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How long must I store original bills of lading after shipment is complete..??

Article based on a question from a reader about how long to store original bills of lading after completion of shipment..

Oksana wants to know


  • How long should the original bill of lading be stored after the completion of the shipment
  • Is there any International Law that says how many years the original bills of lading must be stored
  • How long should the consignee keep the original bills in the company’s archives

Remember that the function of a Bill of Lading is three-fold

  1. Evidence of Contract of Carriage
  2. Receipt of Goods and
  3. Document of Title

As I have mentioned in my previous article What happens to the original bill of lading after a shipment has been completed, if the bill of lading is negotiable and one of originals issued is duly discharged, the others are null and void.. Therefore whether you maintain the other originals or destroy them, it doesn’t matter..

A clause like below is generally stated on the bill of lading which covers the legality..legal

” If this is a negotiable (To Order / of) Bill of Lading, one original Bill of Lading, duly endorsed must be surrendered by the Merchant to the Carrier (together with outstanding Freight) in exchange for the Goods or a Delivery Order.

If this is a non-negotiable (straight) Bill of Lading, the Carrier shall deliver the Goods or issue a Delivery Order (after payment of outstanding Freight) against the surrender of one original Bill of Lading or in accordance with the national law at the Port of Discharge or Place of Delivery whichever is applicable. 

IN WITNESS WHEREOF the Carrier or their Agent has signed the number of Bills of Lading stated at the top, all of this tenor and date, and wherever one original Bill of Lading has been surrendered all other Bills of Lading shall be void. “


One Original Bill of Lading, duly endorsed, must be surrendered by the Merchant to the Carrier in exchange for the Goods or a delivery order. In accepting this Bill of Lading the Merchant expressly accepts and agrees to all its terms and conditions whether printed, stamped or written, or otherwise incorporated, notwithstanding the  non-signing of this Bill of Lading by the Merchant.

IN WITNESS THEREOF the number of original Bills of Lading stated below all of this tenor and date has been signed, one of which being accomplished the others to stand void.

As far as I know, there is no International and Common Law that states how long the bills of lading have to be maintained/stored..

HOWEVER, each country has some statutory requirements of how long certain documents needs to be maintained..

If you are the shipping line or shipping lines agent, you would maintain the duly discharged original bill of lading in your vessel file and deal with the storage of the vessel file as per your company’s archival policy..


If anyone knows of some law about how long to store original bill of lading, contrary to what I have mentioned above, please feel free to advise..


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Hariesh Manaadiar
Hariesh Manaadiarhttps://www.shippingandfreightresource.com
I am Hariesh Manaadiar, the Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource.. I have been in the dynamic shipping and freight industry for over three decades and have worked in several sectors.. I share my experiences and knowledge of the industry through this blog for those looking for help in the industry.. Stay subscribed for more free useful content about shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, supply chain and trade..


  1. Dear Mr Hariesh

    2 years , to keep original b/l , after this period there is no right for consignee to clear his cargo



  2. If a shipment is over and a third party acquires an original BL while an other original has been marked null and void, are there any frauds that can occur from this situation?

    • Hello George, in response to this and your other comment, if the shipping line/agent follows proper release procedures and also the proper process on the marking of the original bill of lading once the cargo has been released, then there will not be any chance of fraud.. It doesn’t matter who has the other originals issued..

  3. Hello
    Depends on local laws
    In france it is 10 years, in Chile 5….
    Best way to find out is to call your local shipping agency and ask their legal department! They’ll be able to give you the local standard

  4. good day
    even if shipment is complete the best way is to keep ob/l
    because it should be a proof if there is legal problem beetween buyer and seller
    this document is very important so keep it

  5. On the sidelines , copy / original of BoL is useful for future reconciliation requirements if the projects being implemented are government related. It is not uncommon for some of the EPC’s to try and indulge in fraud where possible and the system can be tweaked for reasons best known to themselves.In such a scenario , the client can always check with the shipping liner records at a future time/instance. In mega projects , it is not uncommon for them to be implemented over 6 – 7 years time though initially it would be planned only for a 24 month duration.

    Hope this helps.


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