Definition of a Waybill Vs. a Bill of Lading

When commercial goods are shipped to customers, the bill of lading and a waybill must accompany them. The bill of lading is the legal document that details the type, quantity and ownership of the goods as well as their destination. It also serves as a receipt when the goods arrive at their destination. The bill of lading must accompany the shipped goods no matter what method is used to ship them: air, land or sea. It must also be be signed by three people: an authorized representative from the carrier, a representative from the shipper and a signature of the receiver. The waybill is the invoice that also accompanies the goods from shipper to final destination.

Bill of Lading

A bill of lading, or BoL, is a legal contract between the shipper of goods and the carrier transporting them. The BoL details the type, quantity, ownership and destination of the goods being shipped. It also serves as a receipt of shipment when the goods are delivered at the predetermined destination. The BoL must always accompany the goods and be signed by all parties: shipper, carrier and recipient. Bills of lading are official documents and may be admissible in a court of law.

A "clean" bill of lading is issued after inspection of the shipment by the carrier stating that the goods were received in the appropriate condition without defects. Bills of lading list all of the goods being transported and serve as the contract between shipper and receiver. A uniform bill of lading may not be transferred; it can only be delivered to the person named on the bill. A negotiable bill of lading may be used to transfer ownership from one party to another.

Waybill Goes With Shipment

A waybill is a document that accompanies the shipment and identifies the shipper, the recipient, where the goods originated from and their destination. It also describes the content of the shipment in detail. A waybill is not a contract to ship goods, nor can it be used to transfer goods from one owner to another. There are several different types of waybills: an astray waybill is for shipments that were separated from the original waybill; a blanket waybill covers two or more shipments on one document; and an interline waybill is used for the handling of a shipment by two or more different carriers. Unlike bill of ladings, waybills are nonnegotiable.

A Bill of Lading Is a Legal Document

The bill of lading serves as a contract and also as a title to the goods being shipped. Possession of the bill of lading has the same effect as being in possession of the goods. The lawful holder of a bill of lading is entitled to sue the carrier if the situation warrants. The bill of lading is the best source to determine whether the companies have met their obligations to each other. Both the shipper and the carrier should be absolutely sure the information on the bill of lading is accurate to avoid any potential legal disputes. If there is a dispute, document will serve as a key piece of evidence used to resolve the issue. While waybills should match up closely to their bills of lading counterparts, they can also include additional charges, information or stipulations that serve to clarify the information on the bill of lading document. Both documents should be retained on file.


  • A bill of lading is a legal contract between the shipper of goods and the company transporting them to their destination. It must be signed by the shipper, the carrier and also by the recipient at its destination. A waybill is not a legal document, but more like an invoice that itemizes the goods being shipped and specifies the final destination. The information on a waybill should match up exactly to the bill of lading, but also can include clarifying information related to the bill of lading.

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