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Waybill and bill of lading explained: everything you need to know about air, ocean and road transport documents

International transport and transactions involve a lot of different documents. One of the most important pieces of documentation is the waybill, which depending on the mode of transportation can also be called CMR, bill of lading or air waybill. In essence, a waybill is an important document that provides essential information about a shipment and often acts as a legal contract between the sender and carrier.

In this article, we will give an overview of the most common types of waybills and their main differences.

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Different types of waybills

A waybill or a bill of lading is required when shipping goods internationally, whether by air, sea, rail or road. The document’s primary purpose is to provide information about the shipment, but in some cases can also act as a receipt for payment and be required for insurance purposes. As a rule of thumb – whenever you plan to ship something, you will need a waybill.

Things can get a bit complicated when it comes to the documents needed for different modes of transportation – air freight and ocean freight have different documents attached to shipments. Sometimes there can be different options in documentation even across a single mode of transportation.

In general:

  • A shipment by ocean freight requires a bill of lading.
  • By air freight an air waybill.
  • By road transport a CMR (abbreviation of the lengthy ‘Contrat de Transport International de Marchandises par Route’) note.
  • By rail freight a CIM document.

Bill of lading (ocean freight)

A bill of lading is required when transporting goods by ship. Sometimes also called ‘ocean bill of lading’, this document should not be confused with a regular waybill. The difference being that a bill of lading is authoritative in nature which means it acts as the title to the goods in question – whoever has the bill of lading, possesses the goods.

Nevertheless, a waybill and bill of lading generally contain the same types of information:

  • description of the goods,
  • shipment dates,
  • contract terms,
  • information about the shipper and carrier and
  • destination info.

While a bill of lading is not always necessary (such as when shipping with or between trusted parties), the document is legally binding and guarantees smooth shipping.

It is also required whenever there’s a third party involved with the shipment process. Creating a bill of lading is relatively simple, as there are many templates available online and all you have to do is fill it with the right information. The bill of lading is filled in by the seller, but must be signed by an authorized agent to become legally binding. To make things more complicated, there are actually different kinds of bills of lading as well. You can read more about them here.

Two ocean vessel with containers at port

Goods shipped by ocean freight require a bill of lading. There are different types of bills of lading. © Photo: Pixabay.

Air waybill (air freight)

An air waybill (AWB) is, as the name suggests, an air consignment note that goes with goods shipped by air transport, providing information about the shipment and allowing it to be tracked.

Just like the bill of lading, an AWB is a legal contract of carriage between the shipper and the carrier in international trade and a receipt of goods by an airline. It also sets the terms and conditions of the shipment. As with any waybill, multiple copies will be made for all the involved parties.

The airway bill contains:

  • the shipper’s name and address,
  • the consignee’s name and address,
  • origin and destination airport code (three letters).

It must also declare shipment value for customs, weight and other information about the shipment as well as any special instructions. The legal document also contains the conditions of the carrier’s terms and conditions, such as liability limits and claims procedures.

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What is the difference between the air waybill and bill of lading?

The main difference between an AWB and a bill of lading is that the former is non-negotiable, meaning it doesn’t specify when the shipment will be sent or arrive. While bills of lading are legal documents between the shipper and carrier and also detail the type, quantity and destination of the goods, they also act as a receipt of shipment when the goods are delivered. An AWB being non-negotiable however does not cover the merchandise value – it is simply a contract for transportation.

CMR (road freight)

Also known as a CMR consignment note. This document is required for international shipping by road transport in order. The CMR is very similar to regular waybills with one main difference – it also acts as an insurance document. Should the goods become damaged or lost during transport, the CMR gives the owner of the goods a right to insurance claims against the carrier.

In general, the document acts as proof of the contract of carriage by road, determines the scope and responsibility for the operation and describes the parties involved. You can check here for more information about the insurance of international shipments.

CMR is governed and gets its name from the ‘Contrat de Transport International de Marchandises par Route’ (French for International Agreement on Contract for the International Transport of Goods by road) which has governed international road transport for more than five decades. The CMR document is usually given to the carrier (driver) by the sender as it can also contain instructions for the carrier.

Two trucks on the highway

Important to note: different modes of transport will require different waybills to accompany the goods. © Photo: Pixabay.


CIM document (rail freight)

Rail transport documents or rail consignment notes are most commonly referred to as CIM consignment notes or simply CIM documents. CIM documents are used in rail transport to confirm that the rail carrier has received the goods and to prove that a contract of carriage exists between trader and carrier.

It helps to know that international rail transport obeys the international and uniform system of laws of OTIF (Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail). The system of laws themselves are known as the COTIF (Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail) and the appendix B of that Convention is called CIM (Uniform Rules Concerning the Contract of International Carriage of Goods by Rail). Therefore, any transport documents created according to the CIM Convention are known as CIM consignment notes or CIM documents.

It is important to note that a CIM consignment note is a non-negotiable transport document, which means it’s not a document title of goods and that all rail carriers can deliver goods to the consignee without the original copy of the transport document. This also means that exporters and banks should be careful when working with a letter of credit that demands a rail transport document as a transport document, because neither exporters nor banks could secure goods as collateral.

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Waybills, bills of lading or other similar documents (depending on the transportation method) are essential documents whether shipping goods by air, sea or land. Different types of transportation require different kinds of waybills, but in essence, they all provide proof of contract between the sender and carrier and information about the shipment.

Although there are many online templates and guides for creating waybills, it can be a daunting task for anyone new to the international logistics sector. MyDello deals with international shipping and trade documents every single day and knows every little detail there is to know about these procedures. Do not hesitate to contact us whether you need advice with waybill documents or want to trust your shipments to an experienced third party.

Entering a foreign market requires a great deal of preparation, and the need to think through a strategy, marketing activities and logistics solutions. As the logistics platform MyDello recently entered the Swedish market, we would like to share with you tips and advice on what to consider when entering the Swedish market and what you should know about Swedish business culture.

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Get to know the behaviour and consumption patterns of your new customers

While it may seem that globalisation has homogenised the general consumer culture in Europe, in reality, each country has different habits.

You must familiarise yourself with those local regulations that affect your business

Many areas are regulated within the European Union; however, in some cases, additional local requirements and standards may apply.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the local language

The Swedes are very good at English, but you’ll always have an advantage if you speak to them in Swedish.

Creating trust and building long-term relationships are the key to success in Sweden. Estonians and Swedes have a lot in common, but there are a number of things you should keep in mind when doing business with the Swedes:

  1. Enjoy the meetings. Swedes like meetings. Therefore, be prepared for briefings, planning meetings, organisation meetings, and follow-up meetings. Stick to the agenda, and always prepare carefully.
  2. Planning is the basis for everything. As Swedes like to plan things in advance, planning skills are crucial. There is no room for spontaneity in Swedish business culture.
  3. It takes time to decide. Don’t expect decisions or results to come quickly. Because the Swedes take decisions by consensus, decision-making processes are long. Especially in large organisations. Relying on the facts, they analyse and reflect for a long time. This is why it is important to be patient and persistent and to recognise that results and agreements take time to achieve.
  4. Fika breaks. Never say no to a cup of coffee. Coffee breaks, or ‘fika’, are an integral part of Swedish business culture. Remember: don’t talk shop during coffee breaks. Fika is a good way to socialise and get to know each other better. There are usually two fika a day – in the morning and in the afternoon.
  5. Honour the small talk. Start every meeting with small talk. It plays an important role in building and maintaining relationships. Small talk also eases the pressure and leads to a deeper conversation. In general, the subject of small talk revolves around the weather, weekend plans, and other neutral topics.
  6. Take it easy. There is no hierarchy in Swedish organisations. Employees are treated equally, managers are treated informally, and communication is direct and sympathetic. It creates a pleasant and peaceful working environment.

All in all, before entering the Swedish market, we advise you to do your homework, get to know the Swedish market, and be patient. It is also important to visit trade fairs, where you can make contact with potential partners.

MyDello takes the stress out of global shipping. One platform, all freight modes, instant quotes. Find out more. 

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One of the most common documents related to international shipping is the commercial invoice, a document that is required to export goods to other countries and is sometimes also referred to as an export invoice.

A commercial invoice is important for all participants in the supply chain – for the seller and buyer, the forwarders, the customs brokers, and also the bank. That’s why the main requirement for a commercial invoice is that it is completed in English so that all the participants in the process can understand the information indicated therein.

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What is a commercial invoice?

Commercial invoices are used for calculating the taxes and duties paid in customs clearance and they also serve as proof of sale between exporter and importer. It should not be confused with other documents such as the proforma invoice, customs invoice, packing list or bill of lading.

While it’s not difficult to fill or create a commercial invoice for export, it’s essential that the invoice is created following proper procedure, contains all the necessary elements and is free of any errors.

Even a small error on a commercial invoice can have negative consequences for your business. This is why many traders choose to automate this task, removing any chance of human error.

Human behind the computer drafting an commercial invoice

Filing a commercial invoice isn’t difficult, but must be free of any errors. For this reason, it is often automated.

When is a commercial invoice required?

The commercial invoice should be issued by the seller (exporter) to the customer (importer) before the goods are dispatched.

When a shipment of goods is ready to be dispatched, the exporter prepares all the necessary documents, including the commercial invoice. To avoid any customs issues for the importer with regard to the calculation and application of duties or taxes, the exporter must provide accurate and truthful information about the goods in the commercial invoice.

A mistake in the buyer’s address or name, for example, can lead to failed shipping. Failure to include the description and purpose of the items inside the package might lead to problems with customs.

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What information is important on a commercial invoice?

A commercial invoice must contain certain information, including the seller and buyer’s information as well as the terms of delivery and payment. It is essential to indicate the buyer’s name, address and contact details to ensure that the freight does not get held up on the way, and also all the information about the dispatcher in case questions arise during the shipping process.

A description of the goods and the correct HS code (customs code) are important factors in drafting a commercial invoice.

This information gives the state customs service an accurate understanding of what goods are being exported, and the information also helps the buyer to correctly calculate the taxes and customs fees, and then quickly draft all the required customs documents in the country of destination. The information must be truthful and reflect reality.

Customs codes can be checked on the website of the European Taxation and Customs Union.

When shipping goods within the European Union, a customs invoice is not required and is for informational purposes only. You can check the list of EU countries here.

When is a pro forma commercial invoice used?

Commercial invoices are sometimes mistaken for proforma invoices. The main difference between these is that the commercial invoice has an accounting value – the proforma invoice is purely informative.

When the terms of a deal are being agreed upon with a buyer, a pro forma invoice is sometimes drafted – this is a document with preliminary information about the goods exported, which is required for the buyer to make an advance payment.

A pro forma invoice is not an export document, so when dispatching goods abroad, make sure that they are accompanied by a properly drafted commercial invoice, otherwise, the shipment may be delayed at customs.


Commercial invoice template in the hand of human

All commercial invoices have a standardized format which means creating an invoice is a fairly straightforward task.


Step-by-step instructions for completing a commercial invoice

All commercial invoices have a standardized format which means creating an invoice is a fairly straightforward and simple task. The best way to do that is to follow a sample invoice. You should make sure the commercial invoice contains all the necessary fields even when following a sample document, however.

Information that must be included in a commercial invoice:

  1. the invoice number and date of issue
  2. the name and bank details of the seller, as well as their address and contact details
  3. the name, address and contact details of the buyer
  4. the country of origin of the goods (the country in which the exported goods were produced)
  5. the country of destination for the goods
  6. a full description of the goods and the type of packaging
  7. the customs code for the goods
  8. the quantity of the goods and packages in units
  9. the currency used
  10. the value and price of the goods
  11. any additional costs
  12. the conditions of shipment in accordance with Incoterms 2020
  13. the payment terms
  14. exporting date, destination and means of transport
  15. signature of the shipper

Once a commercial invoice is drafted, we recommend sending it to the buyer for approval, so that they can confirm that all information is indicated correctly.

When all conditions are agreed upon and the goods are ready for shipping, prepare 3 copies of the commercial invoice: one for customs in the country of consignment, one for customs in the country of destination, and one for the buyer of the goods. When shipping within the EU, these conditions are not essential.

Last but not least, the commercial invoice should be printed and included with the package in a transparent envelope so customs can verify the package later.

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The commercial invoice is a crucial document for all international shipping transactions. It acts both as proof of delivery as well as a mandatory document for any trades that cross borders. While it’s not difficult to create a commercial invoice, any error in the document can lead to your shipping getting cancelled or delayed.


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