What exactly is B/L in Amazon FBA tracking?

The official name of B/L is bill of lading and it is an indispensable document for international trade and FBA tracking. B/L is called ‘securities’ and is considered to have value in themselves. This is because it is used as a document to pick up a container containing cargo worth, for example, 100,000 USD at the port of import. Simply put, the importer cannot pick up the shipment without B/L.

In addition, B/L allows to control payment and delivery. What this means is that if the exporter (i.e. seller) does not receive payment for the goods from the buyer, they can seize B/L and forcibly stop the import process at the importing port. The importer can also reduce the risk of unshipped goods by paying after the cargo is loaded onto the ship and B/L is issued. This is where it gets important.

In order to understand the role of B/L, you must understand when and by whom it is issued and what flow it is used for. Before explaining the flow, I would like to introduce another concept D/O.

What is D/O?

In addition to the exporter(seller) and importer(buyer), the forwarders at export and import site also play an important role. The document called D/O is also important. D/O stands for Delivery Order, which is the document that allows you to pick up your cargo at the port. You are able to obtain D/O by exchanging B/L. The importer must obtain B/L in order to get D/O, which is the cargo delivery document. By understanding this process, it becomes easier to understand that B/L is securities.

As shown in the example, a shipment worth 100,000 USD is sent to another country and B/L is exchanged to D/O, cargo delivery document, in order to pick up the shipment. In this example, you can see that B/L is the same value as 100,000 USD.

The flow of B/L on the export side

  1. As a prerequisite, we assume that the forwarder issues the house B/L with Amazon FBA tracking number.
  2. When the vessel leaves the port, B/L is issued by the exporting forwarder and sent to the seller (exporter).
  3. The seller (exporter) confirms the receipt of payment for the goods from the buyer (importer),  and sends B/L to the buyer (importer).
  4. When the vessel arrives at the port of import, D/O is issued by the forwarder on the import side.
  5. The buyer (importer) takes B/L and exchanges it for D/O, which is a cargo exchange document.

The flow of B/L on the import side

  1. The forwarder on the import side has D/O
  2. The buyer (importer) obtains B/L from the seller (exporter). D/O and B/L are exchanged.
  3. When the buyer (importer) brings D/O to the port, they can pick up the cargo.

B/L is the important document to pick up the cargo. If you lost B/L and it will be given to a third party, it can be a big problem. Reissuing B/L is not an easy task. For this reason, three copies of the original B/L are issued to prevent the risk of loss. Recently eB/L using blockchain technology has emerged, but it seems not to have been penetrated the market yet.

B/L is the important document for picking up cargo. In reality, there are different types of B/L and some are more flexible than others to suit speedy trade transactions. The basic concept is the one explained above. In the next section, I will explain different types of B/L in international logitics.

Amazon FBA tracking

The types of B/L: Original B/L , Surrendered B/L and Sea Waybill, used in Amazon FBA tracking

Original B/L

Original B/L is issued in three copies. So keep in mind that three copies make one set. It is also a business practice to send three copies of Original B/L in multiple sending to avoid the risk of loss. You may have three copies in two deliveries to avoid loss risk as a business custom. Original B/L, as the name implies is the original document. An importer must have original B/L, not a copy to pick up a cargo.

let’s take a look at original B/L flow. When a vessel leaves a port, Original B/L is issued and sent by an export side forwarder. The exporter sends Original B/L to the importer by courier, such as DHL or FedEx. Once the vessel arrives at a port, an import side forwarder issues D/O. The importer who obtains the Original B/L exchanges it for D/O. This is the flow of Original B/L.

Surrendered B/L

Surrendered B/L is also referred to as “surrender” in business practice. The features of a Surrendered B/L are ‘speed’ and ‘copy is available’.

First of all, what does surrender mean? Surrender refers to the collection of B/L at the origin, it means that B/L is not sent to the importing country but collected at the origin, the exporting country. Once it is surrendered, B/L may not be original. The importer can get D/O by getting a B/L copy instead of original. Surrendered B/L is stamped as ‘surrendered’ and ‘telex release’. Telex release means the same as surrender.

Why is Surrender B/L is issued? Nowadays due to high speed of a vessel, it may arrive at a port before original B/L is issued and reaches an importer. Especially marine transport takes only three or four days to get to near country’s ports. An importer quickly pick up cargo without Original B/L.

However, unlike Original B/L which sends the original document, an exporter can surrender B/L by instructing a forwarder and paying the cost at export side. The exporter emails the copy of B/L to an importer. And it’s done. The importer can exchange the B/L copy for D/O. This allows for speedy trade transactions. It also reduces the risk of losing B/L.

Also Surrendered B/L is often used to control the payment for products. The exporter can hold original B/L, not sending to the importer even after the ship leaves port and B/L is issued. The exporter arranges for a surrender of B/L and send a mail with a copy one to the importer when confirming the payment for the product from the importer. It takes a lot of time to send original B/L by mail and a risk of loss, so this method is often used in trade.

Sea Waybill

Sea Waybill is slightly different from B/L and it is not a security. Waybill cannot be used for transactions using L/C. However, Sea Waybill has a big advantage. Once Sea Waybill is issued and the importer is identical to the consignee in the document, he can easy to pick up the cargo. In addition, there is no courier delivery cost of original B/L and surrender costs for surrendered B/L.

Sea Waybill is easy, fast and cheap. The flow goes like this:

  1. An exporter initially asks for waybill to be issued, not B/L.
  2. Once the vessel depart a port, Sea Waybill is issued and a copy is sent to an exporter.
  3. The exporter emails the copy to an importer.
  4. The importer can pick up D/O, being proved to be the waybill owner. In the extreme, if waybill is issued and the importer can prove that to be its owner, the cargo can be picked up. Anyway, quick and easy is what makes Sea Waybill so special.

However, there is also a risk associated with it. Because once Sea Waybill is issued, the cargo can be picked up. The exporter may have a payment collection risk. If its original B/L or surrendered B/L, you can control the payment. With waybill, it is more difficult. Therefore, in order to use Sea Waybill, the business relationship with your trading partners will be important, such as parent and subsidiaries or a long business track record.

What is House B/L and Master B/L

In short, house B/L is issued by a forwarder and master B/L is issued by a shipping line. You might be confused because you have never seen two B/L for one shipment. Actually a customer sees just only one type of B/L.

Let’s learn the difference between house B/L and master B/L by using an actual B/L example.

House B/L.

ForwarderOne BL

This is the actual B/L format that we use in ForwarderOne. In house B/L, we write the name in the address of an actual exporter in the shipper column. And the name and address of an actual importer in the consignee column. And the format is the forwarder’s B/L format.

House B/L also includes company name and address of local agents and subsidiaries, in other countries of the forwarder. This local company will issue arrival notice and D/O at the import side. If you don’t receive arrival notice as an importer, you can make an inquiry.

Master B/L for FBA tracking

At the same time that the forwarder issues house B/L, the shipping line issues master B/L. As of the above, if you are using house B/L, master B/L describes it in this way.

Shipper column contains the name and address of the exporting forwarder. And consignee column contains the name and address of the importing forwarder. This is a direct contract with the shipping line. It means that it is a forwarder who is an agency of shipping line. Master B/L format will be the shipping line’s format. The company information of the import side will be the local branch of the shipping line or its local agent.

Customers can also book forwarders. While it is also possible to use the master B/L issued by the shipping line. When a forwarder does not have a local agent in the destination country or when a customer requests to use master B/L, it will be issued.

When you book with master B/L, it will be described like this. In shipper column is the name and address of the actual exporter. In consignee column is the name and address of the actual importer. B/L format is from the shipping line. The information of the importing line is the same as the information I, explained above. It is a local branch of the shipping line or a local agent.

Scenarios using house B/L and master B/L for Amazon logistics tracking

  1. In the case of booking with house B/L, both house B/L and master B/L are issued. But a customer receives house B/L only, which is issued by a forwarder. In this case, master B/L is processed by the forwarder side, so the customer will never see the master.
  2. In the case of booking using Master B/L. A shipping line will issue the B/L for the customer. Forwarders are not involved in creation of B/L or D/O at the destination side.

Advantages and disadvantages of house B/L and master B/L

House B/LMaster B/LAdvantagesFast issuance
Quick to revise
Affects to issue the certificate of origin
A forwarder will issue B/L, so basically it is flexible. The speed of B/L issuance and amendment is a major advantage in international transportation.No D/O fee at the destination sideDisadvantagesD/O fee at the destination side. Forwarders also supports the operations between two countries so there will be a handling cost for the forwarder at the import side.long time to issue
long time to revise
long time will affect to issue the certificate of origin.

The shipping line has to issue B/L for all the containers on, boarding the vessel. So they have much more B/L to be issued. Since some shipping lines prepare B/L in other countries, compared to a forwarder who is communicating with the customer, inevitably it takes a lot of time.

The same thing will happen to revise B/L. If it’s a forwarder the person in charge will revise B/L quickly. But shipping lines take times for revising. Because the number of B/L issued is so large. If it takes this long to issue or revise B/L, it takes time to issue a certificate of origin after B/L has been issued. And also a vessels may arrive in port while it takes time to amend B/L.

Since we explained B/L from a forwarder’s point of view, so I tend to explain in terms of forwarders. In logistics operations, speed and flexibility in case of trouble are essential.

House B/L will certainly incur costs on the import side, but it’s also true that there are plenty of benefits beyond that. Balancing both cost and service, please choose the best B/L for your shipment.

Endorsement of B/L and how to sign it

What is B/L endorsement

B/L endorsement means a signature written on the back of B/L. We sometimes arrange for endorsement of B/L in a hurry when we pick up the cargo at the import side and find that there is nothing written on the back of B/L.

B/L sign called endorsement transfers the right of ownership from the exporter to the importer. In addition, endorsement on B/L by the importer allows the forwarder to pick up the shipment as the importer’s agent.

The front side of B/L contains the shipper consignee and cargo details. On the back side there is a lot of fine print in light gray or others. There is written the terms and conditions which is the contract of carriage with the shipping company issuing B/L. The company’s seal is stamped on the terms and conditions printed on the back of B/L and the person from that company signs it. This company name and signature is called endorsement.

I have seen endorsements in the corners or in the blank space where there is no printing on the back of B/L. However, there is no problem in writing endorsement over the terms and conditions. Also, it is normal to write endorsement at an angle so that the terms and conditions can be read.

Who signs the B/L endorsement?

First of all, it is important to note that whose endorsement is needed depends on description of B/L. There is the description of the exporter and importer on B/L. B/L that includes the name and address of the importer is called straight B/L. On the other hand, which written to order or to order shipper on consignee section, instead of the specific name is called order B/L.

The person who writes endorsement is different between straight B/L and order B/L. In straight B/L, the names of the exporter or importer are listed on consignee section. When straight B/L is issued, it is common for the exporter to send B/L directly to the importer. Once the cargo arrives at the importing country. The ownership inevitably transfers to the importer. Therefore, the exporters endorsement on B/L can be omitted. Then the importer does endorsement on B/L as proof of receipt of the shipment.

On the other hand, in order B/L, it is not clear at first glance who the importer is since ‘to order’ or ‘to order of someone(Third party) is written on consignee section. These B/L are that you can know the next owner by indicating the owner of B/L by the instructor of ‘to order’.

In the case of order B/L, it is important what is written in the consignee section. If consignee section says ‘to order’ or ‘to order of shipper’. Shipper’s endorsement is required first. In this case, shipper, who is the rightful owner of the cargo has the right to indicate the next rightful owner. However, in most cases, only shipper signature is endorsed and the next rightful owner is not specified. This is called ‘blank endorsement’ of shipper.

If consignee section says to order of the bank or a third party. In that case you will need endorsement of the bank or third party. As long as you have the bank or third party endorsement. You do not need the shipper’s signature. The bank or third party would not be the final importer so you will need endorsement of the final importer in addition to them.

You should pay attention when the bank or third party endorse on B/L, they need to add one more phrase, it is ‘to order of the actual owner of the shipment, the name and signature of the bank or third party’. This endorsement is called special endorsement.

Special endorsement is used when a bank or third party is designated as consignee and then the final importers endorsement will be done on B/L. It is important to remember that this B/L endorsement is often done for L/C settlement.

The importance of B/L endorsement for FBA tracking

I have explained endorsement of B/L so far, I would like to add something about Waybill and Surrender B/L, which are without the original B/L. In principle, Waybill is in a state that anyone can pick up the cargo. However, in order to prevent it some shipping companies register the importers endorsement in advance and will not hand over the pickup documents without the endorsement. Also, in case of surrender B/L, some companies require the importer to endorse a copy of the Surrendered B/L at the importing point, while B/L is collected at the exporting point. It is best to check with the forwarder when you hand over B/L.

I explained endorsement of B/L this time, if you are an exporter you need to sign B/L if consignee is not on it. And if an importer, need it for any B/L. If you have the original B/L, check the back of it to make sure that there is a signature which will lead to smooth import and export arrangements.

How to Avoid Common Issues with B/L

3 Most Common Issues of B/L

There are mistakes on B/L

Why does the B/L have incorrect contents information? It’s because the contents of a B/L is manually typed. B/L is created using S/I (shipping instruction), which is received from the shipper. Freight forwarders make the draft B/L by following this S/I. If they make a typo error, the B/L will be issued with the typo error. There are errors not only on forwarder’s, House B/L, and also on shipping line’s Master B/L.

It is important to ensure that the B/L contains no errors when the draft is created. If you contact the freight forwarder, they can correct it quickly. B/L error on House B/L can be fixed easily, but if you are using direct B/L of shipping lines, it will take more time to revise. B/L revise has some cost. Basically it has to be paid by the person who made the mistake, and it normally costs about 50 USD.

The master B/L hasn’t been surrendered

Sometimes B/L hasn’t been surrendered and you are unable to collect the cargo. Surrender B/L should be collected when the original B/L is issued and passed onto the exporting side of the shipping line and freight forwarder.

If the cargo is surrendered, you can collect the cargo without having the Original B/L. However, even if they have issued a Surrender B/L, sometimes you may not be able to collect the cargo. Basically arrangement of Surrender B/L is completed when the Original B/L is issued by the exporter to the shipping line. It is often found that B/L collection(surrender) is forgotten somehow.

This issue is caused by the operation mistake of freight forwarder or shipping line. In this case if you are an importer, you need to contact the exporting side of the freight forwarder to confirm if the B/L is surrendered without any problem.

Sometimes B/L may be lost.

This means the owner of the cargo cannot be proved. Therefore, importer is unable to receive the cargo. If they lose the B/L, the importer needs to issue L/G, and explain the situation to the freight forwarder to be able to receive the cargo.

I cannot say the solution always works out all the time, because each freight forwarder will have different opinions on this. You may be asked to provide a guarantee from the bank, and later you need to obtain the Original B/L and swap with the L/G, or as a last resort, you need to take legal action.

How can we avoid B/L troubles?

Why making an error on B/L has to be avoided? If there is an error on the B/L, it may take time to correct the error, and the importer may be unable to go through customs, when this happens, demurrage will be charged from the yard which is not the small amount. It will also delay the cargo delivery.

Check the draft to ensure there is no error on the B/L. Once B/L is issued, send a copy to the importer to enable them to double check. And also to prevent the B/L lost, which is big problem. Original B/L is better to be sent separately with a courier service such as DHL. And we strongly recommend to use Surrender B/L instead of Original B/L.

It is important to complete the B/L correctly, ensure that the draft B/L is checked well. There are penalties and it is also time consuming to revise the B/L. When you notice an error after the B/L has been issued, it won’t become a major problem until the vessel arrives at port. If the Master B/L hasn’t been surrendered, you need to cooperate with the freight forwarder at exporting side. Even if a surrender stamp is on the Master B/L, sometime the shipping line system hasn’t been updated. If you notice this you need to act quickly and most importantly, if you lose B/L, it cannot be reissued.

To minimize the B/L lost risk, Original B/L has to be sent separately. This way even if you lose one copy you still have an additional copy and you will be able to receive the cargo. You can reduce the chance of having B/L troubles by checking them.