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Bill of Lading vs. Packing List: What's the Difference?

On: November 30, 2022    |    By: David Noah David Noah    |    4 min. read

Bill of Lading vs. Packing Lists: What's the Difference? | Shipping Solutions “What’s the difference between a packing list and a bill of lading?” We’re sometimes asked this question or variations of it. (Which of the two is more important? Can I use one instead of the other?) While most export processes use both forms, they aren’t interchangeable.

In this article, we’ll examine the bill of lading and the packing list forms and the role each plays in an export shipment.

Bill of Lading vs. Packing List: What’s the Difference?

Bill of Lading: A Definition

Inland Bill of Lading

A bill of lading serves multiple purposes:

  1. It is a contract for the carriage of goods between the shipper and the transportation company.
  2. It serves as a receipt issued by the carrier upon taking possession of the goods.
  3. It may serve as a document of title that permits its holder to obtain title to, and possession of, the goods.

This transport document expedites an export shipment from the time of departure from your facility to delivery. When freight changes hands from the shipper to the carrier, it is the signature on the bill of lading that signifies that the goods have been received in "good order." That is, the goods are in the same condition as when they left the shipper's facility, or a "clean" bill of lading has been issued.

A bill of lading without any comments regarding damage, overage or underage can play a crucial role in permitting the seller to receive payment for the merchandise.

There are several different types of bills of lading, depending on an exporter’s use case:

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Key Data Elements

An inland bill of lading should include:

  • The name and contact information for the exporter, the consignee and the bill to party.
  • The inland carrier’s information (for inland).
  • Vessel, booking and loading instructions for the international carriage of the goods (for ocean).
  • Freight rates and charges (for ocean and air waybill).
  • Carrier information (for air waybill).
  • The airport of departure and routing (for air waybill).
  • The relevant anti-diversion clause (for air waybill).
  • A description of the goods, including their weight and dimensions and how they are packed.
  • Any special instructions for the shipment.

Packing List: A Definition

Packing List

An export packing list is a document that provides the exporter, the international freight forwarder and the ultimate consignee with information about your shipment, the packing details and the marks and numbers noted on the outside of the boxes.

A freight forwarder uses the packing list to prepare the bill of lading for the international carrier and to prepare export clearance documentation, such as the Electronic Export Information (EEI) required for filing through AESDirect on the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) platform. It itemizes the amount and kind of merchandise contained in each individual package that is to be loaded aboard a truck, railcar, vessel or aircraft.

A packing list is also used as a supporting document in the event of a dispute between the carrier and the exporter regarding the measurement and weight of the cargo. It may be used by banks as a supporting document presented for payment under a letter of credit or other payment terms. It may be used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as by customs in the country of import for compliance and duty liability.

While a packing list is not required by customs in most countries, it is an important document in the export process.

Key Data Elements

In addition to including the basic details about the international transaction, the packing list will include:

  • The name and contact information of the exporter and ultimate consignee.
  • Details of which items appear in each of the packing containers.
  • Weight and measurements of each packing container.
  • Any marks and numbers, including a container number and seal number if appropriate.
  • The total number of pieces and weight and measurement of the entire shipment.
  • Any special instructions or additional information that is important for the shipment.
Bill of Lading vs. Packing List

Easily Create and Manage Bills of Lading and Packing Lists

Correctly completing bills of lading and packing lists are simple yet important tasks—ones you can’t afford to make mistakes on. If you do not have these documents, or if they are riddled with errors, you could end up with delayed shipments and delays in getting paid. Add to that the many times in which you need to complete documents, and you’re dealing with a significant amount of paperwork, a lot of redundancy and a lot of room for error.

That’s why we’ve created a better way. Shipping Solutions export documentation software allows you to complete your export documents up to five-times faster than the traditional manual process. Instead of copying the same information over and over again, you enter information in only one place, which makes you less likely to make expensive mistakes.

Let us show you how Shipping Solutions work. Register for a free online demo of the software.

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David Noah

About the Author: David Noah

David Noah is the founder and president of Shipping Solutions, a software company that develops and sells export documentation and compliance software targeted at U.S. companies that export. David is a frequent speaker on export documentation and compliance issues and has published several articles on the topic.

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