Besides trying to obtain competitive shipping rates, documentation is just as, if not more important when trying to send an ocean freight shipment.

There will be many important shipping documents you’ll handle over the course of the process, but one thing to keep an extra eye on will be the Bill of Lading.

As it stands, there are many variations of Bill of Ladings to begin with, such as the original B/L, Telex Release, and Express Release and these may be confusing.

In this post, we’ll address the differences between the House Bill of Lading (HBL) and the Master Bill of Lading (MBL).
Master Bill of Lading
The Master Bill of Lading is commonly also known as the Ocean or Carrier Bill of Lading. This is issued by the shipping line to the NVOCC. In most cases, the NVOCC or its agent is the shipper. Likewise, the consignee will likely be the NVOCC or its destination agents or counterparts. And the notify party could be the same as the consignee or any other party.

How it works: As soon as the NVOCC receives the shipper’s shipment, it will re-book the same cargo with shipping carriers. Once the carrier confirms reception, it releases the Master Bill of Lading to the entity who made the booking who, in this case, is the NVOCC.

House Bill of Lading
The House Bill of Lading is issued by the NVOCC to the actual customer. The shipper listed is the actual shipper/exporter, and the consignee the receiver/importer. The notify party may be the same as the consignee or any other party*.

How it works: As soon as the NVOCC receives the shipment from the shipper and ensures that all customs paperwork is complete, it releases the House Bill of Lading to the shipper.

*Note: Cases in which a Letter of Credit is used as a payment method, the shipper, consignee, and notify party fields may differ depending on the agreement.

Here’s an infographic to illustrate the main differences between a house and master Bill of Lading.


Important things to note
In the US, only freight forwarders who are also registered as NVOCCs are allowed to sign Bill of Ladings. Non NVOCC-registered freight forwarders cannot issue Bill of Ladings nor appear as a shipper on Bill of Ladings. It can only be listed as a freight forwarder on the Master Bill of Ladings and its role is to help with customs clearance, etc.

All information on the Master Bill of Lading and House Bill of Lading including vessel information, description of cargo, container seal numbers, weight, number of containers, sail date, etc, need to match. The only differences should only be in the shipper, consignee, notify party, and pick up location fields.