What is the Master Bill of Lading in Freight?

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The Master Bill of Lading (MBL) is an important document in the shipping and freight industry, especially when it comes to containerized cargo. It contains all the information related to the exported goods, destination, exporter and importer details and other important data that helps speed up sea freight logistics. In complex international trade, MBL is an important document to ensure the smooth transportation of goods from one place to another.


Key Components of The Master Bill of Lading

Contract of Carriage: The MBL outlines the terms and conditions of a contract for the carriage of goods between a shipper and a carrier. It includes details such as the name and address of the shipper and carrier, the origin and destination of the goods, a description of the goods, and the agreed freight charges.


Primary Document: MBL is considered as the primary document for carriage of containerized goods. It serves as evidence of the agreement between the shipper and carrier and provides proof of ownership or control of the goods during transportation.

Legal Document: The MBL is a legally binding document that governs the rights and obligations of all parties involved in the shipment. It sets out a carrier’s responsibilities for the safe and timely delivery of cargo and outlines the responsibilities and limitations of shippers and carriers in the event of loss, damage, or delay.

Issuance and Distribution: MBLs are typically issued by the carrier or its authorized agent (such as a freight forwarder) upon receipt of goods for shipment. It is then distributed to all parties involved in the transaction, including the shipper, consignee (the party consigning the goods), and any bank or financial institution involved in payment or financing of the transaction.

Breakaway Bill of Lading (HBL): In many cases, especially in the world of international freight forwarding, the freight forwarder will issue a separate document to the shipper called a Breakaway Bill of Lading (HBL). The HBL serves as the receipt of goods and the contract of carriage between the shipper and freight forwarder. The HBL is then merged with other HBLs under the MBL issued by the carrier.

The Importance of Master Bill of Lading

Original document control: When shipping goods via ocean freight, the carrier is not required to receive all original documents before commencing the delivery process. Bills of lading allow exporters to maintain control over their essential original documents until payment for the goods has been processed or until a bill of exchange or another form of payment assurance has been provided.

Payment documentation for carriage services: The master bill of lading plays a crucial role during the shipment process. Beyond serving as the contract for carriage services between a carrier and an exporter for international goods transportation, it also serves as a receipt for the carriage services issued by the carrier to the shipper.

Streamlining the shipment process: Similar to a house bill of lading, the master bill of lading contains vital shipment information. This allows shippers and carriers to efficiently navigate the freight shipment process across various countries through global maritime routes and accurately invoice each aspect of the process without errors.

Sharing vital information among stakeholders: The original master bill of lading is provided to the exporter, while authorized stakeholders may also receive copies. This enhances information exchange and transparency throughout the shipping process

What Documents Are Required For MBL?

The specific documents required for a Master Bill of Lading (MBL) may vary depending on the shipping line, carrier and the nature of the cargo. However, generally, the following documents are usually required for the issuance of an MBL:

  • Commercial Invoice: This document provides detailed information about the goods being shipped, including their description, quantity, value and any other relevant commercial terms. It serves as proof of transaction between buyer and seller.
  • Packing List: A packing list provides a detailed breakdown of the contents of each package or container being shipped. It includes information such as item description, quantity, dimensions, and weight.
  • Bill of Lading (B/L) Instructions: These instructions provide specific details on how to prepare the bill of lading, including the name and address of the consignee, port of destination, and any special instructions or requirements.
  • Certificate of Origin: This document certifies the origin of the goods being transported, indicating the country in which the goods were produced or manufactured. It may be required for customs clearance and compliance with trade agreements or regulations.
  • Export License or Permit: Depending on the nature of the shipment and the country of destination, an export license or permit may be required to authorize the export of certain products. Submission of this document may be required to obtain an MBL.
  • Booking Confirmation: Booking confirmation or booking documentation may be required to confirm space allocation on board the ship for transportation. It verifies that the cargo has been booked for transport and may include details such as ship name, voyage and date of sailing.
  • Other Required Documents: Depending on the specific requirements of the carrier or destination country, additional documentation may be required for the issuance of an MBL, such as proof of insurance, certificate of inspection, or regulatory license.

What Does The Master Bill of Lading Template Look Like?

While there may be slight deviations globally, a standard template for a master bill of lading looks something like the image below:


The master bill of lading plays a vital role in the process of international trade. It is of great help to carriers, shippers and customers. It ensures that goods cross borders smoothly.Need a freight forwarder to help you with these things? Contact us and your international trade will become very convenient and smooth.

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