Master Bill of Lading (MBL) vs House Bill of Lading (HBL)

Master Bill of Lading (MBL) vs House Bill of Lading (HBL)

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The paperwork in import and export operations is very important. Indeed, the slightest missing document and your cargo can be blocked at customs, or even destroyed ... In this article, we will explain the difference between a Master Bill of Lading (MBL) and a House Bill of Lading (HBL).

What is a Master Bill of Lading or MBL?

A Master Bill of Lading is a transport contract issued by the shipping company, the owner, the forwarder, and the ship's representative in the country of dispatch. In order not to confuse we will now speak of the shipping company.

Starting on the basis that in 99% of cases, maritime shipments will be made through a forwarder. The transport of goods is covered by a transport contract, the Bill of Lading.

And your transport contract? Where do you appear as an importer?

For this, there is the House Bill of Lading.

What is a House Bill of Lading or HBL?

It is the transport contract that the forwarder will issue, in a format similar to that of the shipping company, in which he will indicate you as the sender and your importing client as the recipient, and with the same condition as the Master Bill of Lading, or MB/L, assuming no more responsibility than the shipping company that does the shipping.

To conclude: 

Master Bill of Lading - Maritime transport contract between the shipping company and the freight forwarder.

House Bill of Lading - Maritime transport contract between the freight forwarder and its sending customer.

DocShipper Info: The bill of lading, most important document in import export operations. This document can come in many forms and types. That's why we made a complete guide about the bill of lading on our blog to help you understand this document better. Contact us for more!

In which cases are a Master Bill of Lading and a House Bill of Lading issued?

If you are shipping in a groupage, that is, you do not have enough volume to fill a container, the main bill of lading will cover the transport of the entire container. Inside this container are your goods and for example the goods of ten other shippers.

Each of you will want your transport contract and as you can only issue one Master Bill of Lading (or MB/L), the forwarder will issue ten House Bill of Lading (or HB/L) and deliver to each of your shippers, specifying in each HB/L the different shippers, consigned, notify, number of packages, weight, etc.

In addition, from a standard point of view, 3 original copies will be required marked as 1/3, 2/3 and 3/3.

Which circuit does the MBL and HBL follow from their emission to the delivery to the cargo?


  1. Once the ship leaves with the goods on board, never before, the freight forwarder will receive the complete set of the main bill of lading.
  2. The freight forwarder will send this complete set to their agent at destination until they receive the bill of lading.


  1. Once you have received the complete set of the shipping company main bill of lading, the freight forwarder will be when you issue the complete set of the domestic bill of lading.
  2. The forwarder will send the complete set of the HBL to his shipper client.
  3. The shipper client will send the complete set of bill of lading received to his importer client at destination.
  4. The importing recipient must send the agent to the destination of the forwarding agent of origin, either an original signed and sealed from behind, or the original of the bill of lading of 3 rooms.
  5. Once you have received the HBL in one of the indicated ways, it will be when he gives the order to the shipping company, not with the HBL, but with the MBL, for delivery of the goods.

Shipping companies only work with MBL, so the destination shipping company only waits for someone to deliver an MBL to deliver.

The forwarding agent at destination will not instruct the shipping company with the MBL, until someone appears with the HBL that has been issued, so there is no chance that once the shipping company has been instructed for the delivery of the goods, a third party appears with another HBL also claiming the same goods.

We remind you again that until each of the parties we have designated is present at the destination, either the 3 bills of lading, MBL or HBL of origin which are normally issued, or 1 original signed and sealed by behind, the goods will not be delivered.

Therefore, if we have to pay cash for the shipping we contracted with our forwarder and we don't, you can send the MBL to your agent.

In addition, if we comply with our forwarder, our HBL arrives, but does not comply with our importing client, if we do not send the originals of HBL, the agent of destination will not deliver the goods.

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Are MBL and HBL still issued?

In the case of grouping of containers, we have already seen that yes, only one MBL and as many HBL as loading customers have loaded goods inside.

In the case of full containers, conventional bulk loads, etc., where there is only one loader and one recipient, it will depend on the forwarder.

If you don't have a destination agent, you won't have one. If you have an agent at the destination, and you also do not receive instructions from the forwarding agent, you will usually do so.

MBL and HBL comparison


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