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Published : November 18, 2023, Updated : November 21, 2023

What is A Switch Bill of Lading? Meaning, Procedure and More

What is A Switch Bill of Lading? Meaning, Procedure and More

When it comes to international shipping, a “Switch Bill of Lading” sounds like a mysterious and intriguing concept. This intriguing term refers to a document that plays a pivotal role in global trade, holding the power to make subtle yet significant changes in the journey of goods across seas and borders.

In international shipping, a Bill of Lading (B/L) is like a receipt and a contract between the shipper and the carrier. It has all the important details about the shipment and helps create correct invoices. This document is vital for staying clear and following the laws, especially in cross-border trade. But sometimes, you might need to change things on the bill of lading, like the destination or what’s in the cargo. That’s when you need a Switch Bill of Lading.

In this article, we’ll demystify the world of Switch Bills of Lading, exploring their meaning, purpose, and the intriguing procedures behind their use.

Also Read: Bill of Lading: Meaning, Types, Example, and Purpose

What is a Switch Bill of Lading?

A Switch Bill of Lading is like a replacement for the original B/L issued when the shipment started. It refers to the same shipment, but the info in the document might change. It works the same way as the original B/L, and it has three main purposes:

It’s a contract for moving goods between the shipper and the carrier.
It’s a receipt that shows the goods were delivered at their destination.
It’s like a document that proves who owns the goods.

Why Do We Need Switch Bills of Lading?

There are a few reasons for needing a Switch B/L:

Hiding Supplier Info: Sometimes, in international trade, you have something called triangle trading. This is when the buyer doesn’t buy directly from the manufacturer but goes through a middleman. In this case, the middleman can use a Switch B/L to change the details of the actual supplier to their own details, keeping the rest of the B/L the same.

High Sea Sales: In High Sea Sales, someone might buy a bunch of stuff from a seller and then sell it to someone else while it’s still on the ship. When this happens, a Switch B/L is used to show that the goods now belong to the new buyer.

Other Reasons: Apart from these cases, a Switch B/L is used for different situations. For example, it might be used when the trading company doesn’t want the buyer to know where the goods are from or if there’s a request from the port authorities to change the cargo description.

Who Can Ask for a Switch B/L?

The original exporter of the goods, the trading agent, or the final buyer can ask for a Switch B/L. But, the ocean carrier or freight forwarder has to approve it first. They have to look carefully at the differences between the original B/L and the Switch B/L. After they approve it, the original B/L is no longer valid, and only the Switch B/L counts.

What Can Be Changed in a Switch B/L?

You can change certain things when you use a Switch B/L. These include the shipper’s identity, who to tell about the shipment, the description of the products, where the shipment started, and the date it was issued.

What Can’t Be Changed in a Switch B/L?

Some things must stay the same, like the shipment’s place and date, whether it’s hazardous or needs special temperature, any special instructions, or how the cargo needs to be paid for.

How to Get a Switch Bill of Lading?

Here’s how you can get a Switch B/L:

Fill out an Application: The original seller, the trading agent, or the final buyer has to fill out a special form to ask for the Switch B/L. The form has two parts: one for the original B/L details and one for the new info.

Submit the Original B/L: They also have to send all three copies of the original B/L. You can do this by email, online, or in person at the carrier’s office. But be careful, because different carriers might have different rules about when they’ll accept requests. Most won’t accept requests if they come in later than 3 working days before the ship gets to its destination port.

Get Approved: If the carrier checks everything and they approve the Switch B/L, you get a new bill, and the old one isn’t used anymore.

Payment and Pick-up: Once you get the approved Switch B/L, you make the payment and pick up the new bill at the carrier’s office. This usually takes a few working days.

What Are the Risks of Switch Bills of Lading?

There are some risks when it comes to Switch Bills of Lading:

Theft and Misdelivery: If there’s more than one bill going around for the same cargo, the carrier might get claims that they gave the cargo to the wrong person. Someone who wants to cheat might sell the same cargo to two different buyers by using the Switch B/L. If the original B/L isn’t canceled, both buyers can use it to get the cargo.

Fraud: When carriers or freight forwarders approve a Switch B/L, they have to be careful. If the request is against the law, like hiding where the goods come from or the name of a banned manufacturer, there can be problems. This could include changing the date the cargo left.

Insurance Problems: Some insurance companies don’t cover Switch B/Ls. If there’s anything wrong with the B/L that’s against the law, the cargo claims, or there’s a fine, the insurance might not pay out.

Also Read: Exploring the Diverse Types of Bill of Lading in Shipping

Best Ways to Use Switch Bills of Lading

To make sure there aren’t any problems with Switch B/Ls, follow these best practices:

Check the Details: Look at the cargo description, where the goods come from, and the loading date. You should also ask why the B/L is being switched.

Get a Letter: Get a signed letter that says the person asking for the Switch B/L will take responsibility if anything goes wrong.

Ask the Ship Owner: If you’re the carrier, ask the owner of the ship if you can use a Switch B/L.

Check the Original B/L: Make sure the old B/L is canceled before the new one is issued.

Keep Everyone Informed: Tell the shipper, buyer, and trading agent about the Switch B/L.

Check Your Insurance:Find out if your insurance covers anything to do with Switch B/Ls.


In a world of international trade and shipping, the Switch Bill of Lading serves as the silent hero, orchestrating changes while goods traverse the seas. It’s the versatile tool that conceals, reveals, and moves cargo seamlessly. However, its power comes with responsibilities and risks, requiring careful handling.

By understanding its purpose, who can request it, and what can be modified, you gain a clearer view of the intricate dance of global logistics. While it may seem mysterious, the Switch Bill of Lading is a vital player in keeping the wheels of international commerce turning smoothly.


Can you tell if a B/L has been switched?

You can’t tell from the B/L itself if it’s been switched or not. But the buyer or the consignee can ask the carrier if it has been switched, and they might tell you.

Who can ask for a Switch B/L?

The original seller, the trading agent, or the final buyer can ask for a Switch B/L.

Is there a time limit for asking for a Switch B/L?

You have to ask for a Switch B/L before the ship gets to the destination port, but each carrier might have their own rules.

Where can you get a Switch B/L?

It depends on what the carrier says. If the carrier’s office isn’t in the same country as the Switch B/L, they might not let you get one. You can check with the carrier’s office to see what their rules are.

What can you change in a Switch B/L?

You can change who the shipper is, who to tell about the shipment, the description of the goods, where the shipment started, and the date it was issued.

Also Read: Best Ways to Track Bill of Lading in 2023

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