Frequently Asked Questions
What does “importer of record” mean?
The importer of record is an individual or entity, who takes responsibility for importing goods in accordance with US Customs regulations. In addition to providing
informed compliance, the importer is legally responsible for duties, taxes, and fees, as well as any related fines, penalties or late fees. For this reason, importers of record must have a U.S. Customs bond to secure these payments prior to filing an entry.
The importer may be a US or foreign entity. However, a foreign entity must also provide a U.S. agent (i.e. consignee) for customs clearance. In most cases, such a consignee shares the address where shipment is being sent.
Can a foreign entity be the importer of record?
Yes. However, there are some differences in how a foreign entity registers and receives a CBP number, and also how they must handle individual entries.
In terms of registration, the CBP requires a foreign importer of record to execute a Corporate Certification by someone other than the person who signs the power of attorney. This affirms that the signer is authorized to bind their organization to a legal agreement of this nature, either through its Articles of Incorporation, Charter, by-laws, or resolutions.
Since a non-resident is unlikely to have a Federal Tax ID, which is how CBP identifies the importer of record, importers can apply instead for a CBP Assigned Number.
When filing an entry, there's one critical difference in terms of the ultimate consignee, the party in the United States to whom the overseas shipper sold the imported merchandise. If the merchandise has not been sold at the time of entry, the ultimate consignee is officially the proprietor of the U.S. premises to which the merchandise is to be delivered. The ultimate consignee is identified by their Federal Tax ID. Unlike an importer of record, the ultimate consignee does not need a bond and bears no legal obligation to pay duties.
NOTE: Do not declare a nominal consignee (carrier, express consignment operator, freight forwarder, or consolidator), unless 1) they own the merchandise, or 2) accompanying documentation shows their premises as the location to which the merchandise is being delivered.
If you have any questions concerning this process, don’t hesitate to contact us at
Do I need a US Customs bond?
You are required to post a US Customs bond whenever you are importing:
Goods valued at more than $2,500 into the U.S. for commercial purposes; and/or
A US Customs bond guarantees payment of duties, taxes, fees, fines, and penalties that may be due to CBP.
Goods subject to clearance by federal agencies such as FDA, EPA, etc.
Should I get a single-entry or a continuous (i.e. annual) US Customs bond?
A bond can be purchased for each individual shipment. Alternately, you can opt for coverage for multiple shipments during an entire 12-month period. This is known as a continuous, or annual, bond. For individual shipments, the value of the bond must cover both the value of the goods themselves, as well as all related duties, taxes, and fees—then rounded to the next $1,000.
A continuous bond must cover 10% of estimated duties, taxes, and fees over a 12-month period, with minimum coverage of $50,000. As a general rule, you need to incur $500,000 in duties and fees annually to exceed the minimum.
Here are some other considerations as you decide what kind of bond you need.
* Single transaction bonds do not cover Importer Security Filing (ISF). If your shipment is arriving by ocean, you must file an ISF 24 hours prior to departure. Because the ISF is an independent transaction involving a separate set of risks, you must secure it via a separate bond, called an ISF bond (Zeus provides this for $90).
* When importing goods regulated by any government agency in addition to US Customs and Border Protection (i.e. FDA, DOT, or CPSC), you must triple the liability limit when calculating the value of a single transaction bond calculation.
* Only goods imported via a continuous bond are eligible for Periodic Monthly Statement (PMS) processing, which provides the advantage of extended payment terms (up to 45 days).
There are multiple factors to work through when selecting a bond. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about a particular transaction.
What are Partner Government Agencies (PGAs)?
Formerly known as Other Government Agencies or OGAs, there are countless "Partner Government Agencies" that have an enforcement role either at the border or elsewhere within distribution channels. Many of these agencies have published their own import manuals, which can be found
Here's a quick list of what is regulated and by whom.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
FDA regulates a lot of products, more than what immediately comes to mind. The list includes foods, cosmetics, medical devices, drugs, tobacco, and dietary supplements. It also includes cups, plates, utensils, shampoo, makeup brushes, sponges, and compression apparel. Bottom line, they regulate anything that claims to treat or prevent disease, or affects the structure of the body, including the skin.
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
Meat, poultry, or processed egg products. This agency is responsible for ensuring these products are safe, wholesome, unaltered and properly labeled and packaged.
Furniture, hardwood floors, instruments, hand tools, etc. Most articles made of wood must comply with the Lacey Act and require completion of a
PPQ Form 505.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Toxic substances, chemical products, pesticides, nail polish, glow in the dark sticks, and pens are some examples of products regulated by this agency. In order to import, a TSCA Certification must be provided.
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
This agency works closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to identify and examine imported shipments of consumer products. Your product could be on their target list, which includes children’s products containing excessive levels of lead, children’s sleepwear, toys and other articles with small parts that children could swallow, and general use products such as mattresses, art materials, fireworks and lighters.
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)
An arm of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the TTB regulates the import of tobacco, wines and spirits, firearms, and ammunition.
Department of Transportation (DOT)
Tires, exhaust systems, brake components, seats (including child seats), even parts designed principally for golf carts.
Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS)
Any products made of reptilian leathers, wildlife teeth, claws, and bird feathers are subject to FWS regulations and enforcement.
Keep in mind that the list above is only a subset of all PGAs regulating imported merchandise. It is the importer’s responsibility to know which PGAs require notification. If you have any questions concerning these regulations, contact us at
email@example.com for more information.
What defines a single customs “entry”?
One entry is defined as a set of goods that: 1) shares the same importer of record, 2) arrives on the same vessel; and 3) passes through customs at the same port of entry. Within a single entry, you can have any number of shippers, invoices, house bills of lading, master bills of lading, and containers.
However, it may be in your interest to break up entries rather than consolidate all goods into a single entry. When the CBP selects an entry for an exam, all associated containers and bills of lading are usually held as well. So depending on the potential consequences of a long hold and/or the probability of an exam by CPB, you may opt to create more than one entry.
In doing so, some best practices include: 1) limiting the number of containers per entry to no more than 3 or 4; and 2) entering goods regulated by the FDA separately.
How do I pay duties to US Customs and Border Protection?
There are two ways you can pay duties and fees, either via Zeus, your customs broker or directly to CBP. Having Zeus make payments on your behalf will always add a layer of cost such as wire fees and a bit of additional work on your part. If you import regularly, we suggest you set up a direct payment with CBP via ACH debit. CBP has made it very easy to make payments directly. Just complete the ACH Debit Application found
here. Here are some suggestions when completing this form:
1. Be sure to check the "Add" box at the top
Contact name is Senta Schreiber,
2. The Payer Importer Number is the same as your Employer Identification Number (EIN) (also know as your Federal Tax Identification Number)
3. Submit directly to ACH-Customs@cbp.dhs.gov
The application usually takes 2 to 4 weeks to process. You will receive a Payer Unit Number (PUN), which you can add to all future entries so that they will be "paid directly." We also recommend participating in the CBP’s Periodic Monthly Statement process. This includes no-interest payment terms for up to 45 days. If you need help we are there for you.
ABI Representative is Scott Brevik
What is a manifest hold, and how can I avoid them?
A manifest hold is a decision by the CBP to physically examine a shipment based on the documentation sent prior to departure from the last foreign port (i.e. the AMS or ISF entry). While there is always the chance of randomized manifest holds, certain things increase the odds that this could happen, including:
Cargo that flags security concerns, like particularly heavy or dense cargo or a manufacturer suddenly exporting an entirely different kind of product.
A vague description on the bill of lading, such as spare parts or auto parts instead of truck brakes.
What are liquidated damages, and how do I pay them?
A "notice of penalty or liquidated damages incurred" is a charge against an importer's bond for violating the terms of said bond. These include obligations such as paying duties, taxes, and fees, producing all necessary documentation, re-delivering merchandise on demand, and an array of similar requirements.
If you receive such a notice, remember that you can try to mitigate the amount due via petition. If you think there are mitigating factors to consider, the Zeus team is standing by to assist.
Alternately, you can pay an established amount, usually between $100 and $200, within a given period of time to resolve the issue. In doing so, you waive the right to file a petition.
You pay this so-called "offer in compromise" at www.pay.gov. In addition to your company's name, address, and Federal Tax ID number, you will need to enter the 16-digit case number. Leave the "FP Bill" blank, and enter the amount you want to pay.
How does the Periodic Monthly Statement (PMS) system work?
Want an extra 45 days to pay your duties interest free? No wire fees or last minute rushes to get duties paid? Then sign up for PMS and CBP will debit them via ACH. Historically, duties and fees were due within 10 business days of the release of the goods by CBP. However, the PMS system provides a simple way to improve cash flow with interest-free terms for payment up to 45 days after release—specifically, by the 15th business day of the month following the release of the shipment.
It usually takes three to four weeks to process a PMS application, and it requires you to hold a continuous bond. If you have questions about how to apply for PMS or better manage your participation, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are the required elements of a commercial invoice?
A well-constructed commercial invoice is essential in order to avoid manifest holds and expedite cargo exams. A commercial invoice should contain all the information—in English—that a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer needs when determining whether goods being imported are admissible—and that they have been correctly classified.
All required information can be contained within the invoice itself, or via an attachment. While there is no specific format for an invoice, 141.86 of Title 19 of the
Code of Federal Regulations requires that each invoice must include, among other things, the following information:
The time and place that merchandise has or will be sold, and the parties that are selling and buying the merchandise.
A detailed description of the merchandise, including product name, the product’s grade or quality, the materials from which it is constructed, and the marks, numbers, and symbols under which it is sold in the country of exportation—plus, the marks and numbers of the packages in which the merchandise is packed.
Both the gross and net weight of items, in the metric system.
The purchase price of each item in the currency of purchase (note that more than 20 countries use the $ symbol, so be sure to use the three letter code, (e.g. USD, SGD, CNY, EUR) to indicate the currency being referenced.
In the absence of defined payment values such as for free samples, include the price the manufacturer, seller, shipper, or owner would have received, or was willing to receive, for such merchandise.
All additional charges on top of the merchandise itemized by name and amount, including freight, handling charges, insurance, commissions, and packaging. You do not need to include the cost of packing, cases, containers, and foreign inland freight to the port of exportation, if included (and specifically noted) in the invoice price.
All rebates, drawbacks, and bounties, separately itemized, allowed upon the exportation of the merchandise. This could include the refund of sales taxes such as VAT.
The country or countries of origin of the merchandise.
Digging a little deeper, here are some finer points about requirements:
All goods or services furnished for the production of the merchandise (e.g. dies, molds, tools, engineering work) not included in the invoice price. However, goods or services provided in the United States are excluded.
Packing list. This information is sometimes included on the commercial invoice but is also sometimes a separate document. The packing list has details about the merchandise contained in each individual package. If CBP does an inspection, they will pay attention to the match between the merchandise described in the commercial invoice and the packking list. If the two don't match, be prepared for delays, further scrutiny, and additional costs.
Weights and measures. If the invoice or entry leaves out the weight, gage, or measure of the merchandise required to calculate duties, the consignee must pay the expense of weighing, gaging, or measuring. So, try and get this put on the commercial invoice to avoid the expense and hassle.
Discounts. Each invoice must set forth in detail every discount from list or other base price including the reason for the discount.
Name of responsible individual. Each invoice must include the name of an employee of the exporter who has knowledge, or can readily obtain knowledge, of the transaction.
How do I calculate the merchandise processing fee?
The Merchandise Processing Fee (MPF) is the most common fee that the CBP assesses. Except in cases where goods are specifically exempt because of a trade agreement with the exporting nation, all formal and informal entries are subject to the Merchandise Processing Fee (MPF).
For formal entries, the MPF is calculated at 0.3464 percent of the entered value of the merchandise, not including duty, freight, or insurance. During the fiscal year 2021, the MPF minimum and maximum thresholds were $27.23 and $528.33 respectively (see CBP information center for
current rates). Rates are subject to change each year, according to the rate of inflation.
MPFs for informal entries range from $2.18 to $9.80 per shipment.
If you are wondering if an import is exempt from MPF charges, contact us at
email@example.com for more information.
How do I manage bills of lading for ISF purposes?
In order to be recognized by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), your ISF must have an accepted match with bills of lading numbers. Without a match, an ISF is not valid—and that is not a good thing. Read about potential penalties
To avoid failures to match, here are some guidelines:
You must report the bill of lading at the lowest level. That is, if there is a house (vs. master) bill in the AMS, the house bill must also be included in the ISF. For more information on the different types of bills of lading see
When entering either a master or house bill of lading, make sure you also include the carrier's Standard Carrier Alpha Code (SCAC). Discrepancies will lead to a failure to match.
If you're unsure how the bill of lading was entered in the AMS, ask Zeus to query your bill of lading number.
If you don't receive an immediate match, check the vessel departure date. You may have filed your ISF before the carrier or NVOCC filed the AMS. Remember that ISFs can be filed no earlier than 5 days and no later than 48 hours before a vessel departs the port of origin.
If you have any questions, please contact
firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
How does an FDA hold work?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates a very wide range of products entering the United States, is very active at the border. When you send data about imports to FDA, the agency immediately enters a "Pending FDA Review" status. This hold could last for up to 48 hours, though more often they will send either a "May Proceed" or "Hold Intact" order within a couple hours.
With the entry number, you can check the status directly from the FDA
here. You can also upload documents and provide additional information FDA requests.
While under review, you may pick cargo up, but it is expected to remain in the vicinity of the port (usually understood to mean within 30 to 50 miles). In the case of a "Hold Intact" message, set aside the goods in your warehouse and don't handle them until further notice.
If you have any questions concerning this process, please contact
email@example.com for assistance.
What are FDA Prior Notices and how do they work?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires you to provide prior notification of food entries, including animal feed. This advance notice enables the FDA to target import inspections more effectively and protect that nation's food supply against terrorist acts and other public health emergencies.
You must send an electronic Prior Notice before a food shipment arrives at the first port in the United States, and the FDA must confirm receipt. Deadlines for submitting Prior Notice varies, depending on mode of transportation involved:
By land via road—No less than 2 hours before arrival
By land via rail—No less than 4 hours before arrival
By air—No less than 4 hours before arrival
Zeus will file Prior Notice for your shipment as part of the entry process. Remember, it is important to get us your documents as early as possible.
By water—No less than 8 hours before arrival
Please don’t hesitate to contact us at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.
Do I need a D-U-N-S number for FDA regulated products?
A D-U-N-S Number establishes your company’s D&B® file, which helps possible partners and lenders learn more about your business. More importantly, FDA now uses this number to assess the potential risk in terms of imported goods.
To get a D-U-N-S number:
Select "I have a U.S. based business" from the drop down menu
Search using your name and state
Turnaround is usually three to four days.
If there are no results, click "Get a New D-U-N-S Number" at the bottom—or click
How do you determine country of origin?
A product’s country of origin can affect the rate of duty, the eligibility for special programs, admissibility, quotas, marking requirements, and more.
Note that there is a key distinction between “non-preferential” rules, which are those that apply to merchandise in the absence of a trade agreement, and “preferential” rules, such as those that are used to determine eligibility for special treatment under various trade agreements or special legislation.
All non-preferential rules of origin are based on the idea of “
substantial transformation” when the good consists of materials from more than one country. Substantial transformation is generally considered to be a change in name, character, use, etc.
However, the rules of origin for textiles and textile products use a stricter version of the substantial transformation principle, called the tariff-shift method. This requires a product's HTS classification to shift from one tariff to another. If you have any questions about the tariff-shift method, please contact email@example.com for assistance.
Note that “minor processing” doesn't change the country of origin, for example:
Dismantling or disassembly
Simple packing, repacking, or retail packaging
If you have any questions concerning the country of origin, please contact
firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Mere dilution with water or another substance that does not materially alter the characteristics of the material
What are the differences between duties, taxes, and fees?
A duty is a tariff or tax imposed on goods when moving across international borders. They are usually imposed on an "ad valorem" basis, i.e. a percentage of the value of the goods being imported. The principle purpose of any customs duty is to protect a country's economy, environment, public health, etc. by controlling the flow of goods into and out of the country.
Taxes, by contrast, are levied in order to defray the general costs of government. Common taxes associated with importation include the excise tax imposed on imported tobacco and alcoholic products by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). This money goes to a general fund or trust fund (along with gasoline, airline tickets, local telephone service, and other excise taxes) to pay for various goods and services.
Finally, there are fees. Fees are levied to pay for the costs of a specific government program or service. For example, the Customs and Border Protection collects a Merchandise Processing Fee and Harbor Maintenance Fee for most goods that arrive by ocean shipment.
What is the liquidation process and how does it work?
Liquidation is the final calculation of the money you owe the CBP, based on their understanding of duty rates and the value of the goods you are importing. For the majority of imports, this is the final phase of importing. It typically occurs with a year of entry into the US, but the CBP may take more time under certain circumstances.
Note that at the time of entry, you pay the estimated duties based on the classification you used. At the time of liquidation, CBP determines whether the estimated amount was correct and makes any adjustment. In the case of a higher amount, the CBP will issue a supplemental duty bill. If on the other hand you owe less than what you estimated, the CBP will refund the difference back to the importer. However, if the difference is less than $25, the CBP will neither charge more nor refund the difference.
Common reasons for discrepancies between the estimated and liquidation amount include:
Use of an incorrect HTSUS code
A new ruling on similar merchandise by CBP
As long as liquidation has not been suspended or extended by CBP, the entry will automatically be liquidated using the estimated values provided upon the entry of the goods.
CBP can extend liquidation up to three times in one-year increments. Some reasons to extend include the following:
A recent court decision about a similar commodity.
The importer has requested a lower duty rate or requested suspension while pending a formal ruling from CBP.
CBP wants more information, the final rate has not yet been decided, or the value of goods have not been determined.
If the importer disagrees with higher duties and fees at the time of liquidation in their ruling on the entry, they can appeal the decision for up to 180 days after an entry has been liquidated by filing a formal protest.
The goods are subject to antidumping or countervailing duties.
If you have any questions concerning the liquidation or protest process, contact us at email@example.com.
How do I import commercial samples under Chapter 98?
There are multiple ways to import commercial samples into the United States duty free, including as a Temporary Import under Bond (TIB), as a Carnet, or as prototypes under subheading 9817.85.01.
In addition, you can also import very small quantities of samples on a traditional consumption entry. Here are the three most common sample types:
9811.00.60. Any sample, except those referenced above, valued not over $1 each, or marked, torn, perforated or otherwise treated so it is unsuitable for sale.
9811.00.20. Alcoholic beverages samples (each sample containing not more than 300 milliliters if a malt beverage, not more than 150 milliliters if a wine, and not more than 100 milliliters if any other alcoholic beverage).
Note that "unsuitable for sale or for use other than as a sample" is strictly defined, particularly for textiles and footwear.
9811.00.40. Samples of tobacco products, and cigarette papers and tubes (each sample consisting of not more than (a) 3 cigars, (b) 3 cigarettes, (c) 3.5 grams of tobacco, (d) 3.5 grams of snuff, (e) 3 cigarette tubes, or (f) 25 cigarette papers).
Clothing merchandise must be marked “SAMPLE” in indelible ink or paint or cut or torn in the manner prescribed in the Interim Update to Customs Directive 3500-07, Textiles Samples Guidelines, dated January 4, 1989.
Sample footwear must be either: (1) marked “SAMPLE- NOT FOR RESALE” conspicuously and in a location where the ink is not likely to wear off; or (2) both shoes must have a 1/4 inch hole drilled in the sole of each shoe, so that the item is unsuitable for commercial sale still useful as a sample.
If you're importing commercial samples, don’t hesitate to contact us at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.
What is a Carnet?
A Carnet is an official document issued by an association recognized by the International Chamber of Commerce. Carnets, also referred to as “merchandise passports,” are international customs documents that streamline the temporary importation of specific types of goods.
In the U.S., two types of carnets are issued:
ATA Carnets. These allow for the temporary importation of commercial samples, professional equipment, goods for exhibitions and fairs, and traveling events such as theater and musical performances.
Carnets can cover virtually all types of merchandise, as long as it is for one of the reasons listed above. However, Carnets specifically do NOT cover consumable or disposable goods, giveaways, or goods subject to repair. Motor vehicles may travel on an ATA Carnet only if the vehicles are commercial samples, professional equipment (e.g. for races) or to be displayed at an exhibition or fair.
TECRO/AIT Carnets. These are valid only for trade between the U.S. and Taiwan, They cover for the temporary importation of commercial samples and professional equipment only.
Rules governing the use of Carnets can be complex. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at
email@example.com if you have questions.
Do I need a power of attorney (POA) to work with a customs broker?
Yes. We need to establish a legal connection with you, and that is where the Power of Attorney (POA) comes in. Once you have established Power of Attorney, we are able to:
Act as a grantor for any bond required for importing
Endorse, sign, and declare requests for delivery, entry, or withdrawal
Process any declaration, certificate, protest, bill of lading, or affidavit
While you don't need to be a resident of the U.S. to import or export goods, the customs broker to whom you give Power of Attorney does have to be a US resident.
For most importers (e.g. corporations, sole proprietors, and individuals), powers of attorney may be granted to the customer broker for an unlimited period. However, the situation is different for partnerships. In this case, POAs must be limited to a maximum of two years. Also note that if there is any change to the membership of the partnership during the agreement’s term, the POA becomes invalid and you must obtain a new POA.
To be valid, the POA must be signed and include the following:
Collect drawback and duty refunds.
The importer’s US tax reporting number;
The importer’s status (corporation, partnership, sole proprietor, individual); and
While the Power of Attorney document is quite standard, there are some important details to remember, so that you ensure the POA is valid for importing and exporting:
Standard Power of Attorney terms, limited or unlimited.
Officer of the Company – A POA is only valid if signed by someone who is considered an "officer" of the company. That means they have the title of President, Vice-President, Secretary, or Treasurer. Their title could be Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Financial Officer. Alternately, the company may choose someone else — e.g. a buying director. However, the organization must provide this person with a separate Power of Attorney empowering them to do so.
No Notary Required – There is no need to notarize Power of Attorney documents, as long as either an officer or another legally empowered person signs the POA.
Ready to get started? You can fill out our Customs POA
here. If you a question about POAs or anything else related, don’t hesitate to contact us at
For Customs Business Only – A CBP Power of Attorney does not give the customs broker any power within your business. It simply authorizes them to work on your behalf for customs transactions only.
What is a Bill of Lading, and what should it include?
The bill of lading (B/L for short) is perhaps the single most critical document for importers. It serves as receipt and confirms the right of ownership for the various parties that come into possession of imported goods as they move from the seller to the buyer.
Here is how B/Ls work, in a nutshell.
1. Issuance. The B/L is created by the carrier (the company that does the actual shipping, whether by land or sea) upon receiving goods from the shipper or their agent. The B/L confirms that the carrier has take possession of the goods and that they are ready for shipment. The carrier hands the the B/L to the shipper/exporter or their agent (i.e. a freight forwarder), known as the “consignor” in B/L speak.
2. Transfer to purchaser. Once the shipper/exporter confirms receipt of payment for the goods, they can release the goods to the purchaser/importer in several. They can send the importer or their agent (the "consignee" in B/L-speak) an original copy of the B/L, which the consignee uses to claim goods from the carrier at the port of arrival. Alternately, they can release the goods electronically via a Telex release or an Express release.
Typically, a B/L includes the following:
Rules governing B/Ls can be complex. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.
- Company details for of the carrier, the shipper and importer and/or their agents (for example, a customs broker who can shepherd goods through customs on their behalf)
- The port where the goods were loaded
- The destination
- Transportation mode (i.e. road, rail, sea, etc.). Note that goods that arrive by air use a document called an air waybill rather than a B/L.
- The INCO terms of the shipment
- Accurate and complete description of all types of goods being imported, including their weight, dimensions, classification, etc. (e.g. you can’t just write ‘auto parts’ and leave it at that).
- The notify party, i.e. the name, address, and contact information of the person or company who should be notifiedprior to or upon the arrival of the cargo at its destination port.
What is the difference between a Master Bill of Lading and a House Bill of Lading?
Often, international shipping does not only simply involve the three key partiers—shipper/expirter, the carrier, and purchaser/importer. Frequently, there is also a fourth party involved, called a non-vessel-operating common carrier (NVOCC).
NVOCCs are charged with handling the goods as they move: 1) between the shipper and the carrier; and 2) between the carrier and the importer. Their responsibilities typically include booking space on the carrier, booking and managing transport of goods as they physically move from the shipper's facility to the carrier at port of origin, and receiving them from the carrier at the port of destination and transporting them to the importer's facility.
NVOCC Issue House Bills of Lading
When NVOCCs are involved, it is generally their job to issue the B/L, which in this case is called a House Bill of Lading. It is issued to the shipper to acknowledge the NVOCC has received their goods and is taking responsibility to ship them to the purchaser.
Carriers Issue Master Bills of Lading
When the NVOCC hands over goods to the carrier, the carrier issues a new B/L to the NVOCC. However, NVOCCs typically book passage of different cargo from multiple clients on the same ship. So instead of issuing multiple B/Ls for each of the NVOCC's individual shipment, the carrier usually issues a single B/L that consolidates all the cargo from all the NVOCC's clients. This version of a B/L is known as the Master Bill of Lading.
Note that the Master Bill of Lading is, for obvious reasons, also known as the Ocean B/L or Carrier B/L.