Bill of Lading definition and the role the document plays

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While importing goods from China, there is a possibility to choose one of two options of transporting them – by plane or by ship. When we choose the second option, the Bill of Lading is one of the most important document. We think that every importer should know the most important information about this document. This is the topic of the following article.

What is Bill of Lading?

Briefly speaking, the Bill of Lading definition states that it is a kind of a sea waybill that is often called BOL or B/L. This document acknowledges that cargo has been loaded and it will be released in the destination point that was chosen by the importer based on rules included in Bills of Lading document. While receiving the cargo, the importer has to submit the B/L. This certification is issued by the carrier, but in extraordinary circumstances it may be issued by the skipper. A lot of people perceive the BOL as a kind of a contract between the importer and the carrier. It is a mistake, because it is not any contract. It only serves as an acknowledgement that the cargo was loaded, and it will be released to the importer.

What roles does the Bills of Lading play?

Besides its basic function – acknowledging that the cargo was loaded and it will be released to the importer – this document plays some other important roles:

  1. It is so-called commodity paper, because the individual who has the document is in charge of disposing the goods.
  2. The document rights may be transferred by agreement of cession or simply by giving the document to another person (depending on a type of BOL one has).
  3. It is also a security, because the goods that are subject to this document may change their owner.
  4. It precludes an unauthorised person from releasing the cargo from the port, so it also plays a protective role.

What is it worth to know about the Bill of Lading document?

Basically, one needs to know:

  1. There is both paper and electronical version of the document. The paper version needs to include a stamp and signature of the carrier. If one has such a version, it may be given to another person by agreement of cession. If it comes to the electronic version, it entitles the particular individual to collect the cargo, but it is not transferable.
  2. The paper version is issued in many copies, but every copy serves as an original document. There are usually 3 copies issued. In addition, it is possible to make copies of original documents, however they do not entitle an individual to collect the cargo.
  3. If the Bill of Lading was issued as a Master or a House type, it needs to be delivered to the carrier office in the port where the cargo is to be collected.
  4. The document is usually issued after paying all fees connected with the sea transport.
  5. It usually concerns the production batch or, if the whole intermodal container is transported, it concerns the single container. It is possible to issue this document for more than one intermodal container.
  6. Undoubtedly, it is necessary to keep an eye on the document, because losing them is very problematic. In case of such a situation, the carrier has to perform many complicated procedures, as well as it tends to claim the financial guarantee from the receiving party in order to release the cargo.


The Bill of Lading is an acknowledgement of the ownership of goods. Thanks to this document, the sea transport and marketing of goods while sea trading is much less complicated. The owner of the document does not only own the goods that are subject to the document, but is also in charge of disposing them while transporting them, and it is legally entitled to collect the cargo when it reaches its destination port. B/L is a kind of confirmation of relationship between the carrier and the owner of this document. Due to these roles, it is undoubtedly one of the most crucial documents in sea transport that concerns rights to dispose the cargo.

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About ChinaSafeImport Blog
Our blog contains articles about trade with China. Publications available on this blog allow you to find very important information and practical tips about import from China. We add new articles every Wednesday.

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