International Freight Forwarding Companies - What Do They Do


  • Author Brian Miller
  • Published September 5, 2023
  • Word count 937

What is an international freight forwarding company?

An international freight forwarding company is a business that specializes in providing logistics services to facilitate the movement of goods across international borders. These companies act as intermediaries between shippers (companies or individuals sending goods) and transportation carriers (such as airlines, shipping lines, trucking companies) to ensure smooth and efficient international shipping.

Here's what an international freight forwarding company usually does:

  • Logistics Coordination

Freight forwarders handle the entire logistics process, from the point of origin to the final destination. They plan, organize, and manage the transportation of goods using various modes of transport, such as air, sea, road, and rail.

  • Carrier Selection

Freight forwarders choose the most suitable carriers and transportation modes based on factors like the type of cargo, destination, budget, and delivery timeline. They negotiate rates and secure booking slots with carriers.

  • Documentation

International shipping involves a lot of paperwork, including customs forms, bills of lading, certificates of origin, commercial invoices, and more. Freight forwarders prepare and manage these documents to ensure compliance with customs and regulatory requirements.

  • Customs Clearance

Freight forwarders navigate the complex world of customs regulations and procedures in different countries. They ensure that shipments comply with customs rules, pay duties and taxes, and handle the necessary clearances.

  • Route Planning

Freight forwarders determine the most efficient and cost-effective routes for transporting goods. They consider factors like distance, transit times, potential delays, and customs clearance points.

  • Cargo Insurance

Many freight forwarding companies offer cargo insurance to protect the value of goods in case of damage, loss, or theft during transit.

  • Tracking and Monitoring

Freight forwarders provide real-time tracking of shipments, allowing shippers to know the status and location of their goods throughout the journey.

  • Consolidation and Deconsolidation

For less-than-container-load (LCL) shipments, freight forwarders consolidate multiple shipments into a single container for cost efficiency. Conversely, they also deconsolidate full container load (FCL) shipments for distribution.

  • Warehousing and Distribution

Some freight forwarders offer warehousing services, storing goods temporarily before they are shipped to their final destinations. They also manage distribution to ensure timely delivery.

  • Risk Management

Freight forwarders provide expertise in managing the risks associated with international shipping, including regulatory compliance, customs delays, and unforeseen events.

International freight forwarding requires a deep understanding of the intricacies of global trade, transportation networks, and regulatory environments. Freight forwarders play a pivotal role in streamlining the process of moving goods across borders while minimizing the challenges and complexities associated with international logistics.

National variations


In the U.K., freight forwarders are not licensed, but many are members of BIFA (The British International Freight Association). BIFA is the trade association for UK-registered companies engaged in the international movement of freight by all modes of transport, air, road, rail, and sea. BIFA has around 1500 corporate members, known generally as freight forwarders, who offer a wide range of services within these various modes.


Companies handling domestic US freight by road must be registered with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Such forwarders are "carriers" who accept freight for transport and are liable for delivering the freight under their own bill of lading.

International ocean freight forwarders arranging for shipments to and from the US must be licensed by the Federal Maritime Commission as Ocean Transportation Intermediaries.


In Australia most licensed Customs Clearance Agents (commonly referred to as Customs Brokers) operate under a freight forwarder.

Types of transportation in international freight forwarding

  1. Air Freight:

Air transportation is the fastest mode of shipping and is suitable for time-sensitive or high-value goods. It's commonly used for perishable goods, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and urgent shipments. While air freight is efficient, it can be relatively more expensive compared to other modes.

  1. Ocean Freight:

Ocean shipping is a cost-effective option for transporting large volumes of goods over long distances.

There are two main types of ocean freight: Full Container Load (FCL) and Less than Container Load (LCL). FCL involves using an entire container for a single shipment, while LCL involves consolidating multiple smaller shipments into a single container. Ocean freight is slower than air freight but is ideal for bulk cargo like raw materials, machinery, and consumer goods.

  1. Road Freight:

Road transportation is often used for transporting goods within regions or across nearby countries. Trucks are commonly used to move goods between neighboring countries or to connect to ports and distribution centers. Road freight is versatile and can be used for a wide range of cargo types.

  1. Rail Freight:

Rail transportation is suitable for moving goods overland across continents or regions. It offers a balance between the speed of air freight and the cost-effectiveness of ocean freight. Rail freight is commonly used for goods that need to be transported over long distances within a continent.

  1. Multimodal Transportation:

Also known as intermodal transportation, this involves combining different modes of transportation within a single shipment. For example, a shipment might travel by truck to a port, then be loaded onto a ship, and finally be transported by rail to its destination. Multimodal transportation optimizes the efficiency of the overall shipping process.

  1. Courier and Express Services: Courier companies offer quick and reliable delivery services for small parcels and documents. While they are not typically used for bulk or large cargo, they are essential for urgent deliveries.

The choice of transportation mode depends on several factors, including the nature of the goods, destination, budget constraints, transit time requirements, and logistical considerations.

Freight forwarders play a crucial role in helping shippers select the most appropriate transportation mode based on these factors to ensure timely and cost-effective international shipping.

Brian Miller is an owner of a freight forwarding logistics company in Shenzhen, China. The company URL is

Please contact Easy China Warehouse company to get a free quote for delivery your goods from China to Europe, North America, and Asia.

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