Bill of Lading Vs. Packing Slip: Understanding the Differences in Shipping Documents

Bill of Lading Vs. Packing Slip: Understanding the Differences in Shipping Documents
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The packing slip and the bill of lading are two essential documents when navigating the world of global shipping and freight forwarding. Understand the differences in this blog post.

Navigating the world of global shipping involves handling a variety of documents. Whether you have an agent running your shipping operations or you’re hiring the services of a freight forwarder yourself to help you fulfill your international shipping objectives, understanding these documents is imperative to your success. 

The packing slip and the bill of lading are two such essential documents. Their role and function may seem complex initially, but gaining a solid understanding of these documents is critical. In this post, we will examine these two documents, elaborating on what each one represents, when to use them, and how they differ from each other. 

What is a Bill of Lading?

The Bill of Lading (BL or BoL) is a critical shipping document that serves as a contract of carriage and evidence of the receipt of goods. The carrier or its agent issues it and outlines the terms and conditions of the transportation agreement. The Bill of Lading acts as a legal document that establishes the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of the shipper, carrier, and consignee. It is an essential part of international trade, providing proof of ownership and facilitating the movement of goods.

Importance of the Bill of Lading

Understanding the Bill of Lading is vital for anyone involved in international freight transportation activities due to its multiple roles:

  • Contract of Carriage: The BOL signifies an agreement between the shipper and the carrier regarding the transportation of goods.
  • Receipt of Goods: It provides proof that the carrier has received the goods in the appropriate condition and agrees to deliver them to the consignee.
  • Document of Title: It represents ownership of goods, especially in situations where goods are being shipped to a party other than the owner. This can be important for the financing of transactions, and it allows goods to be sold while in transit by transferring the BOL to the buyer.

How to Obtain a Bill of Lading

SMBs looking to obtain a Bill of Lading document can do so by partnering with a freight forwarder or directly with a shipping carrier.

Key Components of a Bill of Lading

Understanding the various components of a Bill of Lading can be essential in ensuring that goods are shipped and received successfully and that both parties are aware of their responsibilities.

Shipper’s and Consignee’s Details

The BOL includes detailed information about the parties involved:

  • Shipper: This is the party who is sending the goods. Their name, address, and contact information must be clearly stated.
  • Consignee: This is the party who will receive the shipment. Like the shipper’s details, the consignee’s name, address, and contact details should be clearly identified.

Bill of Lading Number

A unique number assigned to the BOL helps in tracking the consignment and referencing it in future correspondences. This number is crucial for all parties involved in the shipping process.


The date indicates the day the goods were handed over to the carrier. It’s important for tracking delivery times and resolving any disputes related to shipment timing.

Description of Goods

A comprehensive description of the goods is crucial, including:

  • General description of the products: Describes what is being shipped. This could be anything from machinery to food items.
  • Quantity: Details how many units of the goods are being transported.
  • Weight and Dimensions: Describes the weight, length, width, and height of the cargo.
  • Packaging Type: Specifies how the goods are packed, e.g., boxes, pallets, drums, etc.
  • Hazardous Material Identification: If the shipment contains hazardous material, it should be clearly identified, and the appropriate UN number should be indicated.

Freight Terms

Freight terms denote who is responsible for the payment of the freight charges. These terms include:

  • Prepaid: The shipper is responsible for the freight charges.
  • Collect: The consignee is responsible for the freight charges.
  • Third Party: A party other than the shipper or consignee is responsible for the freight charges.

Special Instructions

Any specific instructions or notes regarding the handling or delivery of the shipment should be clearly indicated here. This may include instructions for temperature control, fragility considerations, or delivery times.

Signature and Name of the Carrier’s Agent

This confirms that the carrier has received the goods. The agent’s signature and date serve as proof of the goods’ condition at the time of receipt.

Understanding the key components of a Bill of Lading listed above not only ensures smooth transportation operations but also helps in safeguarding the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved. 

How to Use a Bill of Lading

Below is a detailed guide on how to properly use a Bill of Lading:

Completing the Bill of Lading Form

The first step involves correctly filling out the BOL form, including all necessary details about the shipment. The components of the form are listed in the section above.

Verification of Details

Once the BOL form is filled out, it’s essential to verify all the details. Any mistakes or discrepancies can lead to legal complications, fines, or even loss of cargo.

Obtain Signature

The BOL must be signed by the shipper and the carrier to become a valid contract. The shipper signs when the goods are handed over to the carrier, and the carrier signs upon receipt of the goods, acknowledging that they’re received in good condition. The consignee signs when the shipment is delivered, confirming receipt.

Distribution of Copies

The original copy of the BOL goes to the shipper, while the carrier keeps a duplicate. A third copy accompanies the goods to the consignee. Each party involved in the shipment process should have a copy of the BOL.

What is a Packing Slip?

A Packing Slip, also known as a packing list, is a crucial shipping document accompanying a shipment. It serves as an internal document provided by the shipper. It is primarily used for inventory management and order fulfillment. The Packing Slip outlines the contents of the shipment, providing a detailed itemization of the goods being shipped.

While packing slips are not a legal requirement, they are necessary for good inventory management. The content of a packing slip can vary depending on the template a business uses, but in general, it includes a full list of the goods along with other relevant information. 

Moreover, packing slips are not included in the cost of goods when determining tariffs for international shipping. For instance, if a company purchases chairs packed in crates for international transit, the cost of the crates is not included in the transaction value when calculating the regional value content, which is used to determine if goods meet the origin criteria for tariff classification

How to Obtain a Packing Slip

The packing slip is typically generated and filled out by the seller or company from whom you are purchasing the goods. They are responsible for accurately listing the contents of the package on the packing slip. The seller or company has direct knowledge of what items are being included in the shipment and can provide the necessary details on the packing slip, such as item names, quantities, and any relevant item numbers or SKUs. ֿ

In some cases, a freight forwarder may assist the seller or the buyer with this process. However, the actual creation and completion of the packing slip are typically the responsibility of the seller.

Components of a Packing Slip

The following are the key components that should be included on a packing slip for international shipping:

Shipper and Receiver Information

This section includes comprehensive details about both the sender and receiver of the package.

  • Shipper’s Information: Name, address, contact information, and, where applicable, tax identification number of the party shipping the goods.
  • Receiver’s Information: Name, address, contact information, and tax identification number of the party receiving the goods. If there’s a different address for delivery, it should also be included.

Shipping Details

This section contains essential information about the shipping process.

  • Shipping Date: The date on which the package was shipped.
  • Shipping Method: The mode of transportation used, such as air, sea, rail, or road.
  • Expected Delivery Date: The anticipated date the package will arrive at the destination.

Detailed Itemized List

A comprehensive list of all items included in the package is crucial.

  • Item Description: Detailed description of each item, including the name, model number, SKU, HS Code (Harmonized System Code, a universally accepted code for classifying traded products), and any other specifics.
  • Quantity: The quantity of each item being shipped.
  • Weight: The weight of each item, both individually and collectively, is often required for customs and logistical planning.
  • Value: The total value of the goods, which is critical for customs declarations and insurance.

Packaging Details

This part of the packing slip gives an overview of the packaging used to ship the goods.

  • Number of Packages: The total number of boxes, crates, or other packages that make up the shipment.
  • Package Description: Details of the packaging, such as material (plastic, wood, etc.), type (box, crate, pallet, etc.), and any identifiable markings or numbers.
  • Dimensions: The length, width, and height of each package, usually required for space management in shipping.

Customs and Regulatory Compliance

For international shipping, regulatory compliance information is essential.

  • Incoterms: The agreed terms of trade between the seller and buyer, which determine responsibility for various costs and risks associated with the shipment. Learn more about Incoterms.
  • Country of Origin: The country where the goods were manufactured or produced.
  • Customs Declarations: Any relevant declarations required by customs at the destination country, which can include information about the nature of the goods, intended use, or other legally required details.

Other Important Information

  • Invoice Number: Corresponding invoice number for reference.
  • Purchase Order Number: If the shipment is related to a specific purchase order, include its number for tracking and record-keeping.
  • Signatures: Signatures or digital acknowledgments from relevant parties confirming that the information on the packing slip is accurate.

The exact contents of a packing slip can vary based on the nature of the goods, the countries of origin and destination, and specific carrier or regulatory requirements. Always ensure to comply with the most current laws and guidelines to ensure a smooth shipping process.

When to Use a Packing Slip

The primary goal of a packing slip is to inform all parties involved about what should be in the package. This helps in inventory control, order verification, and resolving any issues that may arise from the shipping process. A packing slip should be used under the following circumstances:

For the Sender:

  • Order Verification: The packing slip is used to check off each item as it’s packed to ensure that everything ordered has been included.
  • Record Keeping: Maintain a copy of each packing slip for your records. This helps track shipments, manage inventory, and resolve any potential disputes or issues.

For the Transporter:

  • Content Verification: The carrier can use the packing slip to confirm that all items are included in the package before it’s transported.
  • Problem Resolution: In case of lost or damaged goods, the packing slip provides evidence of what was in the shipment.

For the Receiver:

  • Order Verification: Upon receiving the package, the recipient can use the packing slip to verify that all ordered items have been received.
  • Return or Exchange: If there’s a need to return or exchange an item, the packing slip provides the necessary details to facilitate this process.

How to Use a Packing Slip

When properly utilized, packing slips help businesses streamline shipping, facilitate returns, and resolve any disputes about what was shipped.

Use a Packing Slip for Order Verification

After the order has been shipped and received, the packing slip plays a critical role in verifying the order:

  • Check the received goods: The recipient should compare the goods received to the packing slip to ensure they match. This includes checking quantities, product types, and any other specifics like color or size.
  • Record the delivery: The recipient should keep a copy of the packing slip for their records. This can be useful for inventory management and can serve as a proof of delivery.

Use the Packing Slip to Handle Discrepancies

In the event of discrepancies, the packing slip serves as a reference document:

  • Compare with original order: If there’s a discrepancy between the goods received and the packing slip, the recipient can compare it with the original order to determine where the discrepancy lies.
  • Contact the seller: If discrepancies persist, the packing slip provides the contact information needed to get in touch with the seller and resolve the issue.

Master Your Bill of Lading and Packing Slips By Choosing Ship4wd as Your Digital Freight Forwarder

Ship4wd offers the best solution for SMBs seeking to optimize their international shipping processes. Our team makes sure your goods reach their destination smoothly, and provide you close support and solutions for all of your international shipping needs. Sign up at Ship4wd today and experience firsthand the impact a dedicated digital freight forwarding platform can make for your business.

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