What is a Consignee?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A consignee is someone to whom a shipment of goods is to be delivered. He or she has certain legal rights and responsibilities that are spelled out in the law. Because goods are often carried internationally, international law does concern itself with the specifics of consignees and how they work, but within countries, national law is often more specific. The opposite role is a consignor, the person who is shipping the goods.

A consignee does not take legal ownership of goods until they are paid for.
A consignee does not take legal ownership of goods until they are paid for.

Often, the consignor is the seller and the consignee is the buyer, although this is not always the case. Because there are concerns about how the shipment will be tracked, they are documented with the assistance of a bill of lading, which is used to indicate who and where the package is coming from, and who and where it is going to. The person who is to accept the delivery is named on the bill of lading to ensure that the shipment will be delivered to that person and that person only, unless he or she has an authorized agent. This reduces the risk that a shipment will be intercepted by a third party.

The consignee is named on the bill of lading and other legal documents.
The consignee is named on the bill of lading and other legal documents.

The consignee is treated as legally responsible for the goods in terms of filling out customs declarations, paying taxes and duties, and other legal issues. The consignor retains ownership of the goods until they have been paid for, however, at which point the title to the goods is passed over. If the consignee fails to pay or to fulfill other contractual obligations, the consignor can sue for satisfaction and repossess the goods.

Consignees are expected to comply with the law when it comes to which goods they receive. People who receive packages that contain illegal materials knowingly can be brought up on charges, although there may be instances in which shipments are intercepted and altered. Consignors are expected to document the contents of a shipment in detail to ensure that the person receiving it has a checklist that can be used to confirm that the shipment is complete. This documentation can also be used to demonstrate that the shipment was changed between the origination and the destination.

Shipping companies usually will not deliver a package unless the designated recipient or a recognized agent is present to sign for it. This is done to protect the shipper from legal liability that could arise from lost, stolen, or damaged loads. There may be circumstances in which alternate arrangements can be made, however; companies that deliver packages to homes may drop packages off without a signature, for example, if the consignor has stated that this is acceptable.

Shipping companies often won't deliver a package unless someone is there to sign for it.
Shipping companies often won't deliver a package unless someone is there to sign for it.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I wonder who is the "correct" consignee in such situation: customer orders goods to a local firm, this firm (subsidiary) orders accordingly to its mother-company on its own account. The goods are shipped directly to the customer, the documents (B/L, etc.) are sent to the subsidiary, which forwards it to the customer who is receiving the goods.

So, which party is "consignee"? Thank you!


A consignment shipped to a Nigerian customer is lying unclaimed in the port and incurring demurage. What is the remedy against the consignee?


I actually have a friend who had some problems acting as a consignee for goods that were bought using international shipping. When she purchased the goods online, she didn't realize she'd be responsible for paying a duty fee on her goods. But once she signed for them, she was obligated! It was a pretty hefty tariff from what I remember.

So I would definitely be careful, especially when acting as a commercial invoice consignee. Make sure you look at the good first, and make sure everything is there and you're aware of any fees you owe before you sign for the shipment!


@starrynight - It must be the insurance industry person in me, but when I was reading your comment, I wondered what would happen if the front desk person lost your goods after they signed for them? After all, they were acting as the consignee, so the person or business you purchased from wouldn't be responsible anymore!

I'm better than they would be responsible for the lost goods. However, I'm thinking that your management company's commercial insurance might cover the loss if they lost your shipment. Whether the person would keep their job after making a mistake like that, I don't know!

I've never heard this term before, but I've been a consignee many times! I shop online all the time, so I have a lot of the stuff I buy delivered to my apartment. Most places I buy from send the goods so that you have to sign for it when it is delivered, they don't just leave it at your door if you aren't home.

Luckily, I live in a building with a front desk, so the front desk people can act as the consignee notification party if I'm not home. It works out really well for me, and I've never had any problems.

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