A manifest is a compilation of information about the goods carried on a means of transport (ship, airplane, truck, rail wagon and barge), together with the information about the means of transport, such as its identification, characteristics and route. A manifest as a paper document is a cover page with information on the means of transport and aggregated data on the goods transported, followed by the individual bills of lading of the consignments.

Purpose of the cargo manifest

A manifest can be exchanged for commercial purposes, for example the freight manifest exchanged between two liner agents in the departure and the arrival ports. The manifest can also be prepared for regulatory purposes, specifically the customs manifest which needs to be sent to customs when arriving in the first port in a country.The difference in information on the customs manifest and the freight manifest is usually marginal, but the legal status of the two documents is completely different.

Facilitation through electronic exchange

A cargo manifest can be a huge compilation of paper documents, and is either transported on the means itself of transport or sent separately (by courier). Late arrival of the paper manifest can considerably slow down the timely reporting to customs and hence delay the loading and unloading of the goods.
Exchanging the manifest and bills of lading electronically allows sending the information about the goods well in advance, even if paper documents are still accompanying the goods. These advantages become even more important with the present security requirements, where authorities wish to possess detailed cargo information enough in advance for proper risk assessment. It has hence become common practice to exchange information about individual consignments as early as possible.