Bills of Lading are some of the most important documentation you need to know about when dealing with international shipping. The name itself means ‘list of cargo’ and acts as a legal document as your goods are moved from one country to another. There are numerous types of Bills of Lading depending on the shipping method you choose and each one is just as important as the next. In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about this vital document and help you understand it better.

What Is a Bill of Lading?

In contrast to its namesake, the Bill of Lading (BoL) isn’t just a list of contents. It is a legal document that is issued by the carrier and passed on to the shipper (also known as the Consignor). The document contains information about the goods within a cargo shipment including their type, quantity and end destination. It is also used as proof of the good’s condition before they pass hands and specifies that they are ready to be shipped to their end destination.

What Is the Purpose of a Bill of Lading?

This document acts as multiple things. It is a receipt that shows that the cargo/goods have been passed from the carrier to the shipper. It is also legally binding and is needed as a title of the goods. Without it, the shipment cannot be released by the carrier and ownership cannot be transferred. The BoL is also used as confirmation of delivery and is evidence that the shipping feeds have been paid. If they have not, the shipper can without the original bill until this amount has been cleared and, with it, the goods in question too.

Whose Responsibility Is it to Issue a BoL?

Legally, only the carrier can issue a BoL. However, in some situations, a Vessel Operating Common Carrier or Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier can do this too. Some freight forwarders hold these titles but it pays to understand whether this is true for your chosen company.

What Information Is Found on a BoL?

The exact information required on a Bill of Lading depends on the type of shipping used. However, in general, the following points will need to be ticked off:

  • Name, contact information and legal information about the carrier, shipper and/or consignee.
  • Point of loading.
  • End destination country.
  • Method of transportation.
  • IncoTerms (terms of shipment).
  • Detailed descriptions of the goods including type, quantity, weight and dimensions.

Different types of BoL

The BoL can be used for all types of international freight. However, you may have noticed the term ‘Waybill’ being used for air. This is a very similar document and provides information about the goods that are being shipped.

Air Waybill (AWB) – Use for Air Freight

When you choose to ship your goods by air, an AWB is used to accompany all goods. Just like we mentioned above, it contains information about the goods in question and details for the shippers and carriers. The document stays with the shipment at all times and is distributed by the International Air Transport Association. As a legally binding document, it is non-negotiable and must be packaged with your goods before they can leave this country.

There are also different names for the BoL’s issued as your goods make their way through the international shipping line.

Master BoL

As the name suggests, this is the main document issued by the shipping carrier.

House BoL

This is issued by the freight forwarder and contains all of the T’s and C’s that are specific to them.

Switch BoL

As the name suggested, this document may be required for an exchange of the original set. It is only active once the original BoL is inactivated.

Straight BoL

This document is issued to the end customer when payment for the shipping has been made in advance. At this point, the goods pass into the possession of the customer and cannot be transferred to anyone else’s name.

Common Bill of Lading Issues

Freight forwarders are enlisted to minimise the risk of errors when filling out and submitting forms for international shipping. Incorrectly produced BoL’s will cause delays and additional fees. Customs houses need the right information available at the right time to ensure they can process shipments through quickly. And, some common mistakes regularly occur with BoL’s – all of which can be avoided if you work with the right professional company.

Some of these include:

  • Incorrectly Filled Out Weight or Re-Weight Information – This information needs to be accurate, down to the pound. If the information doesn’t match the goods in question, you will be charged an additional tonnage free.
  • Incorrect Class of Freight – All goods fall into a specific class when moving internationally. You must know the right one for your shipment. Some categories incur higher fees so you could end up paying considerably more. Equally, if the carrier you’re using gets footed with a bill because you incorrectly noted the freight class, you’ll end up getting the bill and a possible fine too.
  • Incorrect Contact Information – This can result in delayed payment for the shipping. This can cause either a time loss or financial loss if the shipping company decides to add on their own fine.

How Can a Freight Forwarder Help With the BoL?

One of the main roles of a freight forwarder is to assist clients in raising, populating and submitting legal documents for international shipment. We are there to ensure all the relevant information is filled out correctly. With over 25 years of experience, the team here at Radius Warehouse and Logistics have been working with customers to ensure they have the right documents at the right time. We help you to avoid fees, fines and delays and to ensure that all customs payments are accurate the first time. If you would like to speak to a member of our team, please do get in contact here today or request a quote online today.