Bill of Lading vs. Packing Slip: Their Key Differences

Bill of Lading vs. Packing Slip: Their Key Differences

In shipping and logistics, it’s crucial to distinguish between a bill of lading and a packing slip. This article examines the differences.

When it comes to shipping and logistics, understanding the difference between a bill of lading vs. packing slip is important. These two documents play distinct roles in the movement of goods, and mixing them up can lead to confusion and potential delays.

This article will discuss the bill of lading and packing list forms and how they each help with shipping and logistics.

What Is a Bill of Lading (BOL)?

A bill of lading, also known as a BOL, is a legal document that certifies that goods have been “Received for Shipment” and is provided by a carrier (such as a trucking or shipping business) upon receipt of the items for transportation.

It functions as a contract between the shipper—the person sending the goods—and the carrier as well as a receipt.

Different Types

A bill of lading (BOL) comes in various forms. The most common types include:

  • Straight Bill of Lading: This type is non-negotiable and specifies that the goods are to be delivered directly to a particular consignee.
  • Order Bill of Lading: It allows for flexibility by making the goods deliverable to the order of a specific party, typically the shipper or a designated recipient.
  • Negotiable Bill of Lading: Within this category, we find several types:
  • Bearer Bill of Lading: The holder of this document has the right to claim the goods.
  • Order Bill of Lading with Attached Invoice: It combines the BOL and invoice, simplifying the shipping process.
  • Through Bill of Lading: Used for multi-modal transportation, covering different legs of the journey.

In summary, a bill of lading serves as a mandatory document in shipping and logistics, detailing the terms of carriage and acting as a receipt for the goods being transported.

What Does it Include?

A bill of lading typically includes the following elements:

  • Shipper: The party responsible for shipping the goods.
  • Consignee: The recipient is the party receiving the goods.
  • Goods Being Transported: The shipping includes a detailed description of the items, including quantity, weight, and any special proper handling instructions.

Essentially, a bill of lading ensures smooth cargo movement while providing essential information for all parties involved in the shipping process.

What Is a Packing Slip?

A packing slip is an important piece of paper that goes with goods when they are shipped. It shows what’s inside the package. Here’s why it’s important:

  • Helps Keep Track: A packing slip is useful for keeping track of what’s in a shipment. They help connect the online world (where ecommerce orders originate) with the real world (where they are shipped).
  • Makes Sure Orders are Right: The people sending out packages use packing slips to make sure they’re sending the right things to the right places.
  • Checks Quality: When you get a package, you can check the packing slip to make sure you got everything you ordered.

They both start from the online store but perform different function. The invoice is for paying, while the packing slip acts as a checker on what’s inside the package.

What Does a Packing Slip Include?

A packing slip contains important information about a shipment. It includes:

  • Sender’s Details: This tells you who sent the package.
  • SKU Numbers: Codes for each item.
  • Weight and Size: How big and heavy the package is.
  • Quantity and Units: The number of items included.
  • Goods Being Transported: What’s in the package and if it needs special care.
  • Total Shipment Information: Total number of pieces, as well as the overall weight and measurements of the entire shipment.
  • Special Instructions: Any specific instructions or additional important information relevant to the shipment, such as handling requirements or special considerations.
  • Packaging Details: Information about how the items are packaged within each container, such as whether they are boxed, crated, or palletized.
  • Special Handling Requirements: Any specific handling requirements for certain items, such as temperature-sensitive products or items that require upright positioning during transit.

A Packing slip is important because it makes sure shipments are right, helps manage the delivery docket, and gives important info to both the sender and receiver.

Key Differences

Understanding the distinctions between these two documents is essential. Let’s explore their differences in simple terms:


The Bill of Lading (BoL) serves as a dual-purpose document, functioning both as a receipt for goods and services and as a contractual agreement between the shipper and freight forwarder. 

The Packing Slip primarily details the items included in the shipment. Its main functions lie in aiding inventory management and facilitating order verification processes.

Information Included

The BoL encompasses comprehensive information such as outlining shipment details about the shipper and consignee, specifics regarding the freight forwarder, the chosen shipping documents method, loading and destination ports, shipment particulars, and authorized signatures. 

Issuing Parties

Typically, the carrier or their designated agent issues the BoL once the goods are loaded onto the transport vehicle, whether it be a vessel, truck, or aircraft. 

In contrast, the seller or shipper generates the packing slip, which is included with the shipment so the buyer or consignee can verify its contents upon receipt.

Legal Status

The BoL holds significant legal weight as a binding agreement, affirming the shipper’s and carrier’s responsibilities throughout the shipping process to have legal protection.

In contrast, the Packing Slip primarily serves as an internal document for inventory management purposes, lacking any significant legal implications.

In summary, while both documents play critical roles in shipping, understanding their unique functions ensures smoother international trade transactions. 

When Should You Use a Packing Slip

It’s essential to recognize that a packing slip, unlike a legally binding document such as the Bill of Lading, doesn’t always have clear-cut scenarios. 

However, their utility aids inventory management and facilitates a smooth shipping process.

Senders Should Use a Packing Slip When…

Senders should include a packing slip with their shipments. The slip provides a detailed packing list of the package’s items. 

Packing slips can also serve as a reference for inventory management, assisting senders in tracking outgoing shipments and effectively managing their stock.

Transporters Should Use a Packing Slip When…

Transporters should use a packing slip when they handle shipments that require verification of contents upon delivery. 

Additionally, a packing slip can document the shipment’s contents in cases where packages are damaged or lost during transit. 


A Bill of Lading is like a passport for goods, showing where they’re from, where they’re going, and how they’ll get there. Bill of lading vs packing slip is important because it acts as proof of ownership and lays out the terms of the shipment. 

Remember, choose wisely when using each document to avoid delays. For expert guidance, contact Inbound Logistics.