What is a Switch Bill of Lading and when and why is it used..??

Its one of the most sought after bills of lading across many countries and is one of the most searched for and read articles on this blog..

What is a Switch Bill of Lading..

A “Switch” bill of lading is the second set of bill of lading that may be issued by the carrier (or agent) in exchange for the first set of bill of lading originally issued when the shipment was effected..

Why does one ask for or require a Switch bill of lading..??

switch bill of ladingSwitch bills are requested generally when there has been a change in the original trading conditions..  Some of the reasons could be :

  • Goods could have been resold and the discharge port has now been changed to another port and this could have occurred as a high-seas sale..
  • The seller (who could be an intending agent) does not wish the name of the actual exporter to be known to the consignee in case the consignee strikes a deal with the exporter directly..
  • The seller does not want to know the buyer to know the actual country of origin of the cargo so he requests that the port of loading be shown as some port other than the one the cargo was loaded from..

Where can a bill of lading be switched..??

Depending on the shipping line and their coverage a bill of lading maybe switched anywhere around the world for shipments from anywhere to anywhere..

For example on a shipment from New York to Antwerp, the bill of lading maybe switch in London as long as the shipping line in question has offices in London..


Is the issuance of Switch Bill of Lading legal..??

While there is nothing to say specifically that issuance of a switch bill of lading is illegal (unless there is willful intent to commit fraud), it seems to be the concerted view of almost all insurance companies, that a switch bill of lading issued with any misrepresentation or information contrary to the first set issued, without the express acceptance and understanding of the buyer is a fraudulent document..

In order to protect themselves from any possible claims arising out of issuing switch bills of lading, the shipping line/agent have to ensure that

  • They are covered by their insurance for issuance of such switch bills of lading
  • They should provide their insurance company with the exact reason for the issuance of the switch bill of lading..
  • They must have the written authority of the principal before issuing the switch bill of lading, if the issuing party is acting as agents for a shipping line or principal..
  • They must issue the switched bill only after collecting the first set of bills, as the dangers of two sets of original bills in circulation for the same cargo are many..
  • The switched set should not contain any information different to that of the original bill of lading, (like incorrect port of loading, or change in the condition and quantity of the cargo).. If switch bills contains misrepresentations, the carrier/agent will be at risk of claims from parties who have suffered a loss because of such misrepresentations..
  • If the agent has been asked by the principal to issue the switch bill of lading based on an indemnity from the customer, the agent should ensure to get the wording format from the principal and get the completed indemnity approved by the principal before issuing the switch bill of lading..

Switch Bills of Lading – Revisited – an article by NAU Pte Ltd., might shed some more light on the matter from a claims company perspective

Have you had any experiences of issuing/requesting for switch bill of lading..??

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145 comments on “What is a Switch Bill of Lading and when and why is it used..??”

  1. By Dave Reply

    Hi Hariesh,

    This article was very helpful, thank you.

    I have a question:

    I import goods from S.Korea into the USA. I want to conceal the identity of the CONSIGNEE (my company) because I don’t want my competitors in the USA use services like Import Genius search my company’s name and see who, where, how often etc.. I’m importing these goods into the USA.

    Would a Switch BL work in this situation? I’m not sure how companies like Import Genius gets their data but seems like if you pay, you can find out all your competition’s suppliers etc…(I know b/c I’ve used them before).

    Thank you in advance!

    D

  2. By Ivy Chen Reply

    Maybe you can consign: ‘ To Order’ , so consignee info would not need to show.

  3. By Karthik Reply

    Need your input on below query:

    1. Company A is Company B’s foreign subsidiary in India.

    2. Company A doesn’t have any local warehouse or IEC code in India.

    3. Company C is Company B’s distributor in India.

    Is the below scenario possible:

    C places order to A. In turn A places order to B. B ships out the goods to C and C clears the goods in its name.

    Company A acts only as a mediator in this.

  4. By G.Kanaris Reply

    Hello,

    We own a Cypriot company (C) through which we wish to sell Chinese products of Manufacturer (M) to our Greek customer (G).We would like to conceal our manufacturer/supplier from our customer and vice versa. Our transport agent is a Greek company with a partner in China.Whom are we going to notify to take care the switch bill of lading to avoid any problems? Is this legal in Greek territory? Do you know any reliable transport agent active in our area able to help us? Our transport agent is not acquaintant with these methods.Will the Chinese forwarder -they cooperate with- will know?Do you have any further suggestions on how to move safely?

    I will appreciate your reply.

    BR, G.

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Hello G, you can take a House Bill of Lading which shows YOUR COMPANY (C) as shipper and YOUR GREEK CUSTOMER (G) as consignee and your Greek Agent as notify.. Your chinese agent should give the chinese shipper this bill of lading so there is no reference to YOUR ACTUAL SUPPLIER (M) anywhere.. On the Master Bill of Lading YOUR CHINESE AGENT will be Shipper, YOUR GREEK AGENT will be Consginee and YOU will be notify..

      But as much as this hides the information, there are several other documents like Certificate of Origin, Commercial Invoice, Packing List etc that MAY show your actual manufacturer’s information, so be aware of that..

  5. By Nina Reply

    thanks Hariesh

    then your previous comment: but would finally and eventually depend on the entity whose bill of lading is being issued (HBL or MBL)..

    i cannot understand how can the issuing entity still decide. what can they decide if it is missdeclaration?

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Nina, there are agents who may allow this at their discretion to satisfy their customers even if it maybe considered a mis-declaration..

  6. By Nina Reply

    Hi Hariesh,

    Still not clear about changing the POL, sorry.

    So if it is a HBL Switch BL it can be changed but if it is a MBL Switch BL not? what does it depend on to be able to change the POL?

  7. By Sameer Makki Reply

    Hi just a question. How should i go about doing the following:

    My company will be engaging in a business of trading goods and the vendor will be located in the same country where my business office is located or in a different country. I do not want my vendor (supplier) to know who my client is as I do not want my supplier to directly contact the customer or vice versa, bypassing me. If I trade with my customer and agree on L/C payment then one of the most important document is the bill of lading. i do not want my customer to know who my supplier is. How should i draft the bill of lading especially when i want to utilise the service of my supplier for providing the goods on FOB basis?
    Who would be the consingee in this case especially when i do not want my supplier to know about the name and location of the customer?

  8. By Nina Reply

    Hi Hariesh,

    thanks for this article very interesting. I have a couple of questions:

    – You state “The seller doesn’t want the buyer to know the actual country of origin of the cargo so he requests that the port of loading shown is other than the one the cargo was loaded from”. however you also said “the switched set should not contain any information different to that of the original bill of lading, like incorrect port of loading…”. so can we change POL and POD in the switch BL or not?

    – I have seen that Switch BL can also be issued if there are multiple suppliers and the buyer wishes to consolidate and trade them as a single cargo. then how is shipper shown? as multiple suppliers? and it this legal? wouldn’t it be missdeclaring?

    Thanks in advance,
    Nina

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Hello Nina, it is the “wish” of the shipper to change the POL in the switch bill, but the POL is NOT allowed to be changed in the switch bill.. That is misdeclaration, but would finally and eventually depend on the entity whose bill of lading is being issued (HBL or MBL)..

      There cannot be multiple shippers in a bill of lading.. There can only be one..

  9. By Echo-Fast, easy, convenient shipping for out of gauge cargo Reply

    I handled one triangle tarde shipment in this month. Acutually we do not use Swith B/L for the reason that the carrier refuse to do it. It is complicated and costs some fees to handle. We use different shipper+consignee for Master B/L and House B/L to solve this problem.

    For example, there are 3 roles in triangle trade: manufacturer(A), trading agent(B), actual buyer(C).
    Master B/L: trading agent(B), actual buyer(C)
    House B/L: manufacturer(A), trading agent(B)

    The key point is the carrier should be ok for you to use a foreign company as the shipper in your country. By the way, I am China. It is ok to do so.

    • By Neuruss

      Echo, do you mean that a foreign (non Chinese) company can show up in the BL as the shipper?

      In my case, there’s no trading agent.
      We are importers from Argentina and we have many suppliers in mainland China. Because of absurd rules and controls on our side, we’d like to unify all orders into one single shipper.

      What would be the easiest way to do it?
      Opening a trading company in HK or somewhere else, perhaps?
      Using one supplier of trust to act as the single shipper?
      Or there is a simpler way..?

  10. By Ali Reply

    In a triangular shipment, if it is not necessary to use a switch BL (the name of the manufacturer is not information you wish to hide from the consignee), then who would prepare the documentation? The cargo ships directly from the manufacturer (country A) to the consignee (country C). The seller (country B) arranges the sale.
    BL: The manufacturer is the shipper/exporter on the BL. Consignee is company in country C. (There is no switch BL)
    Commercial invoice: The CI is still switched. So the original manufacturer’s CI (for export from A) is switched with the seller’s CI (for import to C).
    Packing list: Is this just an extension of the commercial invoice? Would this be switched too? Or remain a packing list from the manufacturer?
    Is this possible?

  11. By Mayank Shukla Reply

    Hi Ngoc, Yes it is quite possible without any problem . Actual Shipper – Indonesia , Broker – Vietnam , Actual Consignee – USA.. Now what we have to do First BL will be prepare “Shipper : Indonesia and Consignee : Vietnam” then Switch BL (Let say Second BL) will be prepare “Shipper : Vietnam and Consignee : USA” and accordingly you have to issue invoices . Please note that BL no. will be same in both BLs only suffix will need to be placed (for Example First BL No. is 1234A then second BL No. would be 1234B) . Also there is one notable thing is please avoid to get switch BL from carrier directly , please involve freight forwarder to get switch BL . There is no rocket science in this and it is very very simple . Also the ISF in USA would be filled as per second BL & second Invoice .Please let me know if you have any query further .

    • By Ngoc Anh

      BTW, I’m not sure that I get what you meant. “Also there is one notable thing is please avoid to get switch BL from carrier directly, please involve freight forwarder to get switch BL.” => That means we should switch HBL/not MBL, right?

  12. By Ngoc Anh Reply

    Hariesh Manaadiar,

    Could you please let me know if it’s possible to implement a triangular trade for actual Shipper in INDONESA-brocker in Vietnam-actual Cnee in USA? Cuz when publishing 1st Bill, Carrier informed us, USA Cnee must be shown on bill instead of Vietnamese.
    Even we told them this is the crosstrade and our Customer requested to hide Actual Shipper/actual Cnee’s information on 1st bill, we will switch bill in the Carrier’s local agent who commits to take responsibilities for that.
    Please let me know if there is any regulalions/policies which indicate that we have to show all USA Cnee’s information for the same case like this plz?

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Hello Ngoc, for all cargo going to USA the actual consignee name needs to be reflected in the bill of lading or needs to be advised to the shipping line.. For shipments to USA, consignee in other countries are not accepted..

    • By Mayank Shukla

      Both BLs (First BL & switch BL) need to surrendered. Without getting first BL surrendered no one can issue switch BL .

  13. By Hassan Reply

    Hi, we are a Dubai based company and I have sold machinery by L/C from Italy sent to Bahrain. Can I keep the same date of shipment from Italy is I switch the B/L in Dubai? I will change the shipper and consignee as well. is it possible?

  14. By Howard Reply

    Hi, my company hq is located in one country and a branch in the USA. when the shipment leaves our HQ, we list the consignee as the USA branch but before the shipment arrives to port, we switch the consignee to the buyer. the reason for this is because the usa branch is responsible for invoicing the customer and collecting payment and then we pay our HQ. is this common practice and how would I explain this to future customers. Thanks

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Hi Howard, this is common practice although it is the line’s prerogative whether they agree to switch or not and also your insurance company’s prerogative whether they will cover this or not..

      For your situation, a better alternative could be for you to issue an original bill of lading with consignee as “To Order of Shipper” and then once you know the final buyer the shipper can endorse this bill for cargo to be delivered to the new buyer.. You can also avoid the delays and costs for Switching the bill and also be covered legally..

  15. By Nicole Teh Reply

    Hello, my shipment is using Seaway bill (non negotiable) ex USA to Singapore. Customer request to switch shipper, consignee and notify party at Singapore. Is this allowed? What is the procedure?

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Hi, it is not possible because for a switch bill, there has to be an original issued first.. If you switch a SWB then there will be two bills of lading for which there is no originals required..

    • By Nicole

      My shipment ETA Singapore soon (4 Nov) , on 27 Oct customer just request for switch SWB. They claim that they unable to do clearance using the existing shipper, consignee and notify party. Meanwhile at the origin my forwarder (BDP USA) already sent a request to carrier (K Line US) to request for switch but still couldn’t get any feedback. What else I can do now ?

  16. By Pandit Santosh Reply

    Hi

    Good Afternoon,

    Our esteemed customer has raised a query… Please guide.

    * 1st set of OBL issued with consignee as “TO ORDER” and they would like to issue 2nd set of OBLs as “TO ORDER”

    * 1st set of OBL issued with consignee & notify as XYZ, but they would like to release 2nd set of OBL consigned as “TO ODER”.

    Kindly guide, can we issue switch b/l in this case, since the documents are negotiable.

    Thanks in advance.

    Brgds/Santosh Pandit

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Hello Santosh.. As I have written, any switch bill of lading issued is done at the risk of the shipper and shipping line.. Some of the lines will issue the SBL however based on the surrender of the full set of OBLs issued.. I am not clear on what is the difference between first and second set here “* 1st set of OBL issued with consignee as “TO ORDER” and they would like to issue 2nd set of OBLs as “TO ORDER””

  17. By Bharathi M Reply

    Dear Sir,

    we are in India and shipping consginment to Dubai. My customer asking for Switch BL. Asking to Switch BL as their name as shipper and their customer name as Consignee who is also from Dubai. What is the procedure

  18. By Tiffany Reply

    Hi Sir,

    I am a freight forwarder in Qingdao but dont have any office in HK. How can I swtich the HBL in HK as per my client’s request ? is it possible to appoint an agent in HK to switch the HBL for me ? Which company HBL should be issued as the 2nd set BL, my company HBL or the HK agent’s HBL ?

    Please advise with thanks.

  19. By vinit sharma partner eco recyclers India Reply

    dear sir/madam

    We are India based company, we get a recycling plant and machinery through UAE based company by switching their bill. In bill of lading number of packages are shown 5 while in bill of entry no. of packages are shown 7. Even the supplied machinery is scrap,old and used parts of a plant. Can we get details of first bill of lading and what kind of goods were loaded at uk port as shown in bill of lading.

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Pls elaborate what you mean by “we get a recycling plant and machinery through UAE based company by switching their bill”.. Are you the buyer of the goods..??

  20. By Diederik Reply

    Dear Sir / Madam,

    we are a trading company based in Shanghai. We now have a shipment of goods which need to get from India (supplier) to Vietnam (customer) without coming to China in between. We were thinking about using a switch B/L in order to protect the identity of our supplier in India and to protect our customer’s identity towards our supplier at the same time. Using a switch B/L would be a first time for us; can we use a switch B/L legally? who would be in charge of arranging and switching this switch B/L? When will this switch B/L be issued; in India before shipment / during shipping / upon arrival at port of destination?

    • By Michael

      Hi Diederic… In India it is very normal for us to issue switch bills of lading …

      The actual shipper has to make a request to the freight forwarder, and the House Bill of lading can be arranged for a switch …

      The procedure is simple. You will first be issued a normal bill of lading, which you need to surrender , against which the switch bill of lading will be issued.

      However you should be aware that only the Shipper / Consignee / Notify details can be changed. Port of loading / discharge or destination cannot be changed…

  21. By Suresh Reply

    Sir,

    I am from a shipping company. In one of our shipments, we had issued OBL to our shipper after sailing of the vessel. The consignee is a Dubai based company and the shipment is going to Bangkok. The consignee now wants to switch the B/L from India.

    My doubt is that whether we can switch the B/L from India against surrender of the Original B/L which was issued from India itself (origin of shipment is India). If not, why ? Is there any problem in legal point of view?

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Hello Suresh, a bill of lading can be switched anywhere as long as the carrier has an office there which can switch it for you.. This place can also be the origin port.. As long as the tenets of the Switch Bill are followed..

  22. By Manish Reply

    Hi. My company is based in india. I have multiple suppliers in Europe from whom I will buy goods and I am selling to a single buyer in Singapore. Can I switch these multiple bill of lading with a single BL? Is it necessary to inform European supplier about the final destination ?

  23. By Kanwaldeep Reply

    Hi,
    My company (T) is in India. My buyer (B) is in Turkey and my supplier (S) is in Vietnam. My buyer B issues me an LC . I , in turn issue an LC to Supplier (S). Now S loads and ships the goods and send the documents to my bank through LC. In those documents, S is the shipper and T is the consignor. I opt for swtich BL and change the shipper to M and consignee to B.
    But what about the other document like Pre shipment inspection certificate, Phytosanitary etc. How do I change those ? If I ask S to do that, the. I have to disclose the details of my Buyer B.

    • By Mohamed Muddasir Baig

      Hi,

      Once you receive the PO from client you should read all terms and condition and plan accordingly , for Pre shipment inspection certificate you need to inform to client in advance that you will issue a certificate in your letter head as you will have a original certificate from supplier.

  24. By Kanwaldeep Reply

    Hi,
    I am a trader in India. I have a buyer in Turkey who issues me an LC. I am buying and shipping the goods from Vietnam. For which I have issued an LC to Vietnam seller.
    Now when the seller sends me documents, he will mention himself as shipper and me as consignee. For that I can opt for BL switch, but for other documents like Pre shipment inspection, phytosanitary (If reqd) etc, how can we switch those ? And for discounting my LC I need to have all those documents with me as the shipper and my Turkey buyer as the consignee.
    If I ask my supplier to do it in advance then he will get to know my buyer.

  25. By Hiten Reply

    My company (Trader T) in Hong Kong sources goods from a manufacturer (M) in Japan and sells to a customer (C) in India.
    We do not wish to disclose to M where we are selling the goods, nor do we wish to disclose to C where we are sourcing the goods from. Our understanding was that the first BL would have: Consignor: M, Consignee: T, PoL: Japan, PoD: HK and the second BL would have Consignor: T, Consignee: C, PoL: HK and PoD: India.
    However, we are told by our agent that the PoD on both BLs (original and switch) will be India – we want the first BL to have PoD as HK else M comes to know that we are simply trading the goods, which will affect our other business with them. Please advise if we have to re-export? or if we should use switch BL only?

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Hello Hiten, you cannot amend POL/POD in a switch bill of lading.. only shipper/consignee/notify can be amended.. If the shipping line allows you to change POL/POD you maybe able to do it, but it might not be supported by your insurance company in case of any claims..

  26. By Elta Reply

    Is there a problem if the cargo will be from China going to Vietnam, shipper is in Japan, normally, Japan forwarder issues the B/L, is there any problem if the B/L is issued by the same forwarder but in Hongkong branch? Any consequences on the side of the shipper? Your immediate reply is appreciated.
    Thank you

  27. By Rahul Reply

    Hi,

    We have a shipment from India to Ghana and the BL to be switched from Dubai. The customer wants to get more than one switch BL against one 1st leg BL. Is it allowed to issue more than one switch BL against one original 1st leg BL? This is a consolidation cargo.

    Also please give an idea about what are the changes we can made on a switch BL from the original 1st leg BL.

    Regds
    Rahul

  28. By Cemile Ongoru Reply

    What should be the date of Switch Bill of Lading, same day with the original one or the day it’s issued?
    Will appreciate your help!
    Thanks,

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Hello Cemile, an interesting question, and the answer is yes, the date should be the same.. As mentioned in my article, the only thing that you are allowed to really change is the Shipper/Consignee/Notify – all the rest cannot and should not be changed..

  29. By Mariana Reply

    Hi,

    Would it be possible to use a switch BL when sending cargoes to the US? I’m asking you this because we need to submit information through a shipping line for ISF purposes (company does not have a SCAC code) and my customer wants to hide the consignee information from shipper. I’m not sure if according to ISF, shipper has to be a company located in the same place as shipper.

    • By Anh Pham

      Hi Mariana, could you advise us how did your cross trade shipment to NYC progress plz? I have the same case but the Carrier informed us the USA/NOTIFY PARTY must be SHOWN on 1st bill @@

  30. By Chinthaka Reply

    Hi,

    Please advise during a switch B/L can a customer requests to change the Line as well?? If you issue a B/L belongs to line A and from the switch B/L point, can we issue a B/L belongs to Line B. Appreciate you explanation in this regard.

  31. By roselyn Reply

    Dear Mr. Hariesh,

    We purchased goods from UK thru LC. We want to switch the bill of lading and sell it to another party. My question is , can we change the description of the goods like reference number and LC number as we sell it thru LC also.

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Hello Roselyn, that would totally depend on the shipping line that you are using.. Reference numbers, LC numbers etc does not form part of the cargo description and a shipping line can very well refuse to show these details on the bill of lading as it is not part of the contract.. In a normal switch bill of lading the cargo details itself cannot be changed.. Trust this assists..

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