What Is an International Waybill?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 January 2020
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Sometimes known as in international consignment note, an international waybill is a type of document that serves as the record or listing of goods that are in the process of being transported from a seller to a buyer. This type of documentation is a common part of the papers required when exporting goods to a buyer who resides in another country. The text of an international waybill must be in compliance with the shipping laws and regulations that are in force in both the country of origin and the country of destination, and serve as evidence of the agreement that exists between the buyer and seller, in terms of the nature, quantity, and type of goods being transported. The waybill is not considered to be a title to those transported goods, and as such is not considered a negotiable instrument, only a supporting document to the transaction.


Typically, the international waybill is prepared by the seller, who is known as the consignor. The terms found in the waybill will vary slightly, depending on the shipment and trading laws that apply in the nation in which the seller resides. Those terms will normally require identifying the number and type of goods being transported as part of the order, a description of the goods, the weights of those goods and the name of the consignee, usually the buyer. Other information may be required, based on the mode of transportation used to move the goods from the seller to the buyer, such as proof of insurance.

In most cases, an international waybill will be assigned a specific identification number that is often alphanumeric in nature. It is no unusual for sections of that number to provide specific data related to that shipment in some manner. For example, three characters may designate the port of origin, another three may have to do with the class of the goods shipped, and three more characters may have to do with the port of destination. Other characters may be used to identify the shippers involved in the transport, other ports of call along the way, or other factors that would be helpful in tracking the shipment during transit. Today, both the seller and the buyer can often use the international waybill number to track the progress of the shipment, allowing both to project how closely to the anticipated delivery date that the shipment will actually arrive.

It is not unusual for supporting documents to also accompany the international waybill. These may include some sort of packing list that serves to support the information on the waybill proper, especially in terms of the weight and the number of goods included in the shipment. Documents to affirm insurance on the goods may also be part of the total waybill package, as well as any other legal documents that may be required for the goods to leave or enter the ports involved in the shipment. Since the laws governing the importing and exporting of goods will vary, shipping companies and brokers who often arrange the transportation must make sure both the international waybill and the supporting documents are in compliance with the regulations at both the point of origin and the destination for the shipment.


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