Both the waybill and bill of lading are facilitative instruments of international trade. The main difference between a waybill and bill of lading is that while the bill of lading conveys title, the waybill merely serves as evidence that the consignee has contracted with the shipper to carry the goods to an identified destination. A waybill normally contains a list of the items included in the cargo by the shipper, the condition of the cargo, and the name of the consignee. The shipper will endorse the waybill after acknowledging that the information provided on it is correct.
The waybill is differentiated according to the medium of transport. For instance, the waybill issued for an ocean freight is known as a sea waybill. This same principle applies to air, road and rail transport. In order to illustrate the difference between the waybill and a bill of lading, it helps to consider a situation where a bill of lading does not reach the captain of a ship who has been mandated to ferry cargo to a specified destination. The sea waybill will serve as adequate proof that the captain has received the goods and has been contracted to ship it to a named consignee.
Such a captain will accept the sea waybill in lieu of the bill of lading for the purpose of shipping the goods. The goods will be handed over to the consignee who has been identified on the sea waybill. Waybills must necessarily have the name of a consignee who will receive the goods at the destination port. This is another difference between the waybill and bill of lading. The purpose of having a sea waybill is to expedite the process of discharging the goods once the goods have been ferried to their final destinations. Most times, the official bill of lading will not reach the captain in such a manner as to allow for a timely discharge of the cargo.
Another difference between the waybill and bill of lading is the fact that the bill of lading is a negotiable instrument, unlike the waybill. This means that the owner of the bill of lading can transfer the title to anyone he or she pleases. This is not the same with a waybill, which must be transferred only to the person who has been named on the document as the consignee. In this sense, the bill of lading can be used to obtain a loan or line of credit from a financial institution as a collateral since the title can be passed to them. Such is not the same with a waybill, and banks will not accept them as collateral.