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Everything You Should Know About FOB Shipping

Knowledge of the term “FOB” and how it applies to shipping is critical for all players in LTL shipping or international trade. FOB is a common freight shipping term used to indicate the point at which the responsibility and liability of the goods transfer from the seller to the buyer. This term is essential in the logistics and cost management of goods shipped globally.

There was an International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) survey report indicating that many disputes arose due to misinterpretation of FOB terms between buyers and sellers. Learning more about FOB intricacies may save you from making expensive errors and ensure trouble-free deals. Come on, let’s journey through the realm of FOB to discover its boons and safely direct you through freight shipping or international business!


18-wheelers on road

So, what is FOB? Freight on Board or Free On Board (FOB) is a commercial term worldwide recognized by the ICC. It indicates when the responsibilities and expenses of shipped goods are transferred from the seller to the buyer.

In domestic shipping, “free on board” means that when a seller sends goods, it no longer takes any responsibility. A buyer then becomes responsible for paying for shipping. Typically, a seller may be responsible for bringing the goods to a main port or destination, and a buyer will be obliged to transport them from there to his place or suppliers.

The terms of freight sale explain who will be responsible for the transportation costs. If it says “FOB delivered,” then all transportation expenses are the seller’s responsibility. If it says “FOB Origin,” the buyer is responsible for the shipment of goods from the warehouse to the final destination.

It is worth mentioning that FOB, no matter which side bears the shipping cost, does not transfer the title to cargo but just possession of it until a bill of lading or waybill is issued.


In a Cost, Insurance, and Freight (CIF) agreement, the seller takes responsibility for transporting the goods to the buyer’s destination. This includes not only the cost of freight but also insurance coverage for the goods during transit. The seller handles all expenses and risks until the goods reach the buyer. This term is commonly used when the seller wants more control over the shipping process and ensures the safe delivery of the goods to the buyer.

On the other hand, in a FOB agreement, the seller’s responsibility ends when the goods are loaded onto the vessel at the specified port. From that point onward, the buyer assumes all risks and costs associated with transportation, including insurance and any additional charges incurred during shipping. FOB is often preferred by buyers with more experience with international shipping who want greater control over the logistics and costs involved in transporting the goods.

It is important to note that the choice between CIF and FOB can have significant implications for both parties regarding cost, risk management, and overall control over the shipping process. Businesses should carefully consider their specific needs and priorities when deciding which term to use in their international trade agreements.

Example of CIF and FOB

To further illustrate the differences between CIF and FOB, let’s consider an example scenario:

Suppose a company in Country A sells electronic goods to a buyer in Country B. If they agree on a CIF arrangement, the seller will be responsible for arranging and paying for the shipment of the goods, including insurance coverage. The seller will bear the risks associated with transportation until the goods are delivered to the buyer in Country B.

On the other hand, if the parties opt for a FOB agreement, the seller’s responsibility will end once the goods are loaded onto the vessel at the port in Country A. From that point onward, the buyer will be responsible for all costs and risks associated with transporting the goods to Country B, including insurance and any unforeseen charges.


Additional charges may be incorporated into the shipping documentation, such as the freight bill or bill of lading. Some of these extra costs could encompass:

  • Customs duties
  • Insurance fees
  • Storage fees
  • Handling fees
  • Fuel surcharges

Let’s understand each of the crucial FOB terms in detail:

FOB Origin, Freight Prepaid: The seller sends the items and pays for the shipping. At the same time, the buyer receives the items and becomes responsible for them once they are sent out.

FOB Origin, Freight Collect: The buyer pays for shipping and takes full responsibility for the cargo.

FOB Origin, Freight Prepaid, & Charged Back: The seller doesn’t pay for shipping; instead, they add the shipping costs to the buyer’s invoice. The buyer then pays a higher invoice amount that includes the shipping costs. At the same time, the buyer becomes responsible for the goods and any liabilities from the starting point.

FOB Destination, Freight Prepaid, & Charged Back: The seller pays for shipping until the goods are delivered, and the buyer subtracts the costs from the invoice. The invoice already has the shipping charges paid by the seller.

FOB Destination, Freight Prepaid: The seller/shipper covers all shipping expenses until the cargo reaches the buyer’s store. The buyer does not have to pay any shipping costs.

FOB Destination, Freight Collect: The buyer pays for shipping when the goods arrive and only becomes responsible for them once they reach their location.

FOB Destination, Freight Collect, and Allowed: The shipper includes the shipping costs in the bill, which the buyer then pays. The seller is responsible for the cargo until it is delivered.


By choosing FOB terms in freight or international shipping, many benefits are acquired that boost efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Let’s dig deeper into the advantages of FOB shipping.

Implication of Cost Efficiency

Choosing FOB can help determine if the seller will be responsible for loading the goods on board the vessel at his own cost and risk, making it easier for you as a buyer not to have to bear those expenses and save money in this particular range. FOB can help you get better deals and cut down on shipping costs.

For example, if a buyer in the United States buys goods from a seller in China under FOB terms, the seller in China is responsible for the costs of loading the goods onto the vessel. This arrangement may be advantageous to buyers in the United States, as they do not have to bear these loading expenses.

Manage Risk

In the case of FOB, the seller’s responsibility is transferred to the buyer just when the goods are being loaded. The transition grants the buyer more say about what happens to the goods from that point forward, thus reducing the possibility of damage or loss during transit.

Suppose an import buyer in Germany, for example, chooses FOB terms. In that case, the risk of damage during transit is reduced since it is on the seller to safely load the cargo. This control over shipment helps to mitigate risks involved in freight or international shipping systems.

Improve Shipping Flexibility

FOB terms give buyers the power to adjust their shipping needs, which includes their choice of shipping method and carrier. With this flexibility, buyers can better customize their shipping requirements in terms of their needs and financial constraints, thus simplifying and assuring the prompt delivery of goods.

Simplify the Shipping Process

The introduction of FOB terms can make freight and international shipping easier. FOB helps to clearly identify responsibilities, decreasing misunderstandings and increasing the efficiency of the shipping process. Such clarity contributes to better overall performance later.  


Here is a list of essential clauses you don’t want to miss while drafting your FOB contract.

  • Term and Termination: This section will explain how long your contract lasts and when it begins. It could also discuss the reasons and methods for the agreement to conclude before the intended duration.
  • Quality and Quantity of the Goods: It describes the requirements for the quality and quantity of goods the buyer intends to buy.
  • Pricing: Everyone involved should agree upon the price beforehand and clearly mention it in the agreement to avoid confusion later.
  • Shipment Schedule: This section must specify the person or parties responsible for arranging the shipment. It should also provide information on the schedule, including the arrival time at the port for loading, departure time from the port, and arrival time at the destination port.
  • Force Majeure: This clause is important in any agreement because it describes situations neither party could predict. It decides what to do if the ship or cargo is damaged during transportation because of unexpected events.
  • Indemnification: When one party fails to fulfill its duties, the other party suffers losses. In such scenarios, this clause outlines who is responsible for covering the other party’s losses and how much of those losses will be paid.
  • Dispute Resolution: The parties can choose to settle any future disagreements without resorting to court. This clause offers various alternative methods for the parties to resolve their disputes.


This section will help you understand the common misconceptions prevalent with FOB. 

Misunderstanding the FOB Terms

Many people incorrectly think that FOB terms apply to all shipping and trade scenarios. Nevertheless, the application of FOB depends on the specific details of each commercial transaction.

Automated Risk Mitigation

A further mistaken belief is that risk automatically passes for one party once the title transfers just because something is sold as FOB. Risk management under FOB requires meticulous planning and constant awareness.

Exclusivity to Certain Modes of Transport

Some think that FOB terms are exclusive to maritime shipping. Although FOB started in marine trade, it is now used in this mode as well as air and land freight.

Missing the Cost Aspect

There is a myth that FOB terms incorporate all costs and expenses. Nonetheless, although ownership changes hands when goods are loaded aboard, there are still liabilities requiring expenditure, which mandates astute cost management.

Transport truck on open road


What does FOB stand for in shipping?

FOB stands for Free On Board or Freight on Board, and it tells us that the seller is responsible for the goods until they are loaded onto the vessel at the named port.

What are the buyer’s main responsibilities when using FOB shipping terms?

Under FOB shipping terms, the buyer’s primary responsibilities are to arrange the main carriage and pay for insurance and all other additional costs after loading the goods.

How does FOB impact the risk and cost of shipping goods internationally?

FOB terms affect the risk and cost by specifying when, during the shipment process, the obligation and ownership of the goods shift from seller to buyer.

What are the critical differences between FOB and CIF shipping terms?

The main difference between FOB and CIF is who takes responsibility for buying insurance for the goods during their transportation. In the case of FOB, the buyer arranges it, while in the case of CIF, it is the seller’s responsibility.

Why is understanding FOB important for both buyers and sellers in international trade?

The clear depiction of the risk transfer point benefits both parties; this understanding helps assign cost responsibilities and guarantees smooth transactions within the framework of international trade.