What Is a Freight Forwarder, and Do You Need One?

 In export, Freight Forwarder, import

Importing and exporting are critical components for many lucrative businesses. International shipping offers numerous opportunities for American companies to expand. However, the complexities of international shipping might hold your company back from expanding globally. Working with a freight forwarder can make international shipping easier for you.

They will take on many of the burdens involved in shipping your goods worldwide, including tracking, sorting our documentation and more. Partnering with an international air freight forwarder will create new opportunities for your business without investing significant time and resources into understanding the global logistics industry.

This guide will take you through what a freight forwarder does and the benefits of working with one.

What is a freight forwarder?

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

What Is a Freight Forwarder?

A freight forwarder is a company that arranges the shipping and storage of stock on behalf of its clients. Freight forwarders provide a comprehensive range of services, including tracking onshore transport, warehousing, arranging cargo insurance, securing cargo space, working out freight charges, filling out shipping and export documentation and freight consolidation. Freight forwarders will ship merchandise on their waybills, either by sea or air. They also work with third-party associates at various destinations worldwide to provide documentation, transport and other necessary services.

At their core, freight forwarders handle the commercial shipping of goods for other companies.

Freight forwarding crew checking on cargo

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

What Does a Freight Forwarder Do?

Arranging international shipping is complex, with significant documentation and coordination required to handle it successfully. While freight forwarders handle all of the details, it is essential that you understand the role of a freight forwarder.

Freight forwarders act as intermediaries between a shipper and transportation services that might include ocean shipping, trucking, rail and expedited air freight. They work with several transport partners across multiple regions, countries and continents to ship merchandise.

A freight forwarding service will use already-established relationships with carriers to determine transport costs and shipping routes. They aim to choose economical routes that balance speed, price and reliability.

Transport is only part of the service that freight forwarders provide. They also have extensive knowledge of transport costs, banking practices, documentation and other regulations associated with shipping goods internationally. Forwarders leverage this knowledge to advise their clients on the most efficient and economical transportation route. Forwarders also handle tasks that would cause a considerable burden for clients, such as the logistics involved with shipping goods from one international destination to another.

Partner with international freight forwarders for success worldwide

Why Should I Work With a Freight Forwarder?

You can import and export goods on your own. However, importing and exporting merchandise involve a substantial amount of documentation and regulation that varies between countries. Partnering with international freight forwarders company ensures you can successfully ship goods worldwide.

Knowing the shipping companies, the documentation and the customs laws of various countries is a freight forwarder’s job. Working with an experienced freight forwarding company can help you save time and money and provide reliable product transportation at competitive rates.

Any company dealing in the international transportation of goods could benefit from a freight forwarder. It is advantageous, especially when in-house team members and resources are not fully equipped to handle international shipping procedures.

Some of the benefits of working with a freight forwarder include the following:

  • Accountability
  • Experience
  • Knowledge of shipping seasons
  • Ancillary services like tracking
  • Relationships with global partners
  • Cargo tracking
  • Compliance
  • Excellent customer service
  • Warehousing
  • Risk management and assessment
  • International payment methods

Types of global freight forwarding


Global Freight Forwarding

Freight forwarders rely on four types of transport when shipping freight around the world: air, ocean, rail and road freight. Each type of transport is necessary when exporting and importing goods.

Global freight forwarders make use of each type of freight to ship goods around the world. The type of freight will depend on the country being exported from or imported to. In many cases, a combination of all four is used to ensure that goods arrive on time and in the most economical way.

Some common countries that American businesses import from include:

  • Vietnam
  • Thailand
  • Singapore
  • China
  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia

Air Freight

Air freight forwarding ships cargo by air over large distances. Everyday items in air freight shipments include vehicles, food, manufacturing parts, clothes, electronics and more. The use of air freight is growing around the world as it is seen as port delays and other challenges impact ocean freight. Air freight is the fastest of all shipping methods.

Common air export destinations from the U.S. include:

  • Germany
  • United Kingdom
  • Spain
  • Netherlands
  • Asia

Ocean Freight

Shipping cargo over the ocean is known as ocean or sea freight. Ocean freight is the most versatile of the shipping methods as it can handle large amounts of goods of varying sizes. It is more cost-effective than air freight but takes longer for goods to be shipped.

Rail Freight

More oversized items or bigger loads that aren’t suitable for trucks are transported via train on railway systems. Rail freight is cheaper than air and ocean freight but takes longer to transport goods. It is a good alternative for transporting goods over large land distances without incurring high costs.

Road Freight

Road or ground freight is used to deliver goods within a country, to neighboring countries and between ports and distribution centers. Road freight is also the cheapest of all the freight methods. This specialized form of trucking regularly carries high-value goods and stock that requires refrigeration.

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Get Complete Business-to-Business Shipping With Universal Cargo

Being able to safely and economically transport your goods worldwide can significantly impact your company’s operations. At Universal Cargo, we leverage over 30 years of transporting experience to provide you with expert shipping services. We work with experienced partners such as Dr. Drayage to ensure we can offer comprehensive freight forwarding services. We will provide you with a dedicated account executive team to develop a robust shipping strategy for your business to export and import goods into and out of America.

Let us do the hard work for you. Contact Universal Cargo today for commercial oceanair or truck freight forwarding!


Showing 41 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.


      • Kamlesh

        What is difference between freight forwader and co-loader

  • 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

  • Aaron Burkert

    Do I list the Forwarder as the Importer on the NAFTA, I am shipping to a U.S Address to the forwarder but its final destination is to our customer in Mexico . Do I list the importer on the NAFTA as my customer or as the Forwarder that I am shipping to?

  • Oran David

    Great post!
    It’s important to know the difference between a freight forwarder and freight broker. Many of people often think they are the same but actually they are not.

  • ARC worlswide ltd

    The Freight forwarding blog was useful and valuable. Thanks for sharing this Information.

  • Logitude World

    Very informative blog on freight forwarding services. A detailed one.

  • Mia Stewart

    Thank you for explaining why you should use a freight forwarder. We are needing help with importing goods. We will look into hiring a freight forwarder for our imports.

  • JNL-Fiona

    I wonder if you can provide assistance if I would like to export products to Vietnam since my buyer does not want to deal with the importing process. looking forward for your reply. Thank you.

  • Shikha Paul

    Hey, Interesting article to share with us, Very bit of the article is worth sharing

  • mkzlogistics

    I found your article. Its really nice and I appreciate your article. Thanks for sharing all that helpful information.

  • Shipthis

    Very informative blog on freight forwarding services. Its really nice and I appreciate your article. Thanks for sharing all that helpful information.

  • Shipthis

    Thanks for sharing all that helpful information.

  • Freight Forwarder USA

    Hi Jared Vineyard, thank you for sharing this helpful information about freight forwarder and yes importing and exporting are key components for many businesses. This is why freight forwarders come to make international shipping easy and fast. Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  • Hanson

    Thanks for sharing all that helpful information.

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