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How to Find the Right Freight Forwarder for International Shipping [Updated: Nov 2021]

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Updated on 10 Aug 20186 min read

When you decide to take your business global, the shipment of materials or goods across international borders adds a new level of complexity to the logistics process.

A freight forwarder can simplify the shipping process greatly, not only by managing the different elements of international freight transportation, but also by helping you ensure compliance with shipping, import, and/or export rules, regulations, and documentation requirements.

There is no shortage of international freight forwarders to choose from, but the key to success is to find one that’s well matched to the needs of your business. In this article, you’ll find some hints and tips to help you do just that.

First: Know What Type of Forwarder You Need

Freight forwarders come in a number of flavors. There are various business models to select from and some forwarders specialize in certain areas, such as refrigerated goods, bulk materials, hazardous goods, or fresh produce.

Type of Forwarder

If your goods have very specific handling, storage, or transportation requirements, it can be a good idea to seek out one of these specialized freight forwarders. Otherwise, you could begin by deciding which forwarder business model you prefer to work with. The main types of forwarder from which you can choose are as follows:

Online freight forwarder:

A product of the digital age, the online freight forwarder typically operates some form of platform or portal through which importers or exporters can get freight quotes online and then book, track, and pay for their shipments. Service offerings range from basic to comprehensive, but only a few of these technology-based providers can match the levels of support offered by a traditional consultative freight forwarder.

Consultative freight forwarder:

Consultative forwarders typically offer the broadest range of services. With a comprehensive network of shipping, storage, and transportation providers to call upon, this type of forwarder prefers to serve as a full logistics partner for its clients, able to manage the most complex shipments under the most unfavorable conditions. The one major drawback is cost. Prices are likely to be higher compared with those offered by other types of freight forwarding company.

Low-cost freight forwarder:

This type of forwarder competes on price, which may suit you if your budget for import/export is constrained. However, you may find that low-cost forwarders offer a limited range of services, perhaps covering just a single trade lane, or dealing only in one transportation mode.

Global freight forwarders:

These are the really large operators with offices in multiple countries. They may operate online, offline, or both. Most global freight forwarders provide a wide array of services. Some are even asset-based entities running their own ocean, air, and land-based logistics operations.

Each of these types of forwarder has its pros and cons, so you will need to consider which type is most likely to be a good fit. This will allow you to refine your search and save you from casting a wide net into an ocean of freight forwarders.

Next: Find a Few Freight Forwarders to Evaluate

Keep in mind that you will trust your chosen freight forwarder to take care of your goods from origin to destination, and that ideally, you will want to find a partner you can work with over the long term. Switching from one provider to another is likely to be labor-intensive and unproductive.

Evaluating the Freight Forwarders

Therefore, it makes sense to begin by short-listing a few forwarders that seem compatible with your business’ needs. In a future article, we’ll share some guidance for actually selecting from your shortlist, but for now, let’s stick to the process of hunting down some likely candidates.

Create Some Criteria

Before you start looking for freight forwarders to create your shortlist, it’s a good idea to create a prioritized list of requirements. For example, there will be certain essential needs, such as:

  • The trade lane through which most, if not all, of your shipments, will move;
  • Specific transportation, storage, or handling requirements for your materials or goods;
  • The range of services you want a freight forwarder to cover.

When you begin your search, you can discount any freight forwarder that doesn’t cover your trade lane, lacks the experience of working with the types of goods you will ship, or doesn’t offer a compatible service portfolio.

You can narrow the field further by evaluating forwarders against a list of non-essential, but very-desirable requirements.

For instance, if you plan to ship your goods mainly by air, you might prefer to work with a freight forwarder that only handles airfreight and hence, has strong relationships with many different air carriers. This can be helpful when it comes to securing the best possible airfreight rates. The same principle can apply if you will use ocean freight predominantly.

Where to Look for a Freight Forwarder

Now that you have an idea of the different types of freight forwarding company and how they operate, and have some criteria on which to base your search, it’s time to start looking in earnest for desirable candidates.

Where to look for Forwarders

There is probably no easier way than to conduct a search on Google. In order to get search results that meet your needs reasonably closely, be sure to include some detail in the search terms you enter. These might include your industry or the types of materials/products you wish to ship, and perhaps the planned origin and destination of your shipments.

The only drawback to searching online is the lack of information regarding the quality or reputation of the freight forwarders presented in your search results.

If you’d like to get some impartial recommendations, you might reach out to companies in your sector that are already experienced in imports or exports, your trade association, or a freight forwarders’ association like the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA). Alternatively, if you don’t wish to shop around too much, you can always get in touch with us here at Shipa Freight.

Why Choose Shipa Freight?

Shipa Freight combines the speed and convenience of an online freight-shipping platform with the service-oriented ethos of a consultative forwarder.

As we are a division of Agility, a leading global logistics company, Shipa Freight gives you access to a worldwide network of offices and assets, all of which exist with the express purpose of getting your freight from origin to destination—on time, every time.

If you like, you can even try the Shipa Freight platform today, just to see how simple it is to get a quote, book shipping, pay, and track your freight online.