What is a Switch Bill Of Lading?

While there are tons of documents you undoubtedly deal with on a day-to-day basis while working in the shipping industry, the one you probably deal with the most are Bills Of Lading. But a term you may be less familiar with is a “Switch Bill Of Lading.”

If you are hearing about a Switch Bill Of Lading because the shipper has requested one or you were notified by your freight forwarder of the change, you’re probably wondering exactly what this document is and why it may be used in replacement of a regular Bill Of Lading.

Summary of Bill Of Lading

We’ve covered the topic of BOL’s extensively in the past, so we won’t go into too much detail here. But the overarching summary is this:

A Bill Of Lading (or BOL) is a shipping document that serves 3 purposes:

  • A title of the goods: The one holding the original BOL is the one who actually owns the cargo. It serves as a title of ownership for the goods.
  • A receipt for the goods: It contains details about the cargo including a description of the products, quantity, weight, country of origin, etc. (just like a receipt would.)
  • Serves as contract of carriage: It serves as proof that the shipper has loaded the goods onto the appropriate vessel for departure to destination, since it is a contract between the shipper and the ocean carrier.

So, it’s pretty straight forward. BOL’s are a relatively simple document that serve 3 concrete purposes. So, what would be the purpose of a Switch BOL?

What is a Switch Bill Of Lading?

A Switch BOL is a Bill Of Lading that is created to serve in substitution of the original BOL due to the need for modification of details. There are several reasons that a Switch Bill Of Lading may be needed, including the following:

  • Destination Customs is unhappy with the description of the cargo and needs it modified. For instance, “vegetables” may need to be further specified as, say, “Roma tomatoes” if they deem the current description is incorrect or not specific enough.
  • If a third-party seller is facilitating the sale of someone else’s product, they may want to hide the name of the original producer/manufacturer to keep the original seller and buyer from kicking them out of the transaction for a lower price. This agent may omit the actual seller from the Switch Bill Of Lading and issue that modified document to the buyer.
  • The shipper may want to apply a single BOL to several parcel shipments which were previously all going to have their own BOL.
  • A shipper may want to apply a BOL to each individual parcel shipment which was previously all going to be covered under one BOL.
  • The cargo has been sold (or resold to a different buyer) while en route and now needs its details changed to transport to another port.

What is the Process for Issuing a Switch Bill Of Lading?

A Switch Bill Of Lading is instituted as a “switch.” In other words, you can’t issue a “switch BOL” from the start. It is only considered a “Switch BOL” if it is replacing an original BOL that has already been or begun to be issued.

A Switch Bill Of Lading must be requested by the owner of the cargo, since they own the original BOL and thus have actual ownership of the goods. After a request has been made for a Switch Bill Of Lading, only the freight forwarder and/or carrier can approve the request (this is done to ensure that the original BOL documents are pulled out of circulation so the Switch BOL is a substitution – not an addition to the mix with conflicting details.)


If you and your team are curious to learn more because your shipper has switched the BOL with a revised document, or you are looking to learn more as your team would like to issue your own revised Switch BOL, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our team members! We would love to answer any and all of your questions, and look forward to chatting with you and your team!


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