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What is a Bill of Lading and what is it for?


What is the Bill of Lading?

The Bill of Lading is the document internationally recognized as the most important in the process of international cargo movement, whether import or export, because it assigns to whom the cargo is consigned (i.e., ownership of the cargo). It is the contract of carriage between the shipping line and the cargo owner. It is issued by the shipping company to confirm that it has received the goods on board one of its vessels. It must contain correct listings such as importer and exporter information or the incoterm.

In general, it is the master document of international trade, something like the Rosetta Stone of containerized cargo movement. Transversal to all the actors in the logistics chain process, it is commonly referred to in English and/or with its abbreviations of BL, B/L or BOL.

In simple terms, the Bill of Lading is the "boarding card" of an air voyage, only in this case, instead of the voyage of a person, we refer to the shipment of goods. 

Information contained in a Bill of Lading

As the Bill of Lading is a document with more than 30 fields, it is normal that if we do not fill it out carefully we skip or make mistakes in some of them. It is very common that this happens due to the speed with which we want to finish this procedure and proceed with the shipment of the products. 

However, as experts in the industry, we recommend that you include in detail the requested information about the goods to be transported, i.e., you should be as descriptive as possible to facilitate the work of other agents involved in the transport.

Functionality of a BL

The Bill of Lading has several functionalities, since it is the document that allows you to release the cargo at the customs of the destination country, it can be used by the exporter when sending the BL to the importer as a way to ensure payment. 

It mainly serves as proof of the contract of carriage between the shipper and the shipping company. Among its possible uses, the following stand out:

1) It is a proof that the goods have been shipped and records the state in which they are to be then transported to the port of destination aboard the vessel indicated, following the guidelines agreed - previously - between the seller and the buyer of the goods. 

2) It can be used as proof of shipment for customs and insurance procedures, and also as proof that the contract has been fulfilled, especially when moving cargo under Incoterms such as CFR and FOB, where responsibility is transferred on board. 

3) It functions as a proof of the existence of the Contract of Carriage, guaranteeing that the goods have been delivered to the carrier for shipment by sea. In addition, the terms of the contract are usually shown on the back. 

4) It also serves to evidence title to the cargo, where the named person responsible (or consignee) for the goods has the exclusive contractual right to claim release of the goods. It can be bearer, nominative or to order, which facilitates the transfer of ownership of the goods. 

5) It can be admitted as a credit title by banks in documentary credits, authorizing charges and credits for transport and to allow the withdrawal of the merchandise to its legitimate owner.

6) Finally, it sometimes allows to secure a payment since the sender can retain the original invoice that receives it and therefore, the consignee cannot have access to his goods until the bill of lading has been issued.

Issuance of a Bill of Lading

The Bill of Lading has certain rules for its issuance, for example, there must always be three originals and several copies. 

Meanwhile, those in charge of issuing the Bill of Lading are the carriers, whether they are shipping lines, ship agents, a freight forwarder such as, and/or the master of the vessel or an agent designated by the master. 

It should be explained that the consignee is the one who must necessarily present the three originals of the BL, or one of them duly endorsed to pick up the goods at the port of destination. When they have been issued, it is usually provided to the shipper, a forwarder or freight forwarder or directly to the consignee (who is buying the goods) through the customs broker. After that, exporters must physically deliver the original BL to the importers, either by courier, banks or together with the goods, so that the consignee or receiver of the goods can pick up the goods at the port of destination without any problems. 

Figures involved in the Bill of Lading


Called shipper or shipper, is the figure that performs the shipment of the goods. Most of the time it is the company that makes the sale, that is to say, the shipper is almost always the exporter, although in some cases it can also be the importer of the merchandise.


This is the owner of the goods at destination, i.e. the person who has permission to pick up the goods once they arrive at their destination and is listed on the Bill of Lading as such. This is usually the importer or company that purchased the goods. 


This is the person who is notified that the cargo has arrived at destination when it arrives in port. Occasionally, if the owner of the goods is not listed as shipper or consignee, he may be listed as notify. This may happen, for example, when the cargo has been consigned to a customs broker at destination..


In this case, the role of carrier is carried out by the shipping company or shipowner in charge of carrying the goods. Likewise, the transport companies are in charge of issuing the document, whether they are shipowners, consignees or shipping companies, or by the captain of the ship in which the goods are to be transported. We must not forget that between 3 and 5 original copies of the BL must be issued.

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