Awb vs bol


Air waybill vs. bill of lading

Get familiar with these vital import and export documents.

In the world of shipping and logistics, understanding the differences between air waybills (AWBs) and bills of lading (BOLs) is crucial for businesses operating in the supply chain, ecommerce, or any other industry requiring transportation of goods. These documents, while serving similar purposes, have key distinctions that can impact the way shipments are handled, tracked, and delivered. This guide will break down the essentials of AWBs and BOLs, covering everything from their definitions and contents to their differences and electronic forms.

Air waybills and bills of lading 

Before defining these documents separately, it is important to note that while these documents are not interchangeable, they are both important transport documents. Any shipment by air or sea will need one or the other because they both serve similar purposes with slight—but important—differences.

Note: Air waybills are actually a type of bill of lading; however, both are discussed as the two main types of transport documents. There are more BOL types, but since the order bill of lading is the most common, we will refer primarily to that BOL type in this guide.

Air waybills (AWB)

An AWB is a transport document issued by the carrier that accompanies air and ground shipments. It contains details about the shipment and provides tracking information. It also acts as a consignment note and shipment receipt.

An AWB can be paper or electronic. Most small package and integrated carriers accept electronic AWBs.

Bills of lading (BOL)

A BOL is a shipping document provided by the carrier that accompanies sea, train, and truck shipments. It contains detailed information about the contents of the shipment and also serves as a contract, receipt, and title document.

A BOL can be paper or electronic. Most small package and integrated carriers accept electronic BOLs.

Note: "Title” refers to ownership, meaning that possessing a title document can prove ownership of the shipment.

AWBs vs. BOLs 

AWBs and BOLs are similiar but also have key differences. These are both outlined below.

Similarities - information AWBs and BOLs contain

The following is a list of information included on both types of documents:

  • Shipper name
  • Shipper address and contact information
  • Carrier name
  • Carrier address and contact or driver’s information (identification number, phone number, etc.)
  • Consignee name (the person the package is being delivered to)
  • Consignee address and contact information
  • Port or airport of loading
  • Port or airport of unloading
  • Carrier vehicle’s name and identification number (ship, airplane, truck, train, etc.)
  • Description of freight
  • Condition of freight
  • Identification marks on cargo
  • Number of pieces, packages, or pallets
  • Length, width, height, and weight of the shipment
  • Payment information
  • Terms of the contract

Key differences

Other than the fact that their modes of transport (air and sea) differ, AWBs and BOLs have a few more addiontal key differences.

The table below outlines the important differences between the two documents, followed by an explanation of what each difference means. There is an explanation of each field below the table.


Mode of transportAir shipmentsSea, train, or truck shipments
Collection of goodsOriginal document not requiredOriginal document required
IncotermsAll except Free on Board (FOB), Cost Insurance Freight (CIF), Free Alongside Ship (FAS), and Cost and Freight (CFRAll
Copies requiredVaries by carrier3 original and 3 copies
Time of issuance from carrierAfter departure from airportAfter departure from port or station
Governing rulesWarsaw Convention, Hague Amendment, Montreal ConventionHague Rules, The Hague-Visby Rules, and U.S. COGSA (U.S. Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1936)
Shipment type (typically)Business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B)B2B

Mode of transport

AWB - For air shipments

BOL - For sea, train, and truck shipments


AWB (non-negotiable) - The AWB is a specific form stating that the goods are to be delivered to a specific consignee. It is a contract of transportation, not a title document (a document proving ownership of the shipment).

BOL (negotiable) - The BOL acts as a title document. The consignee can also endorse the BOL with a third party’s name, allowing ownership to be transferred and the shipment delivered to them instead. It acts as a contract of both transportation and ownership.

Collection of goods

AWB - A consignee can either pick up or have the goods delivered to them by providing a form of identification that proves they are the consignee listed on the sender’s AWB. They do not need the original AWB to collect the goods.

BOL - Receivers must submit the original copy of the BOL to prove ownership in order to collect the goods.


AWB - AWBs are used with EXW, FCA, CIP, CPT, DAP, DDP, and DPU Incoterms. They are not used with FAS, CFR, FOB, or CIF Incoterms.

BOL - BOLs can be used with all Incoterms.


See our cross-border terminology document for an explanation of each Incoterm.

Copies required

AWB - AWB shipments must be accompanied by multiple copies of the document. The number and the format (paper or electronic) of the copies vary by carrier.

BOL - BOL shipments must be accompanied by 3 originals and 3 copies.

Time of issuance

AWB - AWBs are issued by the carrier when the goods have been inspected and the cargo plane has taken off from the departure airport.

BOL - BOLs are issued by the carrier when the goods have been inspected and the cargo ship departs from the loading port.

Governing rules

Bills of lading and air waybills are subject to different international rules.


AWB - Governing International Regulations of Air Waybill:

Typical shipment type

AWB - Consumer shipments are most often sent by air and ground because they usually do not warrant a container-level load requiring sea transportation.

BOL - Commercial (B2B) shipments are typically sent via sea vessel, train, or truck due to the large size of the order.

The functions of AWBs and BOLs

Document typeActs as a shipment receiptActs as a transportation contractActs as a document of titleCan be electronic

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