Difference between Bill of Lading and Sea Waybill?

International logistics use documents like Bill of Lading (B/L) and Sea Waybill. The buyer must obtain the B/L in order to be able to pick up the cargo. B/L shows clearly who has the authority to collect the cargo at destination. Both the seller and the buyer use the B/L as a common document for their sales transaction. The seller use this to show proof of their part of the shipment arrangement of the cargo. The buyer use this to show ownership and collect the cargo.

Types of B/L

There are 3 main types of B/L. They are namely, Original B/L, Surrendered B/L and Sea Waybill.

Original B/L

Original B/L is issued in sets of 3. The Original B/L is usually sent by the seller to the buyer by courier or in person. The buyer can only use the Original B/L to collect the cargo.

Surrendered B/L

The Surrendered B/L is the Original B/L with a stamp indicating “Surrendered”, “Telex Release” or “Express Release”. After all payment by buyer clears, the seller then arranges the surrender of the Original B/L. Once arranged by the seller, the buyer can then collect the cargo with a copy of the B/L. If the transit time is short, there is not enough time for the prompt delivery of the Original B/L. Hence, Surrendered B/L helps to avoid additional costs due to document delays and reduces chances of B/L lost in transit.

Sea Waybill

The Sea Waybill is different from the Original B/L. Once issued, the buyer can collect the cargo with a copy. The seller cannot hold the cargo release in the event of non payment or payment issues from the buyer. The seller only issues Sea Waybill when they are confident with the buyer and have no payment issues or discrepancies with the buyer. Banks do not accepted Sea Waybill if Letter of Credit (L/C) is the payment method for the cargo.

Best recommended B/L type?

Each B/L type has its own pros and cons. It depends highly on the payment situation and arrangement between the seller and the buyer. Sea Waybill is only an evidence of a contract of carriage and receipt of cargo. B/L, on the other hand, acts as the contract of carriage and receipt of the cargo, while also serving as a document of title affording ownership.

Any party in possession of the Original B/L is entitled to demand possession of the cargo from the carrier at destination so long as the Original B/L is properly endorsed. The endorsement passes the right to possession of the cargo from holder to holder. The seller can maintain control of the cargo and can transfer its right to possession at the time of its choosing. It is useful in shipments under a letter of credit as it controls the transfer of goods and funds.

However it takes time for endorsement and transfer to the buyer. The delay can sometimes mean unnecessary additional costs to the buyer. With technology advancement, there is electronic or digital Original B/L issued now. This helps to eliminate the document delays and loss issue without losing the possession of the cargo. Electronic or digital B/L also avoids the possibility of thief and tampering. Effectively, issuing Original B/L or Surrendered B/L serves as a guarantee that the cargo will only released with the prior consent of the seller.

With Sea Waybill, the buyer can collect the cargo at destination once the Sea Waybill is issued and the cargo arrives. There is no need to wait for any document and hence no delays due to document. Once issued, seller has no control of the cargo so transfer of ownership is not allowed during transit. Using Sea Waybill is possible only when there a high level of trust in terms of payment between seller and buyer. It is important to note that not all carriers are able to accept Sea Waybill.


It is also mindful to note that in various countries, there are laws and regulations that limit the type of B/L allowed. Some countries only allow release of cargo with the presentation of the physical Original B/L. There are also countries where the only payment method accepted is the bank’s L/C hence it requires Original B/L.

Do feel free to contact us for any queries regarding Bill of Lading (B/L) and Sea Waybill.

For more information, please see below websites.

Types of Bill of Lading

What is Bill of Lading in Shipping

Bill of Lading


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