Moving goods and using freight forwarders

Advice for exporters on choosing transport and using freight forwarders.

Top tips from a trade adviser

You can use any combination of road, rail, air or sea to transport your goods. Take into account:

  • costs and distance
  • when the goods need to arrive
  • your product’s size, weight, perishability and any need for security
  • special requirements or export licences for restricted goods and animals

Freight forwarders

Freight forwarding is a service industry that involves moving goods around the world on behalf of exporters. A freight forwarder acts as the intermediary or broker between you and the shipping company, airline, rail or road haulage company.

A freight forwarder will save you time and money if you’re exporting large volumes of goods or high value items by sea or air freight.

If you’re exporting smaller volumes, or regular numbers of packages, it may be simpler, cheaper, and quicker to use a parcel courier. Various couriers can offer free collections 7 days a week and tracked delivery. Unlike freight forwarders, courier services generally use their own staff and equipment to make deliveries.

A freight forwarder can:

  • prepare customs and shipping documents
  • advise on a country’s rules and regulations
  • arrange and manage several different transport methods for a shipment
  • negotiate freight charges
  • arrange cargo insurance
  • book cargo space (you will save money if you consolidate your shipments)
  • pack goods for export (this requires specialist knowledge)
  • move dangerous goods
  • manage customs clearance and the payment of import duty at the foreign border

You should use an experienced operator who is a member of the British International Freight Association (BIFA). Find a freight forwarder on the BIFA website.

When preparing to move goods, the freight forwarder must first receive clear instructions from the importer or exporter, ideally well in advance of the goods being moved.

If you’re working with a freight forwarder to help you manage transport and logistics, discuss the options thoroughly with them. You can find more information from on the different types of international trade transport.

Documents of carriage

Each form of transport will have its own required documentation, such as the:

  • air waybill - for air freight
  • bill of lading - for sea freight
  • CMR consignment note - for road freight

If you’re using a freight forwarder, they’ll be responsible for ensuring all the documents are provided by the carrier.

Read our explanations of trade terminology.

More information

Read guidance from GOV.UK on:

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