A bill of lading is a type of document that is used to acknowledge the receipt of a shipment of goods. A transportation company or carrier issues this document to a shipper. In addition to acknowledging the receipt of goods, a bill of lading indicates the particular vessel on which the goods have been placed, their intended destination, and the terms for transporting the shipment to its final destination.

Inland, ocean, through, and air waybill are the names given to bills of lading. An inland bill of lading is a document that establishes an agreement between a shipper and a transportation company for the transportation of goods. It is used to lay out the terms for transporting items overland to the exporter's international transportation company. An ocean bill of lading is a document that provides terms between an exporter and international carrier for the shipment of goods to a foreign location overseas.

A through bill of lading is a contract that covers the specific terms agreed to by a shipper and carrier. This document covers the domestic and international transportation of export merchandise. It provides the details of the agreed upon transportation between specific locations for a set monetary amount. An air waybill is a bill of lading that establishes terms of flights for the transportation of goods both domestically and internationally. This document also serves as a receipt for the shipper, proving the carrier's acceptance of the shipper's goods and agreement to carry those goods to a specific airport.

Essentially, an air waybill is a type of through bill of lading. This is because air waybills may cover both international and domestic transportation of goods. By contrast, ocean shipments require both inland and ocean bills of lading. Inland bills of lading are necessary for the domestic transportation of goods and ocean bills of lading are necessary for the international of goods. Therefore, through bills of lading may not be used for ocean shipments.

Inland and ocean bills of lading may be negotiable or non-negotiable. If the bill of lading is non-negotiable, the transportation carrier is required to provide delivery only to the consignee named in the document. If the bill of lading is negotiable, the person with ownership of the bill of lading has the right of ownership of the goods and the right to re-route the shipment.