What is Free on Board (FOB)?

Free on Board (FOB) is a widely used shipping term in international trade that specifies the point at which the risk and responsibility for goods transfer from the seller to the buyer. For a UK audience, understanding FOB is essential for managing shipping agreements, costs, and liabilities.


Key Aspects of Free on Board (FOB):

  1. Definition:
    • Free on Board (FOB) is an international commercial term (Incoterm) used to indicate when the seller delivers the goods to the shipper at the specified port of shipment. Once the goods are on board the ship, the buyer assumes responsibility for all costs and risks.
  2. Types of FOB:
    • FOB Shipping Point (FOB Origin): The seller’s responsibility ends once the goods are loaded onto the shipping vessel at the port of origin. The buyer bears all costs and risks from that point onwards.
    • FOB Destination: The seller retains responsibility and risk until the goods reach the buyer’s specified destination. This term is less commonly used in international trade and more applicable in domestic shipping.
  3. Responsibilities Under FOB Shipping Point:
    • Seller’s Responsibilities:
      • Preparing and packaging the goods for shipment.
      • Transporting the goods to the port of shipment.
      • Loading the goods onto the ship.
      • Handling export customs clearance and documentation.
    • Buyer’s Responsibilities:
      • Paying for the main carriage (sea freight).
      • Insurance coverage from the port of shipment to the final destination.
      • Handling import customs clearance and duties.
      • Unloading and transporting the goods from the destination port to the final destination.
  4. Example:A UK-based company purchases machinery from a manufacturer in China with an FOB Shanghai agreement.
    • Seller’s Responsibilities:
      • The manufacturer in China is responsible for transporting the machinery to the port of Shanghai, handling export documentation, and loading the machinery onto the shipping vessel.
    • Buyer’s Responsibilities:
      • The UK company is responsible for sea freight from Shanghai, arranging insurance, handling import customs clearance in the UK, and transporting the machinery from the UK port to their warehouse.
  5. Advantages:
    • Clarity of Responsibilities: Clearly defines the point at which the risk and cost transfer from the seller to the buyer.
    • Cost Control: Allows buyers to control shipping and insurance costs from the point of shipment.
    • International Standards: FOB is an internationally recognized term, providing consistency and understanding in global trade agreements.
  6. Considerations:
    • Risk Management: Buyers must ensure they have adequate insurance coverage from the point the goods are loaded onto the ship.
    • Logistics Coordination: Buyers need to coordinate with shipping and logistics providers to handle transportation from the port of shipment to the final destination.
    • Customs and Duties: Buyers must be prepared to manage import customs clearance and pay any applicable duties and taxes.
  7. FOB vs. Other Incoterms:
    • CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight): Unlike FOB, under CIF, the seller is responsible for covering the cost of freight and insurance to the buyer’s port of destination.
    • EXW (Ex Works): The seller’s responsibility ends when the goods are made available for pickup at their premises, and the buyer assumes all risks and costs from that point onward.


Free on Board (FOB) is a critical term in international trade that defines when the risk and responsibility for goods transfer from the seller to the buyer. For UK businesses engaged in importing and exporting, understanding FOB terms helps in managing shipping logistics, costs, and liabilities effectively. By clearly delineating responsibilities, FOB provides a framework for smooth and predictable international trade transactions.