Freight forwarders are appointed agents of shippers and exporters who organize and facilitate the shipment, as well as the documentation flow. In order to officiate this appointment, the United States requires all exporters to fill out a particular document. 

A Shipper’s Letter of Instruction (SLI) is a document filed by the exporter of a shipment that clearly indicates all relevant shipping information, which freight forwarding agent it has appointed and how the shipment is to be handled. The United States mandates an SLI submission to the U.S. Customs Border Protection via the Automated Export System (AES).

Therefore, it’s important to understand a Shipper’s Letter of Instruction correctly, as well as why it’s important, who submits it, where it is submitted to and why it’s required. This article will address all of the above mentioned points and will also further clarify these through some examples and case templates.

Why Is a Shipper’s Letter of Instruction Important?

There are several reasons why it’s important for exporters to submit a Shipper’s Letter of Instruction. Here are the main ones:

  1. The exporter or US Principal Party in Interest (USPPI) officially provides the freight forwarder with the power of attorney to export cargo on their behalf.
  2. The information provided in the SLI acts as a single source of information for all parties. This information is complete, organized, within reach, usable, and includes all relevant shipment details. 
  3. It fulfills the requirement of submitting the Electronic Export Information (EEI) through the AES. 
  4. It clearly indicates shipping details and handling instructions so that the freight forwarder can understand how to handle the cargo and where it needs to go. 

For these reasons, exporters should consider complying to the mandatory requirements. Typically, the freight forwarder you are working with will prompt and remind you to submit the SLI form.

Is the Shipper’s Letter of Instruction Mandatory?

There are certain countries that require a formal submission of a document that clearly shows which freight forwarding agent an exporter has appointed to handle a particular shipment. 

In the United States, the Shipper’s Letter of Instruction is a mandatory document. The US Customs and Border Protection is mandated to collect data and keep track of all relevant shipment details and parties. Take note that failing to comply may result in fines of up to $10,000 and or recordkeeping infractions.

Who Is Required to Fill Out the Shipper’s Letter of Instruction?

The exporter (officially referred to as US Principal Party in Interest or USPPI in short) is liable for the information presented in the SLI. It’s important to note that this does not mean that they are required to fill in and submit this document. The exporter may appoint a licensed freight forwarder to take on this task.

However, it’s recommended to carefully consider requesting a freight forwarder to fill out these details. This is mainly because the exporter is able to outsource the responsibility, but not the liability. In essence, the exporter is liable for all details in the Shipper’s Letter of Instruction. 

For What Type of Products is a Shipper’s Letter of Instruction Needed?

All shipments that are exported from the United States require a submission of an SLI. This means that there are no exemptions or exceptions pertaining to products. However, filing the Electronic Export Information (EEI) through the AES is only required if the value of consignment is above $2,500.

How to Fill Out a Shipper’s Letter of Instruction

There are various Shipper’s Letter of Instruction templates that are compliant and appropriate for submission. Almost every renowned freight forwarder will have their own SLI template, which they will be able to extend to exporters. 

However, the official SLI template of the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America, Inc. (NCBFAA) is always preferred, as it contains all of the relevant data fields and is also updated to meet the latest regulations. Here you’ll be able to see shipper and consignee details, country of destination among other required details.

Below, you’ll find a guide on how to fill out the Shipper’s Letter of Instruction with definitions and examples.

  1. USPPI Name – Stands for U.S. Principal Party in Interest (USPPI) and is the exporter (typically also the shipper). It is also the same company of which EIN is being used.
  2. USPPI Address Including Zip Code: The full address and zip code of the USPPI.
  3. Freight Location Company Name: If the USPPI cargo is located in a different facility, the name of the company storing the goods should be indicated. 
  4. Freight Location Address: The complete address of where the merchandise is located. 
  5. Forwarding Agent: The name and address of the company or person representing the USPPI for the filing of export documents.
  6. USPPI EIN (IRS) No: The USPPI unique Employer Identification Number. Entering another EIN is strictly prohibited. 
  7. Related Party Indicator: To confirm if the USPPI or its consignee own 10% of the either company. If not applicable, indicate Non-related. 
  8. USPPI Reference #: The internal record or reference number of the shipment. This is used by the shipper and forwarder for easy identification.
  9. Routed Export Transaction: Confirmation if the shipment routing is from the USPPI own freight forwarder or consignees. 
  10. Ultimate Consignee Name and Address: The complete name and address of the buyer of the merchandise. 
  11. Ultimate Consignee Type: Indicate the type of consignee here. Choices are Direct Consumer / Government Entity / Reseller / Other. The USPPI is requested to pick the nearest description. 
  12. Intermediate Consignee Name and Address: If the consignee at destination is represented by another company acting of the interest of the buyer of the merchandise.
  13. State of Origin: The 2 character state code where the exporter originates from. 
  14. Country of Ultimate Destination: The final destination of the exported goods.
  15. Hazardous Material: If the cargo is deemed to be hazardous. Type Yes or No in the given space. 
  16. In-Bond Code: If the shipment is traveling under bond the corresponding code is entered.
  17. Entry Number: The unique entry number generated when export processing is being accomplished. 
  18. FTZ Identifier: If the goods are coming from a Free Trade Zone, indicate the 7 character code identifier.
  19. TIB / Carnet: used for temporary export exemptions.
  20. Gross Weight in kilos: Total weight of the shipment including packaging. All weights must be indicated in kilos.
  21. SOLAS Certification: Indicate the verified gross mass (VGM) of the shipment including the container. This is for safety purposes of container handling at origin and destination. 
  22. Domestic or Foreign (D/F): Confirm if the goods for export are made in the US or originate from a foreign country. 
  23. Schedule B / HTS Number and Commercial Commodity Description: Enter unique 10 digit unique Harmonized Tariff Code.
  24. Quantity in Schedule B / HTS Units: The confirmed weight of the shipment and packaging.
  25. DDTC Quantity and DDTC Unit of Measure: Applies to exports requiring Department of State approval and the quantity of the item being shipped.
  26. Shipping Weight (in Kilos): For all shipments using airfreight, sea freight, rail or truck, indicate the total weight of the commodity only. 
  27. ECCN, EAR99 or USML Category No.: Indicate the 5 character Export Control Classification Number. For EAR 99, the exporter must ensure that the items to be exported are not destined to a sanctioned country. 
  28. SME Indicator: (Y/N): If the exported items are part of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) additional clearances are needed. If not applicable, enter ‘N’.
  29. Export License No., License Exception Symbol, DDTC Exemption No., DDTC ACM No. Or NLR: Input the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) license for controlled items, if applicable. 
  30. Value at the Port of Export (US dollars): The total selling price of the goods including freight, insurance, and other origin charges. All amounts should be rounded up to the next dollar. omitting any cent value. 
  31. License Value by Item (if applicable) (US dollars): Enter the license value of each item being exported. 
  32. DDTC Applicant Registration Number: Enter the unique 6 number code DDTC registration number. 
  33. Eligible Party Certification: If the exporter is shipping ITAR or controlled items, enter ‘Y’. 
  34. AES Filing Requirement: AES filing is required for items above a $2,500 value Schedule B number. Indicate if applicable for non-applicable.
  35. Freight Forwarder Authorization: This authorizes the freight forwarder to act on behalf of the USPPI, enabling them to fill out and submit the required Electronic Export Information (“EEI”), in accordance with US laws and regulations. 
  36. Statement Certification: The USPPI confirms that all provided information is accurate and understands the criminal liability for falsely declared information. A failure to provide correct information would find USPPI in violation of U.S. laws on exportation (13. U.S.C) Sec .305: 22 U.S.C. Sec 401, 18 U.S.C. Sec 1001, 50 U.S.C. app. 2410).
  37. USPPI E-mail Address: The email address of the USPPI contact. 
  38. USPPI Telephone No.: The telephone number of the USPPI contact. 
  39. Printed Name of Duly Authorized Officer or Employee: Name of the USPPI employee who has been authorized to fill out these details.
  40. Signature: Signature of the USPPI filling up the form. E-signatures are acceptable. 
  41. Title: Designation of the USPPI’s employee.
  42. Date: The date the SLI was completed and signed.

Please take note that the above listed SLI guide refers to the official NCBFAA template. If you’re working with a particular freight forwarder, you’ll need to get in touch with them for more information.

Tips When Submitting the SLI

When submitting the Shipper’s Letter of Instruction there are certain things that you should keep in mind that can also speed up the approval process.

  • Submit the SLI timely
  • Ensure that all details are correct
  • Request for help if needed
  • Find a suitable SLI Template
  • Appoint a freight forwarder beforehand

Shipper’s Letter of Instruction Template and Forms

Freight forwarders and exporters are free to have their own SLI template for export shipments, as long as all the information provided is complete and accurate. This information can either be filled in and submitted by the exporter or an appointed party.

As previously mentioned, The National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America, Inc., has made a standardized Shipper’s Letter of Instruction template available for anyone to download. This template is recommended.

Below is a list of SLI templates from various freight forwarders that you can access, as well as the standardized template from the NCBFAA.

Forwarder NameLink to Carriers SLI Form
NCBFAANCBFAA’s Shippers Letter of Instruction
DHLDHL’s Shipper Letter of Instruction
UPSUPS’ Shipper Letter of Instruction
ExpeditorsExpeditors Shipper Letter of Instruction 
DB SchenkerDB Schenker’s Shipper Letter of Instruction 
Nippon ExpressNippon Express Shipper Letter of Instruction
CEVA LogisticsCeva Logistics Shipper Letter of Instruction
Rohlig LogisticsRohlig Logistics Shipper Letter of Instruction

Shipper’s Letter of Instruction Case Study

A sportswear manufacturer located in California, United States is fulfilling an order by shipping 3 x 40’ containers worth of football jerseys to a customer in Seoul, South Korea. The exporter, also the USPPI, has a long-standing relationship with a renowned freight forwarder. 

Therefore, they are using the freight forwarders SLI template to fill out all of the required shipment details. Additionally, they have outsourced the submission of the SLI and the Electronic Export Information (EEI) through the AES to the freight forwarder. 

This way, the exporter can ensure that they are in control of the information and the freight forwarder only acts as the party that helps with the filing and processing for the export documentation.

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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.