Here's your quick overview

What is a freight forwarder?

The term freight forwarder originates from the Italian “Spedizione”, which in English means shipment or delivery. In reality the term freight forwarder can mean a single person and a company, which deals with the transportation of goods nationally as well as internationally. 

What is a freight forwarder?

The job of a freight forwarder is to organize and execute the transport of goods on behalf of others. That means that a freight forwarder needs to handle the pick-up of goods from the supplier, customs clearance (documents) at the proper authorities, handling at the warehouses involved, and secure a spot on the ship, plane, or truck delivering the goods. Often the freight forwarder does not handle all of the above steps by them selves. They usually buy some of the steps of the service from subcontractors. The customer therefore experiences all the steps above as one process although there are more people involved.

Illustration of the 7 steps of the shipping process:

A freight forwarder separates its self from the companies that own the actual transportation assets, i.e. trucks, ships, trains, airplanes, and storage facilities. A freight forwarder actually does not own any of those assets. A freight forwarder buys the space needed on the different transportation vehicles, combines them into one solution, adds document handling, and sells a total transportation solution to its clients.

In theory, a freight forwarder can simply consist of “a guy with a cell phone and an email address”. However, in real life it often require a bit more. Most freight forwarders normally choose to own and operate some part of the transportation chain, which most often is the warehouse in their main market.

Usually, the freight forwarder handles all communication with the client, and if the freight forwarder does a great job, the customer will never know how many steps there really are in bringing the goods from point A to point B – especially on time and without added costs.

freight forwarder

Different types of freight forwarders

Freight forwarders come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. All from the global multinational corporation with several hundred office sites around the world and several hundred thousand employees to the small business with one guy, his cell phone and (maybe) a van.

In the champions league of freight forwarders we find companies like DHL, Kuehne & Nagel, Schenker, and Panalpina. They are all European companies with offices around the world, which can supply the ‘complete package’. Here you can ship your goods from any one place to any other place in the world.

truck freight forwarder

There are also a great number of smaller freight forwarders (in every country), which usually will have only one office in their home country who uses subcontractors for handling all their overseas shipments.

Which freight forwarder should I pick?

Generally, we recommend that small businesses, entrepreneurs, and people without experience within the world of shipping use one of the medium sized freight forwarders. They are big enough to have their own employees in the important spots, but not so big that a relative small customer cannot get priority. Also, they usually provide a good service.

What makes a good freight forwarder?

A freight forwarder, whether it be a single person or a large company, should know its ‘craft’, which means they should be able to move the goods from A to B within the agreed upon timeframe and the agreed upon price. That being said, one must acknowledge that 90% of a freight forwarder’s work consists of communicating with the involved parties. Whether the communication is over the phone or through automated messages via an IT-system is less relevant most of the time. Most transport buyers can accept different types of communication as long as they are informed in time. The most important aspect for choosing a certain freight forwarder should be the freight forwarder’s ability to proactively informing their clients.

What do I start?

Confused about how to find a great freight forwarder? Don’t worry — we have done most of the work for you already.

We recommend that you find and compare different freight forwarders directly here on Transporteca. All our freight forwarders have been preemptively screened, which ensures you precise transit times, an all-in price, and great communication going forward. Here, you always get freight forwarders that are great at the trades they offer, i.e. if you need something shipped from China, we only show you freight forwarders that offer a great service out of China. You can also see how other previous customers have rated the freight forwarders on the portal and their services so you know how great each freight forwarder is. You can read more here.