Bills of Lading

What are bills of lading?

A bill of lading (BL, B/L or BOL) is a legal document showing the ownership of the goods in a trade transaction (document of title). A bill of lading is also a receipt issued by the shipper that the specified goods have been received by the transporter and are on the transportation vehicle. Finally, it also serves as a contract for how the goods will be shipped. For a more detailed definition and description of different types of BOLs, see the section on bills of lading in this exports guide developed by the International Trade Centre (ITC).

When shipping your cargo, one of the most important things to ensure is that the cargo arrives safely and without mix-ups. This is why the bill of lading is so relevant. Not only are the items being shipped listed, the BOL also includes specific shipping instructions so that your cargo arrives complete and to the correct destination.

What information is included in a BOL? 

The BOL describes the essential details of a goods shipment. Depending on the type of BOL that is being filled, it is important to have information including: shipper (seller), consignee (buyer), point of origin, place of delivery, contents of shipment, and payment terms. For examples of different Bills of Lading, see the Trade Finance Global or ITC websites.

What are the different types of BOLs? 

Bills of lading are issued by a carrier, or transporter, for a consignor (seller) to detail the transportation of the goods to the consignee (buyers). There are two main types of BOLs: 

  • Straight bill of lading: This type of BOL is used when the buyer has already paid for the shipment and the transporter is delivering the item directly to the consignee or other appropriate party. This is very similar to a waybill. Straight bills of lading and waybills are generally used for intra-firm transactions or between two trusted parties using an open account payment rather than trade finance (see guide on trade finance).
  • Order bill of lading: This type of BOL is used when the shipment will be paid for at a later time. Importantly, an order bill of lading is also a transferable document of title and can be used to access credit by the holder. BOLs that are “to order” mean that the document can be delivered to any added consignee following transfer of the document if all endorsements are in place and can therefore be used to access finance given its inherent value, represented by the goods. 

Where can I learn more?

For more detailed information on BOLs, visit the Trade Finance Global website.