Shipping cargo requires a good amount of documentation and preparation, especially for shipments that have a short transit time. In order to ensure that the import process at destination goes as smoothly and efficiently as possible, a pre-alert is sent. 

A pre-alert is a shipment notice sent by the freight forwarder at origin to the freight forwarder or customs broker at destination, so that they can prepare for the import clearance and delivery arrangements in advance. It signifies that the shipment has already been loaded and also indicates the estimated arrival along with other important shipment information. 

This article will discuss everything there is to know about pre-alerts and why they remain an important part of the shipping process. We’ll also explore what information is typically found on pre-alerts and illustrate this with a template and sample. 

What Shipment Information is Found on a Pre-Alert?

A pre-alert in shipping can have many purposes. For the importer or the consignee, the pre-alert is used for advanced planning and distribution. For the freight forwarder, it’s primarily used for submission of the inward foreign manifest and the on-carriage. 

Lastly, for the customs broker, the pre-alert is used as a document to prepare import customs clearance and in some countries it’s even used to pre-declare shipments before they arrive. Here’s a list of shipment details that are typically found on a pre-alert.

  • Shipper – The sender/seller/exporter of the goods. 
  • Consignee – The receiver/buyer/importer of the goods. Full contact details are indicated on the pre-alert so that brokers and freight forwarders know the delivery address. 
  • MBL/Master AWB Number – The pre-alert will also feature the MBL number for ocean freight shipments or the Master AWB for air freight shipments.
  • HBL/House AWB Number – It may also contain a freight forwarder’s HBL number for sea freight shipments or House AWB number for airfreight shipments.
  • Vessel/Flight Information – The name of the vessel/airline on which the cargo or containers are loaded. 
  • Cargo Information – Included here is a brief description of the goods, the type of packaging, number of items, the weight, the cubage or measurement of the goods and information such as shipping or handling instructions. It can also be the source of information if special trucks or trailers need to be used for on-carriage. 
  • Container Number – The number of the container, in which the goods were loaded into. This is only applicable for sea freight shipments.
  • Packing List – A detailed list of all the items contained in this shipment. This should include the name, weight and quantity of the goods. 
  • Invoice – Shows a detailed list of the cargo value for each item and in total. This is the document that customs authorities use to determine the applicable duties and taxes. 
  • Estimated Arrival (ETA) – The estimated arrival of the vessel or aircraft at the port of discharge or destination airport. Used for various tasks such as manifest sending, special equipment allocation, or shipment planning.
  • Estimated/Actual Departure (ETD/ATD) – The estimated and actual departure date of a vessel or aircraft. This is used to indicate the delay between estimated and actual departure dates and to confirm when the vessel or aircraft has departed. 
  • Port of Loading/Origin Airport – The sea port or airport where the shipment is loaded. 
  • Port of Discharge/Destination Airport – The sea port or airport where the shipment is going to arrive. 
  • Incoterm – The Incoterm is often indicated, as a reference for freight forwarders to understand the responsibility and handover of the shipment.
  • MSDS – Required when shipping dangerous goods. 
  • Additional Forms – Any other relevant shipping forms (E.g. COO, CoA, Form D, etc.) is included in the pre-alert and relayed to the import broker and freight forwarder at destination.

Where is the Pre-Alert Sent to?

Once the exporting agent or freight forwarder has delivered the cargo to the port, completed the export declarations and the carrier has loaded the containers on the vessel (or the pallet into the aircraft), the carrier or NVOCC sends pre-alert to the shipper and its agents at destination. 

This includes the House Bill of Lading, Master Bill of Lading, invoice, packing list, additional documentation and relevant shipping information. Typically, the pre-alert is sent to the ‘Notify Party’ in the Bill of Lading, which can be one or even multiple parties. 

The notify party is most commonly the destination freight forwarder and/or customs broker. Occasionally, the pre-alert is also sent to the consignee, so that they are aware of the shipment’s arrival and can plan accordingly.

How is a Pre-Alert Sent?

The current industry practice for sending pre-alerts is through email, by the origin freight forwarder. The information on the pre-alert is gathered from various shipping documents, consolidated, attached and sent via email. 

More sophisticated freight forwarders have a transport management system (TMS) that is able to automatically send a pre-alert to specific parties upon retrieving and uploading all required documents in the system. 

Keep in mind that while the shipment is in transit amendments to the shipping documents or information can happen. It’s generally a good idea to avoid amending any type of documents at least one week before arrival, to ensure that the import clearance and on-carriage can be planned accordingly. 

For What Modes of Transport are Pre-Alerts Used?

Pre-alerts are usually sent and received for shipments via air and sea. This is because these modes of transport mostly include import customs clearance and other destination activities such as on-carriage and cargo receiving.

Pre-Alert vs Arrival Notice

A pre-alert is not to be confused with an arrival notice, as there is a distinct difference between the two documents. While a pre-alert can be compared to a notification of shipment information and an indicator of when a shipment is going to arrive, an arrival notice is a confirmation of when a shipment has arrived. 

Pre-Alert Template & Sample

Below is an example of a pre-alert that is issued by a freight forwarder at the destination. 

Contact Details

AgentsCrafty Freight Forwarding Inc.
PICJohn Smith

Shipment Details

Shipper NameAmazing Exports Inc. 
Shipper Address27 Parkes RoadMelbourne, Victoria, 3004
Consignee NameFresh Shipment Inc. 
Consignee Address2192 Rainbow Road Los Angeles, California, 90017
Master BL Number2020980680
House BL NumberPFHBL145793
ETD: July 1, 2021
ETA:August 9, 2021
Port of OriginMelbourne, Australia
Port of DischargeLos Angeles, USA
Container Number / SealOOLU 9071234 / 44244
Vessel NameOOCL Hong Kong v36e
Cargo Description1 x 40RF’ STC Blue Cheese and King Island Parmesan
Instructions1) Collect Ocean Freight as Indicated in Debit Note
2) Your share is $100.00 / 40’ container
3) Remit less profit share within agreed payment period 
4) Collect OBL from consignee before release

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Gerrit Poel

Co-Founder & Writer
at freightcourse

About the Author

Gerrit is a certified international supply chain management professional with 16 years of industry experience, having worked for one of the largest global freight forwarders.

As the co-founder of freightcourse, he’s committed to his passion for serving as a source of education and information on various supply chain topics.