What is a bill of lading (BOL)?

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Export and Compliance

Bill of Lading (BOL)

What is a Bill of Lading (BOL)? 

A bill of lading is a legally-binding, transferable contract of carriage issued by a carrier that states what goods are being shipped, where they are coming from, and where they are going. It also serves as a document of title, and a receipt issued by the carrier.

A bill of lading is a required document for international freight shipping. It must accompany the goods through every form of transportation and will need to be signed by any entity in possession of the goods along the way, including the shipper, carrier, and receiver.

The bill of lading can be created during the quoting and booking process and should be provided to the carrier during pickup. The document should also be attached to the packaged freight.

What is included in the Bill of Lading?

  • Full names and addresses of the shipper and consignee must be easy to find and read
  • Purchase order or special reference numbers 
  • Pickup date
  • Description of items being shipped, including amount, weight, dimensions, and materials used in freight and its packaging
  • Packaging type used 
  • Special instructions for handling 
  • National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) Freight Classification
  • Department of Transportation (DOT) Hazardous Material Designation (shippers must provide information about the presence of any hazardous materials in the shipment

How many types of Bill of Lading are there?

There are over 10 types of Bill of Lading, here are the most common types:

Straight: Used when goods are paid in full and are directly shipped to the consignee. These are non-negotiable BOLs. 

Shipper’s order: When cargo is purchased on a credit and the transaction is handled through a bank. These are negotiable documents and function as a title of goods. When using a shipper’s order, the buyer usually needs an original bill of lading to take possession of cargo at the destination. 

Air waybill: Used when transporting goods via air. They are non-negotiable BOLs. 

Originals: Used to control the cargo when the consignee or buyer hasn’t paid the manufacturer fully for the goods. When the buyer pays the manufacturer for the goods and presents the full set of original documents, then the goods can be released to the consignee. 

Inland: Issued and used when cargo is transported on land through rail or truck. 

Multimodal: Used when cargo is transported through intermodal or on more than one mode of transport, such as ocean, air, land, etc. 

Through: Used when cargo is transported through the use of intermodal transport but has been stored in various warehouses. To be effective, through BOLs require an inland and ocean BOL.

Switch: Used during the transport of goods from foreign-to-foreign shipments, where the shipper requires the information of their suppliers to remain private. In such a case, two sets of BOLs will be switched to protect the information of the supplier or the consignee. Also known as a blind shipment.

 

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