All sectors
Our Solutions

Differences between the House Bill of Lading and the Master Bill of Lading

by Samantha Greene / May 23, 2023 / 5m

A Bill of Lading (BL) is one of the essential documents in logistics, particularly in international ocean shipping. When done right, a Bill of Lading is a valuable legal asset and a source of crucial information about the cargo and shipping conditions.

In this article, we will cover the general meaning of the term and describe the two most common kinds of BL that are used in global trade: house and master bills of lading.

The definition of a Bill of Lading

A BL is a legal document issued by the company providing cargo shipping. It is proof of business relationship between the two parties involved in moving the cargo from one place to another. It specifies the shipper and consignee, cargo description, delivery terms according to Incoterms, and payment conditions.

What information does a BL contain?

Here is the list of information that can be obtained from a standard BL:

  • Contact information of the shipper and consignee;
  • Place of loading and discharge;
  • Cargo size and weight in specified measurement units;
  • Full description of the loaded products;
  • Packaging description: pallets, barrels, crates, boxes, etc;
  • International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG) for hazardous cargo.

The importance of a Bill of Lading

  • It confirms the legal ownership of the cargo by a certain entity.
  • It has a receipt function and confirms that the exporter loaded the ordered products for transportation.
  • When signed by a consignee, it serves as a confirmation that the carrying company has fulfilled its obligations, and the new owner has received the cargo.
  • It has all the necessary descriptions of the cargo, which allow the recipient to assess its quantity and quality.
  • It contains necessary shipping clauses.

When issued at the place of loading, BL confirms that the shipper has provided the goods and the carrier has accepted them for shipment. At destination, the BL serves as a receipt confirming that the cargo belongs to the consignee and can be released to the company that possesses the original copies of the BL.

House Bill of Lading: a brief overview

The House Bill of Lading (HBL) is issued not by the main carrier but by the company the shipper turns to for assistance in arranging the shipment, an intermediary. These would be either freight forwarders or non-vessel operating companies (NVOCC). Read our post about the difference between the two here.

The intermediaries issue an HBL as an acknowledgement that they have received the items from the owner for further shipment. After that, the freight forwarder or NVOCC books space for the cargo with the main carrier: ocean shipping lines, airlines, truckers, etc.