What Does a Freight Forwarder Do & Do You Need One?

 In export, Freight Forwarder, import

freight forwarder shipping containersImporting and exporting are key components for many lucrative businesses. International shipping could present great business opportunities for you, but may also seem daunting.

The process, paperwork, and regulations involved in international trade may seem intimidating. However, you can be a successful international shipper without getting caught up in the logistics of logistics.

That’s what a freight forwarder is for.

This blog covers the basics of what a freight forwarder is, what a freight forwarder does, why you should use a freight forwarder, and even how to find a freight forwarder for those who are interested in international shipping, whether importing or exporting.

Here are the most commonly asked question about freight forwarding and their answers:

What is a freight forwarder?

BusinessDictionary.com defines a freight forwarder as follows:

Firm specializing in arranging storage and shipping of merchandise on behalf of its shippers. It usually provides a full range of services including: tracking inland transportation, preparation of shipping and export documents, warehousing, booking cargo space, negotiating freight charges, freight consolidation, cargo insurance, and filing of insurance claims. Freight forwarders usually ship under their own bills of lading or air waybills (called house bill of lading or house air waybill) and their agents or associates at the destination (overseas freight forwarders) provide document delivery, deconsolidation, and freight collection services. Also called forwarder.

That definition is a little wordy and sounds complicated, so let’s just do a basic definition as follows:

A freight forwarder is a company that arranges your importing and exporting of goods.

So what does that actually mean in terms of what a freight forwarder does?

What does a freight forwarder actually do?

There is a lot that goes into arranging your international shipping. While the freight forwarder handles the details of your international shipping, it is important to know what a freight forwarder does not do in order to understand what a freight forwarder actually does.

A freight forwarder does not actually move your freight itself.

The freight forwarder acts as an intermediary between a shipper and various transportation services such asocean shipping on cargo ships, trucking, expedited shipping by air freight, and moving goods by rail.

A freight forwarding service utilizes established relationships with carriers, from air freighters and trucking companies, to rail freighters and ocean liners, in order to negotiate the best possible price to move shippers’ goods along the most economical route by working out various bids and choosing the one that best balances speed, cost, and reliability.

Freight forwarders handle the considerable logistics of shipping goods from one international destination to another, a task that would otherwise be a formidable burden for their client.

Export.gov puts it this way:

To comply with export documentation and shipping requirements, many exporters utilize a freight forwarder to act as their shipping agent. The forwarder advises and assists clients on how to move goods most efficiently from one destination to another. A forwarder’s extensive knowledge of documentation requirements, regulations, transportation costs and banking practices can ease the exporting process for many companies.

That leads us right into the next question.

Why should I use a freight forwarder?

A good freight forwarding service can save you untold time and potential headaches while providing reliable transportation of products at competitive rates.

A freight forwarder is an asset to almost any company dealing in international transportation of goods, and is especially helpful when in-house resources are not versed in international shipping procedures.

There are many advantages to using a freight forwarder. Here are a few listed:

  • A Freight Forwarder handles ancillary services that are part of the international shipping business
    • Insurance
    • Customs Documentation
    • etc…
  • A Freight Forwarder provides to consolidators as well as individual shippers:
    • Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier documentation
    • Bills of Lading
    • Warehousing
    • Risk Assessment and Management
    • Methods of International Payment
    • etc…
  • A Freight Forwarder insists on personal communication and great customer service.

Again, Export.gov puts it well:

Whether the firm is large or small, the weight of the cargo light or heavy, the freight forwarder will take care of cargo from “dock to door” if requested to do so. This can include the correct filing of export documentation, all arrangements with carriers, packing, crating and storage needs. So, the small and medium-size exporter need not deal with many of the details involved with the logistics of exporting their goods. In addition, freight forwarders typically charge modest rates for their services and have access to shipping discounts. Given the years of experience and constant attention to detail provided by the forwarder, it may be a good investment.

How do I find freight forwarder?

You’re in luck! You’ve found one already. This is the website of Universal Cargo Management, a trusted freight forwarder since 1985. We’ll be happy to help you with your international shipping needs.

There are many places you can find freight forwarders.

The Port of Los Angeles’ website has a list of freight forwarders and here are a few privately operated forwarder listing services that Export.gov shares: 1800Miti.comDirectory of Freight Forwarding ServicesFreightGate.com, and FreightNet.com.

Free Freight Rate Pricing

Showing 28 comments
  • Denton Io

    I’m wondering how much will be costed to ship a set of 4 pcs of 18″ SUV tires from Seattle to Hong Kong by ocean, the weight of each tire is about 65 pounds.


  • phillip sung

    i need to know when i import good .does customs always check it up?if i use freight company.do we still worry about holding in customs?

  • Mohan Deshpande

    yes all import consignment checked by customs , you may use forwarder or send through direct shipping line custom will check all consignment and if your commodity is negative list than your consignment will he held in customs

  • John

    Some great advice here, international shipping can open up a lot of great business opportunities for you.

  • CFR Rinkens

    A freight forwarder is going to make anyone’s life easier when it comes to larger loads such as vehicles, RV’S, boats, and the like. The copious amount of subtle requirements to go through international borders can send anyone without any experience into a head spin. It is usually smarter to pay extra money ahead of time with a forwarding company, than have to pay double or more to make up the extra expenses that may arise. Thanks for the great article, we love to see knowledge being dropped to this detailed degree.

    Cheers, CFR Rinkens

  • Jay Unqchappelle

    Do Freight Forwarders responsibilities overlap with those of Customs Agents? Are they the same thing?

    • Hannah Swainston

      Hi Jay,

      A Customs Agent is a federal law enforcement officer whose primary responsibility is to protect and secure the U.S. Border.

      A freight forwarder is an agent who acts on behalf of shippers to arrange the transportation of goods. Freight forwarders offer customs brokerage services (customs clearance, ISF filing, etc). This can sometimes require them to work with customs agents to resolve customs issues.


  • Paul Heidenfelder

    I have a contact in Brazil to ship to a US port. I need someone to handle the details on the US side. Is this something a freight forwarder would do or is there a better option for me?

    • Hannah Swainston

      Hi Paul,

      A freight forwarder could handle the US side, but I would recommend hiring a forwarder to handle everything from the loading port (POL) in Brazil to your facility in the US.


      • Luciana Kalista

        Hi Hannah. Do i need freight forwarder if somebody ship goods to me from indonesia to USA. The weight is about 50lbs. Thanks

        • Hannah Swainston

          Hi Luciana,

          No, you do not need a freight forwarder for such a small shipment. You can use FedEx or UPS.


          • Riyham

            How do I know if I need a freight forwarder? What is the maximum weight of a shipment? Thanks

          • Hannah Swainston

            Hi Riyham,

            If you are inexperienced with international logistics, you may want to consider using a freight forwarder.
            The maximum legal weight will depend on what kind of move you are looking to do.


  • Virgil Ratliff

    A very good educational content. Simple yet very important to first timers in the industry. Thanks for posting this content.

  • Sharon Martin

    It’s really a great information and now I know about the freight forwarder and the benefits of using this. international freight forwarders providing this type of service and you can know more about them.

  • Leia

    I have a customer who has requested that we ship to a forwarder which we haven’t done before. As far as paperwork, do I still just need to provide the commercial invoice which will have the customers address on it? I just want to make sure it doesn’t get held up.

    • Hannah Swainston

      Hi Leia,

      If the forwarder will be importing the goods on behalf of the client, then all shipment related documents will need to be issued with the forwarder’s name and address.

      The forwarder will be able to tell you what documents are required and how they are to be issued.


  • Harper Campbell

    It’s interesting to learn that when it comes to using a freight for shipping that there are some things that need to be kept in mind to make sure that the process is done smoothly. I like how you mentioned that people might want to consider hiring a forwarder to handle all of the logistics to make sure that it gets from one international destination to the other. This is something that I believe that they do more research on to help them be able to work everything out.

  • SSB Star

    Seemingly in the current scenario, the evolution in the arena of corporate world has made Freight Forwarder Companies as the principal base in helping businesses to operate remarkably on universal level, because Freight organizations assist global businesses to function determinedly in regards with reaching out to masses with their products effectively.

  • Strathan

    Thank You for the information.

  • Hermes Transindo

    Great info.
    I like how you pointed out that freight forwarder services are not only doing shipping but also providing cargo insurance.

  • Treadwell Davison

    Thanks for the information. I’m curious about one aspect – “tracking inland transportation”, which i assume means being able to tell the shipper and potentially receiver, via one of several communications methods, about when the box will arrive and/or maybe its in-transit location. The business dictionary definition mentions “tracking inland transportation” prominently, but the text after that in “WHAT DOES A FREIGHT FORWARDER ACTUALLY DO?” does not mention it at all. How often is that service provided by a freight forwarder and is there an up charge for that piece? Thanks.

  • Soledad Lecchini

    Thanks for all the great information,
    I´m going to order 10 barstools, but the company in the US does not ship to Sweden so then a freight forwarder would be a good option for me then, I guess.

    thanks and regards


  • Merja

    What kind of documentation will a freight forwarder ask me for in order to help me get my product door to door?

  • Will

    Thank you, I learned much.

  • juliaadam79

    Well written articles like yours renews my faith in today’s writers. You’ve written information I can finally agree on and use. Thank you for sharing

  • Najma Qureshi

    A freight forwarder is an agent who acts on behalf of importers, exporters or other companies to organize the safe, efficient and cost-effective transportation of goods.

  • Marc

    Hannah, Is there any required minimum required weight shipment for us to find Freight Forwarders? thank you

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