A term used for the process that occurs when goods travelling through customs. Customs in the destination country will assess the commercial invoice provided by the shipper, and ascertain what levels of import duty and tax to apply. When goods are being assessed they are termed as 'going through customs clearance'

Customs Invoice

A commercial invoice is a customs declaration for commercial goods. A customs invoice is a similar document, however it can be used for non-commercial goods and is produced by individuals shipping personal effects, gifts fand other items. The customs invoice is used by customs in the receiver country to ascertain how much duty and tax is to be applied. It details what products are contained in the shipment, how much their worth and their reason for export.

Dangerous Goods

Sometimes referred to as DG, Dangerous Goods are goods that can either be harmful to people, animals or the environment, or goods that are flammable or pose a danger when transported by vehicle or aircraft. These can include products that are used in everyday life such as perfumes, which are flammable. Dangerous goods are strictly regulated and governed by IATA. Most Dangerous Goods are not permitted on aircraft, and the ones that are require specialist packaging and labelling, and can only be shipped after pre-authorisation and inspection by the carrier. Learn more about dangerous goods

Delivery Duty Paid (DDP)

If your sending commercial goods, or goods over a certain value threshold, they will travel through customs and likely be liable for import duty and tax in the destination country. Normally these are the responsibility of the receiver to pay (DDU) however shippers can also opt to have the goods delivered duty paid, which means the duties and taxes are reversed back to them for them to pay.

The danger of using this process is if the wrong amount of duty and tax is applied by customs, because the carrier already paid the duties in your behalf to customs, it can sometimes be difficult to challenge the amounts applied by customs. We do not recommend using this method when shipping to 3rd world countries where customs are more aggressive and less amenable to making retrospective amendments to clearances. Learn more

DDU - Deliver Duty Unpaid

This is the normal way to send goods. The shipper pays for shipping, and the receiver is liable for any import duty and tax. The receiver is always contacted by the delivering courier to authorise the charges that are applied by customs prior to clearance being completed, which provides them to dispute any charges they do not agree with.

Declared value

The declared value is often used by carriers as a term to describe the value of cover the shipper wishes to take out to cover loss or damage. Essentially the insured value. The declared value can often vary from the actual shipment value.

Delivery Instructions

Some carriers allow for delivery instructions to be provided in addition to the address information. This can be useful for providing instructions on where to deliver the goods (For example instructing the courier to deliver to a reception or goods in area)

Delivery Note

A delivery note is a document issued by retailers. It's transported with a goods delivery and details the contents of the package along with any products which couldn't be shipped with the order.


Packing density is the amount of space the goods take up in the packaging used. By densely packing your products you can lower the cost of shipping, however be aware packaging products to densely can also make them more vulnerable to damage in transit.


The destination is the final delivery point for the consignment.

Dimensional Weight

Dimensional weight (Also referred to as volumetric weight) is calculated by multiplying the dimensions of a package and dividing them by the volumetric devisor. The value that's returned is the dimensional weight in either kg or ibs. The courier then charges on either the volumetric or dimensional weight, whichever is the greater.

The devisor depends on whether you're using centimetres or inches, and also the mode of transport. When using centimetres most couriers use a volumetric devisor of 5,000, and most airlines and air freight agents use a devisor of 6,000.

Door-to-door delivery

Some transport companies charge extra for collection or delivery, or only offer services from port to port. Door to door delivery, is exactly how it reads, delivery from door to door!


The driver or courier, is the person appointed by the transport company or courier to collect or deliver the goods.

Drop off point

Also referred to as an Access Point, a drop off point is either a location, retailer or parcel box, where individuals or businesses can drop off parcels, rather than wait for them to be collected.


Dutiable goods, are goods which are liable for import duty and/or tax in the destination country.

Duty Reversal

Also referred to as DDP, duty reversal is a process where duty and import charges are reversed to the shipper rather than being billed to the receiver (DDU).

Economy Delivery

Economy delivery is a slower delivery than express delivery. It generally involves delivery by road rather than air, or a slow air service. Economy transit times are generally 2 or 3 times longer than express delivery transit times.


In order for goods to be cleared through customs, entry documents are required by customs to expedite clearance.

Ex Works

Ex works is a term of sale that involves the buyer being liable for all transport related costs, arrangements and liabilities including collecting from the seller and loading the goods onto the collecting vehicle. Learn more

Exception Scan

An exception scan is a scan event that signifies a parcel is either delayed or has been subject to an in-transit or delivery issue. Examples of exception scans include 'Held in customs' and 'delivery attempted' When an exception scan is posted it will normally inform the reader whether the receiver or shipper needs to contact the carrier to resolve the delay, or whether no input is required from either party.


Expedited delivery means fast delivery. It generally costs more than standard delivery and is utilised by consumers who want to receive their delivery quicker.

Export Licence

Some countries restrict the export of certain products or commodities. In such cases the exporter has to obtain an export licence from their local government or customs authority in order to export the goods.

Express Delivery

Express Delivery, sometimes referred to as expedited delivery is fast delivery. When crossing borders it generally involves transportation by air rather than road.


The FCC is the US Federal Communication Commission. The FCC regulates the importation of electronic devises into the US. When sending electronic equipment to the US, they need to be accompanied by an FCC form. Learn more about FCC


The FDA is the US food and drug administration. They regulate food safety and drugs in the US. When importing certain foods and drugs into the US, they are subject to FDA review and approval.

Force Majeure

Force Majeure is the same as an act of god. It's a event outside the control of the carrier, which delays delivery such as extreme weather conditions, war or other such events.

Free Carrier

Free carrier is an incoterm. It's used when the seller and buyer agree that the seller has contractually completed their agreement as soon as the goods are handed to the buyers nominated delivery agent.

Free on board

Free on board is an incoterm that used when the seller and buyer agree that the seller has fulfilled their contractual obligations as soon as they deliver the goods and place them on board the ship or vessel nominated by the buyer.


Freight is goods or cargo transported in bulk by air, road or sea.

Freight Companies

Freight companies are companies that transport freight on behalf of their customers.

Freight Forwarder

An organisation that contracts delivery to another carrier on behalf of their customers.


A company that stores, picks, packs and ships goods on behalf of retailers and e-commerce businesses.


Some countries do not permit wood products such as pallets to be imported into their country unless they have been certified. Wood fumigation certification ensures the wood does not contain any invasive species or insects or plant diseases.


Goods are products that you can use or consume.

Gross Tonnage

Gross tonnage only applies to ships, and is a calculation of a ships internal volume in cubic metres.

Gross Weight

The gross weight of a shipment, is the total weight of the product including the internal and external packaging.


Also referred to as consolidation, groupage is the grouping together of a number of shipments into a shipping container or trailer. Groupage loads generally cost more than shipping a full container or trailer load of goods.

Harmonisation Code

Harmonisation or tariff codes is an international standard for the classification of products. Every type of product has an assigned harmonisation code. Each government or trade area sets different rates of import duty and tax for each harmonisation code. Customs officials then use the harmonisation or tariff code to set the level of import duty and tax to be applied. Learn more about harmonisation codes


Haulage is the transportation of goods by road or air.


A transport hub is a central location where cargo is transported to and then consolidated with other freight that's going to the same destination. It was pioneered by FedEx as a means to reduce transportation costs. Hubs are used in many types of transportation including airports. As an example of how hubs work, if you are a carrier and you only have a certain amount of packages shipped from New York to Alabama, then instead of sending a vehicle that's half full to Alabama, you can instead ship it to a hub, and consolidate all the goods destined for Alabama from New York and all the other locations in the US, and ship them as one consolidated movement and therefore reduce costs and maximise efficiency.


The International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulates air travel worldwide. They are responsible for the safety and security of air travel and also regulate the transportation of dangerous goods by air.Learn more about IATA


An import is a shipment being collected from another country and imported into your country. It is generally more expensive to import goods into your country than it is to export goods.

Import duty

Import duty is applied by customs of a country. Import duty is calculated based upon the tariff code of each product contained within the consignment. Each country sets varying levels of import duty depending on the product. Exemptions do apply to certain products and types of shipments, for example gifts and personal effects are often exempt from import duty if they are under a certain value threshold.

Import Licence

Countries can restrict the importation of certain products, and will only permit it with prior approval, known as an import licence, which is an official document permitting you to import a specific product or commodity.

Import tax

As with import duty, import tax is applied by customs of each country. Import tax is normally applied at a fixed rate in line with the VAT (Value added tax) rate of the import country.


Incoterms are international commercial trade terms, used for the sale of goods, and which define the responsibilities of the buyers and sellers. They are published by the international chamber of commerce. Learn more about incoterms.


An integrator is a courier company that utilises multiple modes of transportation (road, sea and air) in an integrated network to provide seamless door-to-door delivery.


Intermodal simply means cargo that is transported via multiple methods such as a combination or road and air transport.


In-transit refers to when a shipment is already collected and in-transit to its destination.

Unit of measure

In logistics a unit of measure is normally a unit of weight such as kg, ibs or tonnes or a unit of measurement such as centimetres, inches or metres.

Landed Cost

The landed cost is the total cost of purchasing goods, including door-to-door delivery.

Letter of credit

Commonly used in cross border commercial transactions, a letter of credit is a document issued by one bank to another, which guarantees payment to the seller, so long as specific pre-defined conditions are met. Learn more

Letter of Indemnity

Often used when transporting goods, a letter of indemnity provides assurances to the buyer that if certain conditions are not met, such as the goods arriving in good condition, the seller will indemnify the buyer from any risk and accept all financial liability for any costs incurred as a result of the damage.


Logistics is an umbrella term that covers all modes of transportation, including the storing, handling and packaging of goods as well as their physical transportation and delivery.

Less than Truckload (LTL)

LTL is the movement of a small amount of goods which does not fill an entire truck. Some transport companies specialise in LTL movements, whereas some only offer full container or truckloads.

Minimum charge

Some carriers apply minimum charges either on a consignment basis, or apply minimum charges to specific types of surcharges.


A miss-route, is when a shipment is routed to the incorrect depot. When parcels travel through a hub, on occasion a parcel can be miss-loaded onto the wrong vehicle and consequently the parcel is miss-routed to the incorrect depot.

Mixed Container Load

A mixed container load is when a container is carrying a number of different products.


Some types of products or shipments imported into certain countries do not incur import duty. For example gifts and personal effects are often non-dutiable if they are under a certain value threshold.

Non-stackable pallet

Many hauliers will stack pallets on top of each other to maximise efficiency. When shipping fragile products, you can specify that they are non-stackable, which means pallets will not be stacked on top of them. For this reason non-stackable pallets generally cost more to ship.

Oversize Cargo

Oversize Cargo is cargo that exceeds the standard restrictions. For example a standard pallet is 100*120 cm, so if a pallet exceeds this size it's considered oversized cargo, and will be charged at a higher rate.

Packing List

A packing list of a document that accompanies a shipment and provides a detailed itemised breakdown of the products contained within the consignment.


A pallet is generally made of wood, and is used as a base on which goods can be stacked and secured. Pallets make goods easier to load and unload by forklift trucks. The standard pallet dimensions are 120*100 cm.


A payee is the person or organisation to whom money is or will be paid to. Learn more


A payor is the person or organisation who is paying for a product or service.

Physical Weight

The physical weight is normally measured in kilos, ibs or tonnes. It's usually calculated using calibrated weighing scales. Couriers then compare the physical weight to the dimensional weight and bill whichever is the greater, which is referred to as the billable weight.

Proof of Delivery (POD)

Proof of delivery (POD) is obtained by carriers in the form of a physical signature by the recipient. It confirms that the receiver has taken delivery of their shipment. The POD is normally signed electronically and available online almost immediately with most carriers.

Point of Origin

The point of origin is the place where a shipment is collected from a shipper.

Port of Entry

The port of entry, is the sea port or airport that the goods arrived into a country. It is generally a controlled environment where customs officials can assess the goods being imported and apply any import duties and taxes.

Port of Exit

The port of exit is the sea port or airport that is used for goods to exit the country.


Postage is sending letters, airmail and light parcels by post. Postal operators are different to couriers. They generally do not offer real time tracking and signed for delivery, and they generally specialise in items weighing less than 2 kg in weight. When sending post abroad, post operators will consign the post to the postal operator in the delivery country for final mile delivery. Transit times and reliability for international post are generally far inferior to courier services.

Pro-forma invoice

A pro-forma invoice, is a document used by the seller prior to the buyer making payment, confirming the price that will be charged for a particular product or service. Learn more

Prohibited Items

Prohibited items are items that a carrier does not permit to be shipped on their network. This may be because they are either dangerous or simply not suitable for transportation.


Quarantining involves isolated the products in a secure environment until they can be physically inspected. Some types of products being shipped from certain countries may require quarantine before being cleared into the country. For example wood products and certain types of foods and restricted pharmaceuticals.


A remittance is a document issued by a buyer to a seller confirming an invoice has been paid.

Restricted Items

A restricted item is an item that is restricted for either export or import into a country. Restricted items need a government permit before they can be shipped.

Remote Area

A remote area is an area considered remote by the courier. Some areas considered remote by some couriers are not actually remote, they are just under populated areas where not many deliveries are made. Remote areas cost more to deliver to, and as a result couriers apply surcharges for deliveries to remote areas.


A return shipment is a shipment being returned either by a consumer or the receiver of the goods.


Scans are used by couriers to provide tracking information. At every point along a parcels journey, the parcel will receive physical scans. Scans not only describe a parcels physical location, but can also provide information as to the status of the parcel.

SED - Shippers Export Declaration

An SED form is a form required by US government to be completed for all export shipments leaving the US. It cannot be completed electronically and often carriers will submit this form on your behalf. Learn more about SED

Shipment value

The shipment value is the declared shipment value for customs purposes. The shipment value is manifested electronically by the carrier to customs and is also detailed on the customs invoice you complete.

Stackable pallet

Haulage companies generally stack pallets on top of each other to maximise efficiency. A stackable pallet is a pallet which can have pallets stacked on top of it without risk of damage.

Supply Chain Management

A supply chain is a logistics system to manage the sequence of events required to transport goods from point to point, which often involves sourcing and planning multi-modal transportation.


A shipment surcharge is an additional charge which is applied to the base cost of a shipment. The most common surcharge applied in transportation is a fuel surcharge supplement, which varies in line with global fuel costs.

Tariff Code

A tariff code (Also referred to as a harmonisation code) is a classification code applied to products and used by governments to set the level of import duty and tax that is to be applied.

Terms of Sale

A term of sale (also referred to as an incoterm) is a contract between the seller and buyer which sets out the terms with which the goods will be delivered. Learn more about terms of sale

Third Party Logistics (3PL)

Third party logistics (Referred to as 3PL) is when a provider outsources collection, and or transportation, clearance or delivery to a 3rd party provider on behalf of their customer.

Toxicology Report

A toxicology report is a sometimes required for certain types of products being imported into a country. For example if your sending pens to the USA, the FDA will require you to complete a toxicology report confirming the ink your sending is not toxic.

Track and Trace

Most couriers provide real time scan information from the point of collection through to the point of delivery. Track and trace allows you to monitor your shipment online as it travels from point to point by viewing scan events.


A tracer investigation is used by couriers when a parcel goes missing. It involves depot searches at all the locations that the parcel travelled through and conducting physical searches to locate the missing items.


Tracking is the ability to monitor your shipment on line from collection through to delivery by reviewing scan events posted by the courier.

Tracking number

The tracking number is the unique ID assigned to shipments sent by courier. They enable you to track your shipment online and serve as a single reference number when communicating with the carrier about a shipment.

Transport Companies

Transport companies are companies that collect, transport and deliver goods on behalf of their customers, by road, sea or air.

Volumetric Weight

Volumetric weight (Also referred to as dimensional weight) is the weight of a package based on its volume. It's calculated by multiplying the dimensions of the package and dividing by a metric provided by the courier. Learn more about volumetric weight

War Risk

War risk is a surcharge often applied by air freight agents and airlines to cover their potential liabilities in the event of war breaking out in collection or destination country.


A warehouse is a location used for the storage, consolidation, fulfilment or sorting of goods and packages.

Warehouse Entry

A document that outlines goods that have been imported and held in a bonded warehouse.

Warsaw convention

The Warsaw convention outlines the liabilities carriers have in relation to the transportation of goods by air. It protects consumers shipping by air and affords them certain levels of financial protection in the event their shipment is lost or damaged.

Learn more about the Warsaw convention