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Logistics:Using freight forwarders

What you’ll learn

  • what a freight forwarder is
  • the ways freight forwarders help exporters
  • whether your business should use freight forwarding

Moving your goods

You can use any combination of road, rail, air or sea to transport your goods overseas. You, or your intermediaries, will need to take into account:

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

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

Any size business that ships freight internationally may benefit from a freight forwarder’s services, as a freight forwarder may save you time and money if you’re exporting large volumes of goods or high-value items by road, sea or air freight.

How a freight forwarder can help you

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 rates
  • arrange cargo insurance
  • book cargo space (you'll 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

Export without a freight forwarder

If you’re new to exporting, working in an area where you’re not well connected, or just want to ensure a smooth process, using a freight forwarder might be the right plan.

But there are times when you won’t need a freight forwarder, especially if the freight forwarder does not own the assets required to run your supply chains. This could occur when you have:

  • a complete understanding of your cargo’s custom clearance requirements
  • a strategic overseas agent to handle your delivery
  • a high enough cargo volume to get favourable freight rates directly from shipping lines and airlines
  • the time to arrange transportation — most importantly

Use parcel couriers

If you’re exporting smaller volumes, or regular numbers of packages, it may be simpler, cheaper, and quicker to use a parcel courier. Parcel couriers:

  • offer free collections 7 days a week
  • track delivery
  • generally use their own staff and equipment to make deliveries — unlike freight forwarders

However, some freight forwarders can negotiate cheaper rates with couriers and can, if required, route your cargo through a courier. 


  • Good for moving larger volumes of goods
  • Freight forwarders often negotiate better rates with shipping companies and others
  • Specialist knowledge


  • It can be challenging to source the right company
  • You’ll have less direct control over the process
  • Less useful for smaller exports

Using customs intermediaries

Freight forwarders and parcel couriers can clear your goods through customs for you as part of their service. You can also use a specialist customs agent or broker to act as your customs intermediary.

Find a company which specialises in customs declarations on the register of customs agents and fast parcel operators.

Decide to use a freight forwarder if

you need to export a larger volume of goods and don’t have the knowledge, experience or contacts to do it yourself.

Decide not to use a freight forwarder if

you have the knowledge and contacts to keep control of your export process, or you’re exporting a small volume of goods that need tracked, door-to-door delivery.

The exporter needs to understand the process and develop a good relationship with the freight forwarder, so it can understand what you need and what it needs from you.

International trade adviser

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