The bill of lading is a document issued by the carrier which is considered evidence of the carriage contract between the carrier and the shipper for the transportation of goods. You may have seen the abbreviation for this document as BoL. Air carriers issue only one BoL, while ocean carriers issue three copies, one of which is the master copy that can be used to obtain the release of the goods. The exporter obtains the BoL from the carrier and forwards it to the buyer via mail or banking channels once the payment is made by the buyer.
The BoL contains important information such as:
● Who is the shipper and who is the consignee
● Which carrier issued the BoL
● The freight forwarders who have had and will have the shipment
● The ports of origin and destination
● Which party will be paying for the journey (based on the already made agreement between buyer and seller)
● What is in the shipment
● How the shipment is packaged
● How much the shipment weighs, and the dimensions of the shipment
● The name of the ship/vessel that the cargo is traveling on
● Any other instructions needed for a successful journey
It also outlines who can actually take the cargo at the end of its journey, or at another discharge point in case of dispute. In other words, the BoL is the evidence of title to the goods. If there is an issue with the shipment, for example if some of it is missing or damaged, the BoL shows who (the carrier) can be held responsible.
The bill of lading also acts as a receipt which proves that the shipment has been taken by the carrier, for insurance purposes as well as customs purposes, and can be used as proof that the contract has been fulfilled by the carrier. Remember: only with a BoL can you retrieve the goods from the carrier. Usually the seller will mail you this all-important document only after they have their money.