International trade runs on red tape and leaves a trail of legal documents in its wake. You'll need to produce an air waybill if you ship goods internationally.
Think of an air waybill as a bill of lading – a contract between you (the shipper) and your carrier. Both parties have to follow the information stated in the contract to ensure a smooth shipping process.
It’s crucial that the information you provide in an air waybill is accurate and written to avoid any miscommunication.
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An air waybill can also be referred to as an air consignment note, a dispatch note or simply just a waybill. Shipping goods internationally can be confusing, especially when you’re unable to track down your shipment. That’s where airway bills come in handy.
What is an air waybill?
An airway bill or air waybill (AWB) is an important international shipping document – a type of bill of lading which accompanies goods shipped in air cargo shipments.
It allows shipments to be tracked and comes with multiple copies – for example, there's a consignee's copy and a shipper's copy – so that every party involved in the shipment can document it.
An air waybill document acts as a legal agreement, a non-negotiable form and contract between the parties involved – both shipper and carrier, upon the signature of both parties.
Without an airway bill, exporters would have less protection.
Should I type the information or handwrite it?
Typing the information is always the best way to fill out an AWB, or indeed any shipping documents because it's clear and easy to read.
Indeed, this is no longer simply practical – it's now standard form.
As the International Air Transport Association (IATA) points out, digitisation has changed the way the air waybill serves every party involved. Since 2010, the e-AWB is now the "default carriage of contract".
Skip the fancy fonts. Your e-AWB needs to be sent and signed by a few parties, so all specifics must be legible on all copies.
What things are required to fill in an air waybill?
Step 1: Fill in your details
Details required include:
- Account number
- Company name
- Phone number
- Complete address
- VAT or tax ID
If your complete address is different from your collection address, include both addresses.
Step 2: Fill in your receiver’s details
Detailed information required includes:
- Receiver’s name
- Phone number
- Tax ID number
If your receiver has a different delivery address, include it with the contact details in this step. A few countries will accept post office addresses.
Step 3: Fill in your shipment details
Key information required includes:
- Number of packages in your shipment
- Type of package
- Gross weight and dimensions
For international shipments, make sure you also include:
- Description of your goods
- The declared value (merchandise value) of your goods
- HS code (commodity codes, duty and VAT rates can be found here.)
Remember, some countries ban shipments of unsafe or dangerous goods, so mention the precise nature of your goods while filling in the AWB.
Include a packing list with your goods description that itemises the contents of each package. This should be attached both on the outside of the package and inside the parcel.
Here's a tip: there's no such thing as too much information. Include a
Step 4: Select your shipping service
- Next day delivery
- Delivery at a specified timing
- Weekend/public holiday service
Step 5: Fill in the billing section
The billing section determines who pays the freight charges for the carrier.
Scenario 1: If you are handling the payment, add your account number.
Scenario 2: If the receiver is paying the carrier freight charges, add their account number. Be sure that you have their consent and permission.
Step 6: Sign the AWB
Lastly, sign the airway bill. Any company representative can do this.
How can I track my air waybill (AWB) number?
You can find your airway bill number on your carrier’s shipping label, any of your email communications with your carrier, or directly from your online account.
An air waybill is an 11-digit identification number that is usually separated with a hyphen after the first three numbers.
The first three digits: which airline is carrying the shipment
The remaining eight digits: serial number of your package
An AWB is ultimately a tracking number, so you can use it to track your shipment through customs clearance at the destination airport to
Log onto your air carrier’s tracking website and enter your airway bill number to track your shipment.
If your provider can't provide real-time tracking, consider searching on a third-party site or a reliable shipping or delivery partner.
Why you must keep your airway bill handy
Airway bills are important documents in international air freight. Firstly, it's an enforceable contract between the customer and the air carrier. Having your airway bill number helps save time clearing customs and claim insurance. Moreover, it can give you peace of mind when dealing with multiple shipping parties and ensure smooth delivery.
Simplify tax compliance for your global business
Airway bills act as internationally recognised non-negotiable contracts between an international merchant and shipping parties. Apart from ensuring that you’re covered on all grounds during shipping, knowing how to avoid high forex rates can also help increase your company’s profits.
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Author: Silverbird Content Team
Illustration: Kate Faldina