What does FOB mean in the freight industry?

FOB meaning in shipping

Many people have seen the acronym F.O.B. in shipping documents and never known what it meant. Even those in the shipping industry with knowledge of freight shipping terminology often are confused as to the true meaning.


What does FOB mean in shipping?

FOB stands for “free on board” or “freight on board” and is a designation that is used to indicate when liability and ownership of goods is transferred from a seller to a buyer. When used with an identified physical location, the designation determines which party has responsibility for the payment of the freight charges and at what point title for the shipment passes from the seller to the buyer.

In international shipping, for example, “FOB [name of originating port]” means that the seller (consignor) is responsible for transportation of the goods to the port of shipment and the cost of loading. The buyer (consignee) pays the costs of ocean freight, insurance, unloading, and transportation from the arrival port to the final destination. The seller passes the risk to the buyer when the goods are loaded at the originating port.


How is “FOB” used in shipping documents?

The term “FOB” is used in four different ways when it comes to freight shipping. These include:

  1. FOB [place of origin], Freight Collect
  2. FOB [place of origin], Freight Prepaid
  3. FOB [place of destination], Freight Collect
  4. FOB [place of destination], Freight Prepaid

The first part of the designation determines where the buyer assumes title of the goods and the risk of damage from the seller (either at the moment the carrier picks the goods up for delivery or at the time of actual delivery). The second part indicates responsibility for freight charges. “Prepaid” means the seller has paid the freight; “collect” indicates the buyer is responsible for payment.

It is important for shippers to understand FOB designations in damage situations. Some receiving docks will refuse delivery of obviously damaged goods, rather than accept with a damage notation for future claim against the carrier. However, a shipment designated FOB Origin technically belongs to the buyer/consignee at the time that it is shipped. So, the consignee would be refusing delivery of goods it legally owns and bears the risk for. The seller has no legal reason to accept those goods back and the return shipment could possibly result in additional damages.

If all of this seems too confusing to follow, consider allowing Freightquote by C.H. Robinson to handle the placement of your shipment for transport. The legal issues raised in FOB designations are nothing new to us here at Freightquote. By utilizing our easy-to-use self-service tools, you can efficiently manage your shipping strategy, should any issues arise.

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