What is Freight Forwarding?

Bryan Van Suchtelen

September 28, 2023


If you're in a logistics-intensive enterprise, you'll likely need to choose a freight forwarder or even multiple ones for your company. Additionally, if you've been in a regional or international logistics leadership role, you might consider advancing your career as a freight forwarder. Understanding freight forwarders is crucial to ensure a beneficial partnership. Essentially, a freight forwarder manages the logistics of transporting your goods without actually moving them, selecting the best carriers and vendors to optimize your supply chain.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve deep into the world of freight forwarding.

Defining Freight Forwarding

At its core, freight forwarding is the conductor of the global shipping orchestra. It's the art and science of ensuring goods move seamlessly from point A to point Z, regardless of the complexities of international borders. But let's break it down further:

Freight forwarding is the specialized service that orchestrates the movement of goods from one location to another, ensuring they reach their final destination efficiently and in compliance with all relevant regulations. It's about more than just moving cargo; it's about managing the entire process.

Key Functions of a Freight Forwarder

Freight forwarders are the logistical maestros who make international shipping possible. Here are some of their key functions:

  • Booking and Coordinating Cargo: They book cargo space with carriers, whether by air, sea, or land, and coordinate the logistics of the shipment.
  • Documentation and Compliance: They handle the mountains of paperwork involved in international shipping, ensuring that all customs regulations and requirements are met. In freight forwarding, the bill of lading is crucial as it legally binds the shipper and carrier, detailing the shipment's specifics and ensuring transparency in the shipping process.
  • Cargo Insurance: Freight forwarders can also arrange cargo insurance to protect against unforeseen risks during transit.
  • Customs Brokerage: They liaise with customs authorities to ensure smooth import and export processes.
  • Packaging and Labeling: Freight forwarders provide guidance on proper packaging and labeling to comply with international standards.
  • Route Optimization: They optimize shipping routes to minimize costs and transit times.

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Roles of Freight Forwarding Companies

Freight forwarding companies are well-connected players in the logistics ecosystem. They leverage their extensive networks to secure better shipping deals for their clients. Here's how they do it:

  • Negotiating Power: Freight forwarders have established relationships with carriers and can often negotiate lower shipping rates than individual shippers.
  • Consolidation Services: They can consolidate shipments from multiple clients into a single container, reducing costs for each.
  • Expertise: Their industry expertise allows them to optimize routes, select the most cost-effective modes of transport, and navigate complex customs regulations.

Significance of Freight Forwarding in Supply Chain Management

In the intricate dance of global supply chains, freight forwarders are the choreographers. They play a pivotal role in ensuring the timely movement of goods, reducing costs, and mitigating risks. By acting as intermediaries between shippers and carriers, they keep the supply chain humming.

Understanding The Freight Forwarding Process

The journey of a shipment from the point of origin to its final destination involves several stages, each demanding meticulous attention to detail. Here's a step-by-step breakdown:

  1. Export Documentation: Before anything else, the goods must be adequately documented for export, ensuring that all requirements are met.
  2. Carrier Selection: The freight forwarder chooses the best-suited carrier after considering factors such as cost, transit time, and the nature of the cargo.
  3. Customs Clearance: Prior to the shipment's departure, it must go through the customs clearance process to ensure the goods meet all export requirements and are duly documented.
  4. Cargo Pickup to Departure Point: The cargo is then collected and transported to the departure point, ready for its international journey.
  5. International Transport: Depending on the chosen method, the cargo embarks on its ocean or air journey. Throughout this phase, the forwarder oversees the shipment's progress.
  6. Import Customs Clearance: Once the cargo arrives at its destination, it undergoes the import customs clearance, ensuring all local regulations are adhered to.
  7. Last-Mile Delivery: Finally, the goods are transported from the arrival point to their ultimate delivery destination.

It's important to note that the success of each stage hinges on proper documentation and compliance with customs regulations. Any misstep can lead to delays and added costs.

Why Businesses Need Freight Forwarding Companies

The advantages of hiring a freight forwarding service are manifold, making them indispensable partners in the realm of international trade:

  1. Cost-Efficiency: Freight forwarders can unlock cost savings by negotiating favorable shipping rates and optimizing routes.
  2. Time Savings: They handle the time-consuming and complex logistics, allowing businesses to focus on their core operations.
  3. Expertise: Navigating the intricacies of international shipping requires expertise, which freight forwarders provide in abundance.
  4. E-commerce Enabler: For e-commerce businesses, timely and cost-effective shipping is crucial for customer satisfaction and competitiveness. Freight forwarders can help achieve this.
  5. Better Deals and Impressions: With their industry insights, they can secure favorable terms and conditions with carriers, ensuring goods reach their destination intact and on time.

How Can You Make Sure Freight Forwarding Services Work Hard on Your Behalf?

Forwarding services generally have a defined “reach” as well as very specific value propositions that may or may not fit your company’s needs at given times. For many small and medium-sized companies, it is therefore necessary to build up your supply chain carefully, cultivating your relationships with a number of freight forwarding experts that you can trust. One way to ensure these relationships are good for you is to execute regular audits.

A smaller freight forwarding service may have features that are extremely valuable to you in a given situation, but that does not necessarily mean that their internal processes and procedures are as uniform, accurate, or effective as a larger service or a carrier. That being the case, it is a good idea to use an established logistics consulting firm to audit your invoices for errors on a regular basis. This will give you data-based tools to revise the terms of your contracts or to “swap out” different elements of your supply chain as your needs evolve.

Choosing the Right Freight Forwarder

Selecting the right freight forwarder is critical to the success of your international shipments. Here are some tips:

  • Experience Matters: Choose a forwarder with a track record of success and experience in your industry.
  • Services Offered: Ensure they offer the specific services you need, from documentation assistance to cargo insurance.
  • Reviews and Recommendations: Seek out reviews and recommendations from other businesses.
  • Transparency: Look for a forwarder who is transparent about costs and processes.

Regulations in Freight Forwarding

Strict regulations govern international shipping, and adherence is paramount. Here's why:

  • To ensure the safety and security of cargo.
  • To prevent illegal activities like smuggling and trafficking.
  • To protect the environment by regulating the transport of hazardous materials.

Advice on Safe Shipping

Freight forwarders are invaluable sources of advice on shipping safe goods. They can provide guidance on packaging, labeling, and compliance with regulations. They can also provide a list of prohibited items for shipment, ensuring that businesses don't unknowingly violate any rules.

Common Challenges and Solutions in Freight Forwarding

  • Documentation Errors: Errors in paperwork can lead to delays. Solution: Thoroughly review and double-check all documentation.
  • Duty and Tax Calculation: Accurate calculation of duties and taxes is crucial. Solution: Consult with a customs broker or freight forwarder.
  • Regulatory Changes: Customs regulations can change frequently. Solution: Stay updated through shipping industry news and partnerships with experts.


Navigating the intricate world of international trade and shipping can be a daunting task. However, with the assistance of freight forwarding companies, businesses can send their costs packing and streamline their shipping operations. By understanding the key functions of freight forwarders, the intricacies of customs clearance, the significance of ocean freight, and the value of a reliable partner in this journey, businesses can thrive in the global marketplace. Remember, when it comes to international trade, the right partner can make all the difference. So, embark on your global journey with confidence, and let the experts handle the logistics.

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Bryan Van Suchtelen

Bryan Van Suchtelen

Corporate Director of Parcel Rate Services

With more than 34 years of parcel experience, Bryan Van Suchtelen is the Corporate Director of Parcel Rate Services at Lojistic, one of the nation’s top logistics and transportation cost management companies.

Prior to joining Lojistic in 2015, Bryan enjoyed a 26-year career with UPS where his roles included Pricing, Field Sales and Director-level Sales Management of some of UPS’s largest customers.

At Lojistic, Bryan leverages his wealth of experience/expertise to identify and execute supply chain cost management solutions for parcel shippers of all sizes. Bryan has helped his customers reduce their shipping spend by tens of millions of dollars.
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