What is a Freight Forwarder?

Alibaba.com DECEMBER 22, 202314 MIN READ
What is a Freight Forwarder?

Have you ever wondered how companies manage to ship their goods worldwide without any hassle? Well, that's where freight forwarders come in. They play a big role behind the scenes, making the whole shipping process smooth and cost-effective.

Let’s face it: shipping goods internationally can be a bit overwhelming. What a freight forwarder does is take some of the burden off you. They handle everything from distribution to ensuring your imports and exports are a breeze.

In this article, we explore why teaming up with them as an Alibaba seller is a game-changer for your business, industries that use freight forwarders for their transportation needs, and other vital things you need to know about freight forwarding.

What is a Freight Forwarder?

A freight forwarder is a company or individual that helps businesses and individuals with the transportation of goods from one location to another. The genuine freight forwarder's meaning goes beyond shipping; it's about arranging the flawless transfer of commodities from origin to final destination. They act as intermediaries between the different parties involved in the shipping process, such as shippers, carriers, and customs officials. Their activities typically involve the following:

  • Transportation of goods by ocean or air.
  • Moving goods within a region or country from origin to final destination.
  • Organizing and completing necessary shipping paperwork.
  • Services for storing goods in a designated facility.
  • Combining or separating shipments as needed.
  • Insurance for cargo protection and adherence to customs regulations.

The freight forwarding market, valued at 192.5 billion US dollars in 2021, is projected to grow over the next few years. The market is expected to grow to a value of more than 285 billion dollars by 2031.1

The 2020 State of Logistics Report by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals states that American businesses spent $1.63 trillion on logistics expenses in 2019.2 In the United States in 2018, 51 million tons were moved on average every day.3

Is a freight forwarder the same as a freight broker?

While both freight forwarders and freight brokers play a part in the transportation of products, they are not the same thing. A freight forwarder operates as an intermediary between shippers and carriers. They plan and manage the logistics of delivering goods from one site to another, managing activities such as documentation, customs clearance, and selecting the proper modes of transportation. Freight forwarders often offer a number of services, including booking cargo space, arranging insurance, and providing inventory management.

On the other hand, a freight broker operates as an intermediary between shippers and carriers but does not take direct control of the products. Freight brokers promote connections between shippers and carriers, providing suitable transportation choices to match the shipper's demands. They generally focus on negotiating rates, organizing transportation contracts, and ensuring smooth communication between all parties involved.

While there can be some overlap in the services they provide, the fundamental distinction is in the level of involvement and duties.

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Different Types of Freight Forwarders

Ocean Freight Forwarders

These are the forwarders who specialize in the management of shipments that are transported by sea. In addition to having expertise of port operations and container handling, they are able to provide assistance with documents such as bills of lading and customs procedures.

The transportation of commodities across international borders depends heavily on maritime freight, just as trucking does within the United States. It is estimated by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development that eighty percent of products transported internationally travel by sea.4 811 million TEUs of containers were handled in ports across the globe in 2019.5

Air Freight Forwarders

The primary focus of these forwarders is the management of shipments that are transportable via air. They are knowledgeable about airline laws and air cargo operations and may help with paperwork required for shipments of air freight, such as air waybills.

Trucking Freight Forwarders

Trucking freight forwarders are experts in domestic freight transportation, and their area of expertise is moving things by road. They make arrangements for the moving of goods using trucks and guarantee that the delivery will be made in a secure and timely manner within a specific region or country.

According to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, trucks are the primary mode for moving freight less than 1,000 miles, and trucks carried 60.8% of all freight by weight in 2018.6

Pros and Cons of Using Freight Forwarders

Pros and Cons of Using Freight Forwarders


Professional experience

Delivery and shipping can be challenging, particularly when products need to be transported across multiple nations. A business would need a team of internal specialists to oversee this kind of operation, which would be extremely expensive.

Companies can delegate all of this by using a freight forwarder. They can employ a large number of internal specialists to guarantee that every item clears customs and is delivered on schedule because they are in a business that focuses just on shipping.

Furthermore, depending on the route of transportation, they can also advise businesses on how to package and label items. Last but not least, they typically have professionals who can cut prices and delivery times by optimizing routes to any location.


Beyond the benefits of route optimization, skilled freight forwarders can help businesses minimize wasted time by coordinating deliveries throughout the whole supply chain. They can handle several carriers, obtaining customs clearance, and a host of other shipping-related tasks.

For instance, businesses can sometimes experience long waits when customs receive erroneous or inadequate documentation. When companies handle their own overseas shipment, these incidents happen too often for comfort. A freight forwarder takes care of the problem entirely.


Nearly all freight forwarding companies have a sizable team of in-house legal specialists who have extensive experience in insurance, imports, exports, customs, and numerous other business-related regulations. And because of the significant legal differences between countries, freight forwarders can guarantee that goods will never become trapped in legal limbo.

Additionally, freight forwarders can assist shipping businesses with legal matters by consulting with them. Although their primary goal is to avert such situations from occurring in the first place, legal expertise is helpful when shipping hits roadblocks.

Assurance of delivery

The majority of freight forwarders provide a delivery guarantee. They take physical custody of the freight in addition to providing insurance, which makes them legally responsible for any damage to it.

Furthermore, many different countries have tougher laws for organizations that deal directly with shipping, which means that businesses that hire freight forwarders are frequently better protected by the law.


Many freight forwarding businesses will adjust to their clients' needs and offer only the services that are necessary. They will assign the essential resources for deliveries without going overboard in areas where businesses going it alone could make mistakes.

Furthermore, going for the option of a freight forwarder provides more flexibility for you when making your choices. If you were handling all your shipping on your own, it would take a long time and potentially more headaches to switch service providers. However, with freight forwarding, you can switch providers with every shipment or even be in negotiations with different freight forwarders.

Optimization of costs

Because freight forwarders are in the business of moving products constantly and can guarantee that trucks are consistently full, they are frequently in a position to negotiate significantly better rates with carriers. Put another way, freight forwarders can leverage economies of scale to save expenses.

While many businesses would have trouble getting comparable rates, they would enjoy a portion of the cost savings that come with using freight forwarders. This benefit alone is a game-changer for small businesses that would be unable to get rates similar to what freight forwarders would be able to pull off.


While using a freight forwarding service is generally a good idea, there are several limitations associated with employing a freight forwarder. These services have the potential to be expensive, require trust, and carry some risk of loss.


In the long term, most businesses will save money by using a freight forwarder. However, using a freight forwarding service may require significant up-front expenses, which may reduce a company's overall earnings.

Furthermore, companies with well-established shipping networks may benefit less from freight forwarders, which makes it more difficult to justify their services.

Issues with trust

No matter how reputable the business is or how much you trust them, freight forwarding transfers ownership of your goods to a third party. Once the cargo is physically in their custody, you won't be able to monitor its progress until it is delivered to its specified location.

Certain freight forwarders will allay concerns by offering thorough explanations and guarantees, but the problem will never go away. It's just a fact of life in the business.

Possible losses

A freight forwarder operates via a network of other businesses and carriers. While most nations have regulations that safeguard and protect your goods, there are other regions where the regulatory framework isn't as thoroughly implemented.

Even if you were to file claims for losses, the procedure would still take time and cost lots of money. Thus, even with the strongest safeguards, losses are always possible.

Freight Forwarding Services

"For smooth logistics management, we've partnered with a renowned provider of comprehensive freight forwarding services."

Freight Forwarding Services

The above would be a great way to convince your target audience that they can trust you to deliver their orders to them. But what exactly would these ‘freight forwarding services’ providers do for you? Let’s find out:

Documentation for International Shipping

Freight forwarders help with the organization and preparation of all the paperwork required for shipments abroad. This covers commercial invoices, customs declarations, bills of lading, and other necessary paperwork.

Shipment Insurance

To guard your shipments against loss or damage while in transit, freight forwarders can assist you in setting up cargo insurance. They can take care of the required paperwork and offer advice on the various insurance options.

Inventory Management

Managing and monitoring the flow of goods along the supply chain is a service that freight forwarders frequently provide. This makes it possible to handle items effectively and deliver them to their destination on schedule.

Scheduling Cargo Space

Freight forwarding companies have extensive networks and alliances with different carriers. They can reserve and guarantee cargo space for your shipments on trucks, ships, or aircraft, guaranteeing that your items arrive on time.

The services of freight forwarding companies are intended to reduce your stress levels and make the shipping procedure easier and more orderly. A freight forwarder can handle these duties, freeing you up to concentrate on other business-related or personal obligations.

How to Start a Freight Forwarding Business

Now you’ve learned the basics about freight forwarding, let’s turn next to how to start a freight forwarding business. Here are the key steps to take.

Research and Planning

In order to succeed in the freight forwarding industry, you must possess strategic knowledge and conduct thorough investigations. Learning the subtleties of customs regulations and international trade is a major component of understanding how to become a freight forwarder. Examine the state of technology and analyze current market trends. After that, all of this data needs to be condensed into a business plan that includes specifics about the goods and services to be provided, the target clientele, strategies for setting the company apart from rivals, and comprehensive financial forecasts.

Choose the organizational structure for your new freight forwarding company

First, you must decide whether to operate as a sole proprietor or a limited liability company and register with your nation’s government. It is crucial to note that selecting a legal structure for your business and registering with the government require the right kind of understanding. To this end, you need lots of information and legal help. You need to understand the unique laws governing your country, rules, tax ramifications, ownership requirements, and liability protections associated with the structure you choose to use for your business.

Obtain the needed licenses and permits

Having the right licenses and permits is essential for operating a freight forwarding company. The specific licenses and permits needed to run a freight forwarding service in any given jurisdiction can vary greatly from one state, province, county, or municipality to another.

International trade licenses, hazardous cargo operations permits, and other specialized licenses and authorizations may be necessary, depending on the nature and extent of the services offered. A profitable freight forwarding company can be launched with the right preparation and investigation of the necessary paperwork.

Establish trustworthy acquaintances in the shipping sector

Networking with industry experts provides crucial insights on how to become a freight forwarder and survive in this competitive field. However, choosing trustworthy partners in the shipping sector can be a challenging task due to the industry's complexity and importance to many firms. Therefore, prior to settling on a single provider, it is wise to conduct some investigation. When choosing shipping industry partners like warehouses, ports, and trucking companies, it's important to look at their track records of customer service, safety records, pricing, availability of discounts, and payment terms, as well as their reputation in the marketplace.

You can put your focus where it belongs—on growing your operations—when you work with a trustworthy partner to make sure your business works smoothly and without a hitch. Rest assured that if you devote enough resources to this, the effort spent researching and interviewing possible vendors will pay off in the end.

Invest in quality software, clear customer satisfaction policies and monitor your competition

Investing in software can save time, provide secure financial tracking, and help measure performance over time. Developing clear customer satisfaction policies, outlining services, delivery timelines, and prompt responses to inquiries are also essential for maintaining positive relationships with customers. Lastly, monitoring your competition, focusing on quality, and regularly analyzing data can help identify areas for improvement and adjust plans accordingly. By doing so, you can ensure your business runs smoothly and remains competitive in the competitive shipping industry.



What is a freight forwarder, and what do they do?

A freight forwarder is a company or individual that organizes and oversees shipments for individuals or corporations to transport goods from the manufacturer or producer to a market, customer, or final point of distribution. They undertake the responsibility of arranging transport while negotiating pricing, establishing routes, coordinating different carriers, and complying with international shipping regulations.

How can a freight forwarder help improve my shipment process?

A freight forwarder can improve your shipment process by managing logistics, coordinating with various transportation services to ensure a smooth journey, and handling customs paperwork, which can be complex and time-consuming. They leverage their expertise and global networks to offer cost-effective solutions, ensuring your shipments arrive on time and in good condition.

What kind of paperwork and documentation is involved with using a freight forwarder?

The paperwork and documentation involved with using a freight forwarder typically include a Bill of Lading contract, commercial invoice, inspection certificate, export license and packing list. Shippers may also need to provide special instructions, the shipper’s export declaration document (SED), and proof of insurance if required.

How does a freight forwarder calculate the charges for their services?

A freight forwarder calculates charges for their services based on several factors. These may include the weight, size and type of cargo, the distance it needs to be transported, the mode of transportation, and any additional services required such as storage or special handling. The overall cost may also be influenced by any customs or duty fees, and fluctuating exchange rates for international shipments.

What distinguishes a good freight forwarder from a bad one?

A good freight forwarder stands out through their effective communication, extensive network, and reliability in meeting deadlines and providing timely services. They also demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of import and export regulations, and customs clearance procedures.

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1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1066803/freight-forwarding-market-size-worldwide/
2. https://www.ttnews.com/articles/logistics-costs-increase-163-trillion-2019
3. https://unctad.org/topic/transport-and-trade-logistics/review-of-maritime-transport
4. https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/MaritimeTransport/Indicators.html
5. https://data.bts.gov/stories/s/Moving-Goods-in-the-United-States/bcyt-rqmu
6. https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/53936