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Exploring FOB Shipping Point vs Destination: Key Differences

Phuc Le
October 31, 2023

FOB, an acronym for 'Free On Board,' is an internationally recognized shipping term. FOB regulations establish the parties responsible for goods during sea transport and determine the party liable for costs in case of any mishaps. In this article, gain insights into the contrast between FOB shipping point and FOB destination, empowering you to make informed decisions when navigating shipping contracts. 



FOB, an acronym for "Free On Board," is a globally accepted shipping guideline formulated by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). It delineates the pivotal juncture at which a buyer or seller assumes responsibility for goods in transit via sea transport. The FOB designation defines the party accountable for a shipment from the originating port to the designated port. It signifies the moment when ownership of the goods shifts from the seller to the buyer, determining who bears the financial burden of transportation and addresses any potential issues.

It's important to note that FOB regulations pertain exclusively to shipments by sea and inland waterways; distinct ICC regulations govern air, rail, and road freight.

1. FOB Shipping Point vs. FOB Destination

In shipping contracts and documentation, the term "FOB" is accompanied by a specific location within parentheses, typically indicating either the port of origin or the destination port. This location choice fundamentally influences the party responsible for the goods during transit.

  • FOB Shipping Point:

When the location within parentheses designates the origin port, it is referred to as "FOB Shipping Point." In this scenario, the buyer assumes responsibility for the products as soon as they depart from the point of shipment.

Under FOB Shipping Point conditions, the seller's obligations conclude once the purchased items are handed over to the shipping carrier, commencing the shipment. Consequently, the buyer gains ownership of the goods at this point. Unless otherwise specified in the shipping agreement, the buyer is responsible for all costs from the moment the shipping vessel departs until they receive the goods. Misinterpreting FOB Shipping Point terms can be costly for buyers, potentially leaving them with damaged goods and unexpected expenses.

  • FOB Destination:

Conversely, when the location designates the destination port, it is termed "FOB Destination." Here, the seller remains accountable for the goods until the completion of the shipment.

FOB Destination stands in contrast to FOB Shipping Point. With goods labeled as FOB Destination, the seller retains responsibility for damages, losses, and associated expenses until the shipment is successfully delivered. FOB Destination terms are denoted by the term "Destination" or the specific destination port in parentheses.

For buyers, FOB Destination terms offer peace of mind, as they only accept the shipment upon flawless arrival, marking the sale as officially completed.

2. Impact of FOB Terms on Accounting
  • Influence on Shipping Costs:

FOB terms have a direct impact on shipping costs. When goods are shipped under FOB Shipping Point terms, the buyer is responsible for shipping costs from the point of shipment, which can result in a higher financial burden on the buyer. On the other hand, under FOB Destination terms, the seller is responsible for shipping costs until the goods reach the buyer's location, potentially reducing the immediate shipping cost burden on the buyer.

  • Timing of Revenue Recognition:

FOB terms impact when revenue is recognized in financial statements. Under FOB Shipping Point, the sale is considered complete when the goods are handed over to the shipping carrier, prompting the seller to recognize revenue immediately. In contrast, under FOB Destination, revenue recognition is delayed until the goods reach the buyer's location.

  • Impact on Inventory Accounting:

The choice of FOB terms also affects how businesses account for goods in their inventory. When using FOB Shipping Point, the buyer accounts for the goods as inventory, even before they physically possess them. Conversely, under FOB Destination, the goods remain the seller's inventory until they reach the buyer's location and undergo inspection.



There are several prevalent misunderstandings concerning FOB shipping, and it's essential to clarify these misconceptions:

1. FOB Covers All Costs

It's important to clarify that FOB terms do not encompass all costs associated with shipping. In FOB shipping point, for instance, the buyer is responsible for covering expenses like freight, insurance, and other costs from the point of shipment onward. This means that while the seller may cover the cost of loading the goods onto the vessel, the buyer assumes financial responsibility once the goods are in transit.

2. FOB Determines Legal Jurisdiction

FOB terms should not be confused with legal jurisdiction for dispute resolution. Contrary to some misconceptions, FOB terms are primarily concerned with the allocation of responsibilities and risks between the buyer and the seller during the shipment process. Legal jurisdiction should be explicitly specified in the contract to avoid any ambiguity in the event of disputes.

3. FOB Shipping Point Always Benefits the Seller

While FOB shipping point transfers the risk to the buyer once the goods are in transit, it's essential to recognize that this choice can have implications beyond cost allocation. Sellers opting for FOB shipping point may reduce their shipping costs, but it may also impact their reputation and the willingness of buyers to accept such terms, particularly for large or fragile orders. Some buyers may prefer FOB destination terms, where the seller retains responsibility for goods until they reach the agreed-upon destination.

4. FOB Destination Means the Seller Pays All Costs

FOB destination does require the seller to cover higher costs, including transportation and potentially insurance, until the goods are delivered to the buyer's location. However, sellers often factor these costs into their pricing. It's worth noting that, indirectly, buyers may still bear some of these expenses as they can impact the overall pricing of the goods. FOB destination is often favored when sellers want to provide a more comprehensive service to their customers and take responsibility for the goods until they reach the buyer's premises.



Incoterms, or international commercial terms, represent a set of standardized rules governing responsibilities and obligations in international trade agreements. These terms are established and maintained by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Within the Incoterms framework, there are 11 internationally recognized terms, which dictate the roles of both the buyer and the seller during the process of exporting goods. Some of these terms are tailored for specific modes of transportation, while others are applicable across various transportation methods.

The ICC last updated the Incoterms in 2020, and these terms continue to be valid contractual references, serving as crucial tools in international trade agreements. They offer clarity regarding the distribution of responsibilities and risks between the parties involved in the shipment.

Here is an overview of all 11 Incoterms:
  • FOB (Free On Board): FOB is the most commonly used Incoterm for sea exports. It signifies that the seller delivers the goods to the vessel for loading, and the buyer assumes responsibility once the goods are on board.
  • FAS (Free Alongside Ship): FAS is often employed in bulk cargo transactions, stating that the seller must deliver the goods alongside the ship, with the buyer taking charge of loading.
  • CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight): CIF obliges the seller to cover the cost of delivering the goods to the destination port, along with minimum insurance coverage.
  • CFR (Cost and Freight): Under CFR, the seller arranges and pays for shipping costs but not for insurance, shifting the risk of loss to the buyer once the goods are on board.
  • EXW (Ex Works): In EXW, the seller prepares the goods for shipment, after which the buyer takes over responsibility for further transportation arrangements.
  • FCA (Free Carrier): FCA means the seller is accountable for delivering the goods to a specified location or carrier, where the buyer assumes responsibility for transit.
  • CPT (Carriage Paid To): CPT mandates that the seller covers the cost of delivering the goods to a carrier or nominated location and takes on the associated risks until the carrier assumes possession.
  • CIP (Carriage and Insurance Paid To): CIP requires the seller to pay for delivery and insurance of goods to a carrier or nominated location.
  • DAP (Delivered At Place): In DAP, the seller agrees to transport goods to a location specified in the sales contract.
  • DPU (Delivered At Place Unloaded): DPU signifies that the seller covers both the costs and liabilities associated with transporting goods to a designated location, including unloading.
  • DDP (Delivered Duty Paid): DDP means the seller commits to delivering goods to the buyer, including payment for all shipping, export, import duties, and taxes.

These Incoterms facilitate smooth international trade operations by providing a standardized framework for the allocation of responsibilities and costs in the delivery of goods across various transportation modes.



When opting for FOB shipping point terms, it's imperative for buyers to be fully aware of their responsibilities and potential liabilities. Here are five valuable tips to consider when engaging in FOB shipping point agreements:

  • Comprehend Your Liabilities: Before entering negotiations, ensure a thorough understanding of the implications of choosing FOB shipping point over FOB destination. This understanding should encompass the financial costs, risks, and obligations involved. Be aware that different types of products may warrant different international shipping strategies.
  • Assess Your Risk Tolerance: Evaluate your capacity to manage goods during transit and weigh the benefits of procuring cargo insurance. If your items are high in value, unique, or fall into categories where obtaining insurance proves challenging, you might find FOB destination terms more suitable for mitigating risk.
  • Account for Shipping Costs: Should you agree to FOB shipping point terms, always factor in shipping expenses and import taxes to your location when negotiating prices. Alternatively, collaborate with the seller to incorporate supplementary coverage for shipping costs into your contract.
  • Leverage Volume: When making substantial orders from a single seller, you hold a stronger negotiating position to potentially secure FOB destination terms. This is especially beneficial as the shipping cost per unit tends to decrease for the seller with larger quantities.
  • Engage a Freight Forwarder: Particularly in the realm of international e-commerce, enlisting the services of a freight forwarder can streamline logistics, reducing complexity and risk for buyers engaging in FOB shipping point agreements. A freight forwarder can offer valuable expertise in optimizing the transportation and delivery of your goods.

FOB rules constitute a pivotal element in any contract for sea freight shipping. Neglecting to verify whether a shipment is designated as FOB shipping point or FOB destination can potentially result in a lack of insurance coverage, financial losses, and the burden of damaged or unsalable merchandise.

It's essential to bear in mind that, although FOB and other Incoterms enjoy international recognition, trade regulations differ from one country to another. Therefore, when engaging in global transactions, it is advisable to thoroughly examine the trade laws of both the exporting and importing countries to ensure compliance and understanding of your rights and obligations.

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