A cargo agent is one of the most important parties involved in ocean freight. The paperwork, fees, laws, and import procedures etc. vary from country to country and from merchandise to merchandise. A cargo agent at destination is an appointed party at the destination country who handles your shipments and helps to monitor the cargo. He/she knows the import and export laws of the country in which he operates and can help with advice and documentation to guarantee a successful shipment and avoid problems.
Most cargo agents are freight forwarders who have an in-house customs broker and provide all-inclusive and integrated services for the import and export of the cargo. This includes freight quotes, pick up and delivery, document revision, vessel booking, customs, etc. The services provided usually cover the end-to-end process of sending a shipment.
A customs agent/broker, on the other hand, may just be an agent working just for the customs clearance they have no license to perform the services of a cargo agent/freight forwarder and. They are often unable to issue/receive Master Bill of Ladings/airway bills and thus cannot help with shipment reservations and handling/reception of cargo at port. They only have visibility on customs fees, taxes, and procedures.
If you choose to work without a cargo agent, be aware that you will be responsible for finding out the specific paperwork required for your type of merchandise and country to which you’re exporting, as well as dealing with local customs and port authorities.