Difference between House bill of lading and Master bill of lading

Difference between House Bill of Lading and Master Bill of Lading

A Bill of Lading maybe issued as a House Bill of Lading or a Master Bill of Lading..

  1. A House Bill of Lading (HBL) is issued by an NVOCC operator, or a Freight Forwarder to their customers..
  2. A Master Bill of Lading (MBL) is issued by the Shipping Line (Carrier) to the NVOCC Operator, or Freight Forwarder..

Image for MBL and HBL

When issued for a FCL shipment (non-groupage), a HBL should always be issued on a back to back basis with a MBL which means that the HBL should be an EXACT replica of the MBL issued by the actual Shipping line in respect of all details except the shipper, consignee and notify party details which will be different in the HBL and MBL..

In the HBL

  • the Shipper will usually be the actual shipper/exporter of the cargo (or as dictated by the L/C)
  • the Consignee will usually be the actual receiver/importer of the cargo (or as dictated by the L/C)
  • the Notify could be the same as Consignee (or any other party as dictated by the L/C)

In the MBL

  • the Shipper will usually be the NVOCC operator, or their agent or the Freight Forwarder..
  • the Consignee will usually be the destination agent or counterpart or office of the NVOCC operator, or the Freight Forwarder
  • the Notify could be the same as Consignee or any other party..

In the interest of the NVOCC operator and their insurance coverage/exposure, it is recommended that all the details on the HBL and MBL like vessel/voyage information, cargo description, number of containers, seal numbers, weight, measurements should remain the same.. The only difference should be in the shipper, consignee and notify details..


Unless disallowed by the L/C, the HBL is also used/treated as a negotiable document and can be considered to fulfill the roles of a bill of lading.. But due care must be taken when using HBL as a negotiable document as I have come across a counter-productive and dangerous practice of consigning the HBL and MBL exactly the same which means that there are two sets of bills of lading issued by two different entities for the same cargo..!!!!!!

Such issues have happened due to the ignorance of the NVOCC or Freight Forwarder..

Have you come across such instances..?? If so, maybe you can share them as Case Studies for this blog..

Be part of the discussion and share your views about the article here..

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173 thoughts on “Difference between House bill of lading and Master bill of lading”

  1. Hi,
    We are a US freight forwarder, we handle an FCL Export shipment from Long Beach, US to Bangkok, Thailand.
    My customer who is Exporter is an US company ( of course). But he requested Shipper on House B/L is a company which located in Hong Kong (in stead of US company). Exporter is not relative to the company in HK
    Do we have any regulation/laws against if i follow my customer’s request ?
    Thank you very much !

  2. Hello Hariesh,
    We are a shipper in US and our customer/recipient has requested Sea Waybill. We are using an NVOCC that issues a house BL. Do we only worry about the House BL being issued as a Sea Waybill, or does the underlying Master BL also have to be a Sea Waybill?

  3. Hi Sir, good day to you.

    Is the HBL description must tally with MBL?
    I am asking this because I have encountered the consignee want to change the HS Code (NCM) on the BL from 940340000 to 9401.69.
    What if the agent only change the detail on the HBL but not the MBL, what is the consequences for doing this?
    Please advise.

    • Hi Ng, YES all details on the HBL and MBL must be same except for shipper/consignee/notify.. Only these can be different.. If there are any other variances there will be issues at the time of clearance, especially with HS code..

  4. I am interested to operate a freight forwarding company in the US. I have checked on information’s thru GOOGLE. They have the system like I S F the submission of cargo details w/in 24 hours after loading like the 10+2 data ELEMENT, POA, (Power of Attorney) authority from Consignee in the absence of LCB, the securing of specific bonds for cargo guarrantee. Specific type of bonds for truckers to operate outside the state, being compliant to FMCSA & PHMSA, Registration with IATA, DOT, NCBFFAA. Federal Maritime Co. ( to issue HBL or HAWB). Pls advise anything missing. And the good service rates of a liner and airlines. Kindly advise where and how to avail these rates. Thank you very much.

  5. Good afternoon
    would appreciate your feedback on the following scenario:
    HBL is required as per L/C
    Freightforwarder A : handles only FOB for the Supplier
    Freightforwarder B : is booking Agent and contracts for the seafreight

    FF A supplies the information for FF B to complete the SI for the shippingline for the MBL details. However as the L/C requires a HBL, it was requested that FF B issues a HBL. They are now refusing saying the L/C forms part of the FOB and has nothing to do with the Seafreight, and they will therefor not issue the HBL.

    FF B who only handled the FOB for the supplier has no involvement with the Freight and is therefor stating they cannot issue the HBL.

    Please advise which FF should issue the HBL?

    • Hello Rina, this is a unique situation since usually many importers/LCs don’t encourage HBL.. Anyway, from what you have described above, as a bill of lading is issued AFTER the shipment has been loaded on board and also as it is an evidence of contract of carriage which starts from Port to Port, it should be FF B who issues this HBL.. But did the importer check if FF B is able to issue their own HBL or if they even have their own HBL before they contracted that part of the biz to FF B..??

      Not all FFs have their own HBL.. Trust this helps..

  6. Could you advise who is the shipper on the BOL, the supplier or the buyer?
    Supplier (USA) is acting as agents of buyer (USA) of the merchandise and end customer (notify) is in India.

  7. Hi

    Who is supposed to enter (manifest) the HBL for a back to back shipment going into the US?? is it the ssl (overseas) or the nvocc (in the US)??


  8. Hi,

    I have a shipment going to Sydney but cnee showing on MBL is our agent at Brisbane, kindly adv whether this is acceptable. HBL is showing actual shipper and actual cnee for both ends.

    Looking forward to hear from you.. Thanks.

  9. Dear Sir,
    Good Morning
    SBL : We usually issue Switch BL, in which the containers booked up to final destination and shipper is XX and the consignee is YY, ones we receive original BL we change the shipper name from XX to YY and we define new consignee as ZZ at final destination and reprint new BL with change of information and replace our (YY) CI, COO & Pl and usually sent to our clients (ZZ). We feel expenses involved in this is high and to keep us competitive, we prefer to do the following.

    Shipper (XX) will ship to final destination with ZZ as consignee and will mention YY as notifiying party. After getting original docs from shipper, we will only add our CI, COO & PL and will sent to our clients by which we will save re-issuance of BL cost.

    Now the question is; will the port authorities will accept this, please advise.



  10. Dear Sir,
    Good Morning
    SBL : We usually issue Switch BL, in which the containers booked up to final destination and shipper is XX and the consignee is YY, ones we receive original BL we change the shipper name from XX to YY and we define new consignee as ZZ at final destination and reprint new BL with change of information and replace our (YY) CI, COO & Pl and usually sent to our clients (ZZ). We feel expenses involved in this is high and to keep us competitive, we prefer to do the following.

    Shipper (XX) will ship to final destination with ZZ as consignee and will mention YY as notifiying party. After getting original docs from shipper, we will only add our CI, COO & PL and will sent to our clients by which we will save re-issuance of BL cost.

    Now the question is; will the port authorities will accept this, please advise.



  11. Hi Dear Hariesh

    as I found from our clients, HBL is not acceptable for Iranian Banks. and Bank asks MBL or FBL from Cnee.
    is it normal to issue FBL for cargo that shipped by sea?
    why HBL not acceptable in L/C payment?

  12. hi we had done shipment to USA using FMC hbl, now issue is our agent had released cargo to the Consignee without presentatiuon of orignal HBL ,and when we were chasing with our agent they clearly informed us if mbl is telex released then we dont have any right to hold the shipment , so what is the use of releasing FMC hbl to shipper .We just need to know whether we can take legal action against consignee in USA .

    • If shipper request freight forwarder to issue original HBL, and received original HBL from forwarder, then agent at destination must receive original HBL with endorsement on the back from consignee.
      The reason for issuing original HBL is for shipper’s protection. Shipper wouldn’t release original HBL to consignee until payment collected. If agent release cargo without collecting original HBL from consignee, they would be responsible for payment of cargo.

  13. Hi,

    I would like to know the requirements that need to be met by a freight forwarder to issue HBL or to have HBL stationary. Does he need to register with some agencies to have HBL stationary?


    B. Abraham

  14. Hi Hariesh, could you pls confirm if the HB/L needs to be FMC approved like the case in North America while issuing.

    kind regards
    Sharan Pinto

  15. Hello Sir,
    After realizing that destination details are incorrect we have been forced to amend the status of the BL. However there are two shippers. One in the MBL and another in the HBL which shipper is supposed to write to the shipping company to instruct correction of the destination ?

  16. Hi
    I have to ship two consignements, the shipper is the same, but there is two importers, in the same container.
    The two importers are paying the exporter but “payment against documents” so there is no LC.
    What is the best way to do this please? as the maritime shipping company ( MSC ) do not issue 2 BL for one container.

    Thank you

    • Hi
      Thank you for your reply.
      What i mean is how to do the house BL and master BL.
      The shipping line does not do a master BL for each importer, they only do one per container.
      so i think the house BL gets involved here but i’m not sure how.

    • Hi
      Since there is no LC, on the HBL the notify will be same as consignee, correct?
      But what about MBL, what to put in Notify?
      Also, isn’t necessary to do 2 MBL? Showing the 2 notify on each one?

      Thanks again

    • Thanks again.
      If it’s not necessary to do 2 MBL, on the 1 MBL do we indicate the total weight and total packages of both house BL?

    • Hi again
      So basically we have exporter A, importer B ( 7 palets, 4000kg ) and importer C ( 5 palets, 3000kg ), all in one container.
      importer B and importer C pay exporter A by “payment against documents”.
      We do 2 HBL,
      1 HBL = shipper A, consignee B, notify B, 7 palets, 4000kg
      1 HBL = shipper A, consignee C, notify C, 5 palets, 3000kg.
      in the goods origin, there will be freight forwarder X, and in the receiving country freight forwarder Y.
      So on the 1 MBL, we put shipper X, consignee Y, notify Y.
      On the 1 MBL = 12 palets, 7000kg.

      is this all correct ?

      Please confirm, thank you

  17. Hello, we are a shipper (exporter) in France, we have a cargo needed to send to Haiphong port; Now our Customer ask us to issue MBL & HBL with different consignee/notify details. Our foward told us that they can not issue HBL, but only MBL. it is correct?? Can we ask the shipping company to issue 1 MBL & 1 HBL with different details??

    what is the clearance procedure at the port of discharge for a MBL and a HBL??

    If the consignee abandon the container, which one is better for the protection of exporter?

    Thank you.

  18. Hi, I’m working ff, we have an import consignment to India and MBL was filed by liner and by that we have not informed to carrier that hbl to be at your side. Now the shipment is under HSS. how do I resolve if hbl is not manifested by liner. What are the steps to be taken in this? Pls suggest your valuable anwser

  19. I am an NVO in the USA and have been asked by an agent in Bangladesh for my companies FMC bonded HB/L to be mailed to their office. I am unsure exactly why this is needed as they are an NVO as well. Another agent in china has also asked for our HB/L to be mailed to their office. This is not particular to any shipment they just want it for future use. Can you explain why that would be needed?

    • Hello Nick, if the agent in Bangladesh is also an NVO registered with FMC then there is no need for them to use your bill of lading, they can also use their own bill.. The main reason some agents ask for your HBL maybe if the biz has been generated by you then they feel its better to use your HBL using your insurance and liability covers than their own.. Unless there is a real trust in counterpart agents and there is a lot of regular business dealings with them, one should be careful in sending blank HBLs as they could be mis used..

  20. Hi iam raffi i have small doubt

    Ref port : Dammam port, Saudi Arabia

    We are NVOCC operator
    I have done an shipment from chennai, india to Dammam, saudi

    I have issued HBL to shipper as actual (shipper,consignee,notify)
    and in MBL i have updated shipper as us and consignee and notify as our counter part agent.
    Kindly confirm is this correct procedure for dammam port

    Or i have update MBL shipper as us and consignee as actual consignee and notify us our counter part agent

  21. Dear Harriesh,
    I work in a FF company , pls advise if it is OK to issue Original HB/L consigned to actual cgnee and Master SEA WAY BILL consigned again to actual cgnee ? Fyi, our client does not want our local destination agent to interfere….
    Furthermore, in the past we used to issue ORIGINAL MB/L consigned to direct cgnee ,send Originals to shipper and then shipper send docs to cgnee bank, but since transit time of shpt is only 4-5 days, many times , due to human factor delays , shpt was arriving before the B/L and rest documentation …and demmurages occured..

    So I was wondering, if cgnee could use our Original HB/L for his bank and the actual Master SWB to receive the shpt…

  22. Dear Hariesh
    I am a customer for personal effects (family relocation) and naturally am using a NVOCC/FF to organise a sea freight from the UK to Brazil. I’ve previously done LCL and cleared the customs myself but that was a good while back and this time is a FCL, which has different procedures.
    I’ve been in touch with my NVOCC/FF but must confess am still a bit confused as to how the paperwork should be properly organised as again I am planning to clear customs myself and only use an clearing agent as a last resource.
    My question is with regards to the HBL and MBL details. I know most people here are talking about generic exports, including commercial stuff and are NVOCC/FFs, but from I understood for personal effects I would be both the shipper and the consignee/notify for the purpose of HBL? As for MBL, what would be the accurate details (FYI, the shipping line would be either Hapag or MSC) ?

    This is important piece of information for us because we’ve got mixed details from others, whereby some clearing agents in Brazil keep telling us that the BLs must be consigned to the owner of the goods, otherwise it will be difficult to clear customs and in Brazil they tend to be very red tape. Does this vary according to the shipping line and in the event that the MBL must only be consigned to an agent, does this mean that only them could deal with the customs clearance even though this is personal effects?

    Sorry, I am a beginner and still trying to do my homework before embarking to unchartered territory.

    Any useful advice will be most welcome.

    Many thanks

    • Hi Fabio, in Brazil they require original bills of lading and they don’t accept seaway bills.. As far as I know you cannot do clearance on your own without a customs clearance agent.. But in terms of bill of lading, you don’t really require MBL and HBL.. You can make the booking directly with the shipping line and take only MBL if you are confident that you can handle all the activities of shipping yourself.. Even if you use a forwarder you can still insist on an MBL with you and your address in UK as the shipper and you and your address in Brazil as the consignee..

  23. What happens if you’re an NVOCC with HBL but your customer (shipper) does not want you to consign to your agent office overseas, but directly to their consignee? In this case, the HBL and MBL would be consigned the same, and as you stated above that is an issue. But you also can’t just use MBL because as the NVOCC you are listed as the shipper on the MBL and the consignee is expecting the shipper to be your customer…

    • Hi Ryan, you cannot have that situation.. The shipper and consignee must come to terms on the documentation requirements and release the suitable bill of lading.. You cannot have two original bills consigned to the same consignee..

  24. Can you tell me why there would be two different B/Ls? We are shipping personal belongings and we received the B/L from the shipper with the correct destination, Debrecen Hungary. But the freight forwarder sent a B/L with the destination listed as Bremerhaven and the phrase “GOODS IN TRANSIT TO DEBRECEN, HUNGARY ON THE CONSIGNEE’S RISK AND EXPENSE”. Why is there two B/L? Which is the correct one?

    • Hi Karen, that would be because the shipping line is only contracted upto Bremerhaven which is the gateway port of discharge.. From Bremerhaven to Debrecen will be done by the freight forwarder.. So the MBL will be upto Bremerhaven and the forwarders HBL will be upto Debrecen..

  25. Hello, we are a newly licensed NVOCC in the USA. I am very familiar with the import process but not so much on the export process. If I issue a HBL on a shipment, am I required to have it filed somewhere? I know on the import side it must be filed in the AMS. Is AMS filed on the export side? Also, who must we provide the Bill of Lading to? I trust this would depend upon the shipping terms? If under FOB, with MBL and HBL we should provide the HBL to the destination Agent who hired us to arrange the exportation? Appreciate any guidance. Thank you,

  26. Hi.. I am new to this industry and to all compliances, for the first time I imported 10 MT of polymer from China, the destination port is Mumbai and discharge port was Tianjin port , it was suppose to be LCL, as per the invoice i issued LC from my bank of 95% of Invoice and 5% advance, the shipper informed me that the consignment had shipped on 26th Oct and the documents of shipping including BL, certification of origin and rest has been couriered by Bank, after few days my bank receives documents and hence the payment was transfered to the shipper acount.

    The problem starts when I give these set of documents to custom agent to file bill of entries, I understand for the first time that I have received HBL and not MBL, my agent said to track the cargo we need to know who is freight forwarder and their counterparts in India, now the problem is my shipper/supplier from that day is not answering my call and no reply to emails, the last message from them was that the BL is a house BL so I need to sort it from my end.

    On HBL the shipping line name is OOCL but the OOCL staff says that since its not a master BL they can’t track it they need the freight forwarder Name.

    I would really appreciate if someone can give me suggestion about how to track my cargo and get it cleared.

    • you have container number? usually be it both HBL or MBL, it should be there.. you can use it to track your cargo via the OOCL website and track via container number.

  27. Hi , we have shipment bound to Iraq under LC with condition that I will get paid % Base on endosement of HBL or Multimodal BL or CMR confirming that goods have entered Iraq border. The endorsment will Base on client’s representative at border receiving the DO confirming that the goods have entered country. The ? In this context is it permitered (as per international trade compliance rules) for us to issue MBL under the dircet consignee in order to get the DO release and obtained endorsement and 2nd is it possible to process customs clerance base on 2nd set of shipping documents to avoid delay in getting the shipment cleared avoiding extra cost. Shipment would under duty exemption. Thanks

  28. Hi,

    If I’m the shipper and I sell my products via an agent but I ship the goods directly to their customer. How does the BL works? Do I ask FF to provide MBL (agent to customer) and HBL (shipper to customer)? I’m not quite sure on the MBL and HBL functions.

    • If you ship FCL (full container load), you get your fwder to give you MBL.
      LCL (Lesser than Container Load), you can only get HBL issued by your forwarder.

      The process is>
      CARRIER (aka the shipping line) will only recognise their own document, which is the Master Bill of Lading (MBL). So Carrier “sell”(outsourced the troublesome workload) their vessel’s space to NVOCC or Freight forwarders for them.
      So Freight Forwarders who sell the space will issue House BL (under their name) to their customers.
      Generally, if you are shipping 1 FCL load of cargo, make sure your forwarder give you MBL. because there are some idiot forwarders who will combine their various customer’s orders from same port of loading to the same port discharge under 1 MBL.. so if Carrier decides to offload containers due to overweight, or customs want to inspect particular MBL… the WHOLE set of HBL under this MBL will be affected.
      Why are forwarders doing this? Because Carrier charges them only 1 MBL charge. But to split it into muliple HBL, they will charge the BL charges to their customers. At the same time, this process do not reduce risk but increases the risk of delay due to potential Carrier unloading of containers and customs inspections… and subsequent costs incurred due to these activities… Also, at port of discharge, the EXCHANGE DO charges is also re-charge again.. because there’s only 1 MBL charge here.. but forwarders can charge multiple EXCHANGE DO for their HBL…. so that’s very very good money to forwarders.

      For LCL, too bad…

  29. HI,
    in regards to SOLAS it was said that “the shipper” is responsible to obtain and transmitt the VGM to the carrier. However, who is the shipper? The one mentioned on the MBL (i.e. the freight forwarder) or the shipper on the HBL (actuall shipper, exporter)?

    • Shipper on the bill of lading issued by the Carrier because that is the only info the Carrier has.. Carrier doesn’t know or care who the cargo belongs to or who is the actual shipper.. The person shown on their bill of lading as the shipper will be responsible for the VGM..

    • Generally, shipper is the one who needs the cargo to be delivered. Usually, shipper is the owner of the cargo. But can also be an outsourced partner.

      SOLAS require responsibility from the Cargo OWNER or the cargo OWNER’s appointed Partner/Provider so if there’s any issues, it will be placed on them instead of anyone else.

  30. Under a letter of credit requiring a full set bill of lading …..issued by XXX we received 2 full sets of bills of lading as described above:
    one set House Bill of Lading issued by XXX (a freight forwarding Company) and a 2nd set of Master bill of lading (for the same cargo) issued by the Shipping Company.

  31. Hi Hariesh,

    Thank you for maintaining an open forum for Logistics related enquiries. My question is , for a start up Freight forwarding company , all the shipments dispatched the actual shipper will be the client of the FF company. I would like to know what Is the actual registration required to make the shipper same as the FF company instead of the our client company on the MBL. We are planning to pitch into LCL business, for this do we need to do NVOCC registration, OFAC and Marine. Could you pls advise. I am sorry if I am a bit confusing , but I don’t know how o put forward my question in a better way.

  32. Hi so how is the MBL and the HBL handled at the port of discharge. Kind run me through the procedure of attaining the delivery order from the shippingline.

  33. this article is really helpful to understand the difference between the two i.e. MBL & HBL. but, what if the consignment is unloaded on the Port of Discharge, and the similar container is required to move onward. Then who would be responsible if the container is lost, freight forwarder or shipping.

    • Hello Arsalan, the responsibility of pre and on-carriage will depend on how the bill of lading has been issued.. Depending on whether the bill of lading issued is a Port to Port Bill of Lading or a Combined Transport Bill of Lading the responsibility will vary..

  34. hi..i have a serious problem, i received the 3 HBL originals and 3 HBL copies directly from a supplier (customer) not from FF, un fortunately we lost 3 original HBL but we got MBL from our supplier (customer) and we cleared that shipment, after some time FF asked from us to give those 3 original HBl which we lost.. FF is asking us for bank guarantee and as this shipment was not LC how we would provide them bank guarantee we are too much confused because FF is mailing us again and again and we want to solve this issue ASAP.

    • Hello Mohsin, the FF is concerned because in this transaction they have been cut off because the shipping line released cargo directly to you based on the MBL which should have actually gone to the FF.. Since cargo has already been released, FF cannot ask for bank guarantee.. Maybe either the shipper or consignee owes the FF freight or other charges and hence they are trying to recover that money..

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