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How to choose an international shipping company

Updated on 02 Jan 2024
10 min read
Ocean FCL
Ocean LCL
Air Freight

What is an international shipping company

Players within the ocean freight industry and those who are generally more knowledgable and experienced with the ins and outs of it such as seasoned shippers tend to use very specific terminology and industry jargon when referring to a certain player or procedure. These include NVOCC, broker, 3PL, BCO, VCO… the list goes on.

For those who are not as familiar, however, it is more common to use more general terms. One such term is ‘international shipping company’, which is often used interchangeably and can refer to either the shipping carrier or the freight forwarder. But even though the two are fundamental players in an international shipping process, their roles are vastly different and it is important to distinguish between the two.

A shipping carrier is a company that operates the shipping vessel your shipment is being transported on. A reservation is needed on board their vessels to ensure your shipment is transported. It may also be referred to as the shipping line, liner or simply carrier.

A freight forwarder, on the other hand, is a company who acts as an intermediary between the shipper and the other parties involved in the shipping process. These may include the shipping line, trucking companies, consolidators, etc. Its main role is to book, ship, and receive the merchandise on behalf of shippers.

In this article on how to choose an international shipping company, we’ll be referring to these companies as freight forwarders.

Different types of international shipping companies

The world of logistics is an immense one and there are plenty of providers available to select from to meet your shipping needs. But before starting to do your research on the different international shipping companies and their services, it is important to first know your priorities and what factors you deem as important and what can be optional.

When doing so, consider factors such as the main market you’ll be importing/exporting to, the shipment type, etc. As you do your research later on, these can help you filter out the companies that are less well-equipped to serve your needs.

Factors to consider when choosing an international shipping company

Given the complexities in ocean freight shipping, it’s important to select an international shipping company that specializes in the shipment type, route, and mode you’ll be requiring.

These are some of the most important factors for your shipment you should consider:

  • Will you be shipping FCL or LCL?
  • Will you be transporting your merchandise via ocean freight or air freight?
  • Do you require a door-to-door service or will a port-to-port, door-to-port, or port-to-door service suffice?
  • Which country are you exporting to or importing from?
  • How well do you know the import/export laws and customs clearance procedures of your shipment’s origin and destination countries?
  • How flexible is your supply chain and do you want to be able to track your shipment?
  • How quickly do you need a quote?

Let’s take for example that you will be shipping FCL shipments to China on a regular basis. You should consider working only with an international shipping company who not only has a physical presence in China but also specializes in sending FCL shipments to China. This will come to be extremely handy — especially given the language barriers.

Later in this article, we will be going into more details on the different factors to look out for when choosing an international shipping company.

International shipping costs

The costs of sending an international shipment can vary greatly depending on the needs of each shipper.

FCL shipments, for example, tend to cost more than LCL shipments as it requires the reservation and usage of an entire container as opposed to just a certain volume in a shared container. Shipping during the peak season will also incur higher costs due to the different fees that are implemented during this period.

For a better understanding of the different types of costs that may be involved in a shipment, we recommend that you give our guide to international shipping costs a read.

Here’s a quick breakdown and summary of the different elements that may affect your overall international shipping cost:

  • Freight associated charges
  • Carrier-related fees
  • Zone-specific charges
  • Delay fees
  • Taxes and duties
  • Customs fees
  • Port charges.
  • Inland charges
  • Destination charges
  • Documentation fees
  • Cargo insurance

Given the plethora of different charges involved, it’s important to make sure you know what you will be or could be incurring for your shipment. To do that, the sales representatives of the international shipping company you ultimately select must be able to give you proper and adequate advice that can help avoid unnecessary fees.

Besides a good customer service and sales team, we recommend that you make sure that the international shipping company also has a library of resources at its disposal so that you can read up and better understand the different costs involved.

International shipping quotes

Once you have set your priorities and have a good idea of international shipping costs, you can begin to request for international shipping quotes.

Some freight forwarders still do not have their rates posted online on an easily accessible platform. This means that to obtain a quote for your shipment, you will have to email or call them with your shipment details and then wait for them to get back to you. The disadvantage of this is that there is no guarantee as to when or if they will reply, hence potentially leaving your supply chain in limbo as you wait.

A good alternative to this would be to get instant quotes from online international shipping companies. This reduces waiting time significantly. That aside, you should also prioritize companies that offer transparent and detailed prices so you know exactly what you are paying for to avoid any unpleasant surprises that may come along.

At iContainers, we not only instant but transparent shipping quotes. All you need to do is input your shipment origin, destination, and type (FCL or LCL) and you will get a list of rates in seconds. This allows you to compare from the different routes available for your shipment and select the one that best suits your needs. After selecting the services you require, you’ll get a full breakdown of the fees and charges included in your shipment.

→ For more on booking a shipment with iContainers, do give our article on how to quote and book ocean freight online a read.

Licensed and authorized

One of your main priorities should also be to ensure that the international shipping company is licensed by the relevant authorities in the country it operates.

The US, for example, has one of the most influential and internationally recognized shipping authorities — the Federal Maritime Commission. By working with an FMC-licensed international shipping company, you are guaranteed that the services the company offers and its operations are legal and legitimate within US laws. These companies are often subject to strict rules and regulations and failure to abide by them will result in heavy fines.

Shippers who work with FMC-licensed companies are also protected to a certain extent as they are provided with a channel to voice complaints should they feel they are being unfairly treated.

→ Read our article on why you should only work with FMC-licensed NVOCCs to better understand the benefits.

Destination agent and services at destination

Working with an international shipping company who has a physical presence in the country to which you’re exporting is a big advantage. This way, the freight forwarder can help to facilitate the customs clearance process as well as handle the delivery to final destination, if needed.

When deciding on how to choose an international shipping company for your shipment, this is one important factor to consider.

In the event that the freight forwarder has no office in your destination country and you do not have your own destination agent, an alternative would be to hire the services of an agent of your international shipping company. This is extremely helpful and may even be necessary for countries where language is a barrier to have someone at destination guide the consignee and help get the cargo released and delivered.

That said, it is important to check if the company has a reliable network of agents and can provide you with a contact of an agent that can help with services you will require at destination.

→ For more on the benefits of a destination agent, read our article on how working with an agent at destination helps.

Availability of shipment tracking services

Besides being able to facilitate your shipment at destination, another key feature your international shipping company should have is tracking services for your shipment.

Container tracking is one of the most common services offered by the best international shipping companies. It helps shippers stay informed with their shipment status, which allows them to make quick decisions regarding their supply chain.

This is extremely useful in an industry where delays are often unforeseen and difficult to predict. Having full visibility of your shipment’s location and status throughout its journey can lessen the financial cost of these potential delays, which can be rather substantial when not managed immediately.

At iContainers, we offer our clients 24⁄7 Track & Trace service for their shipments. To access this, they can simply log into their user account and get an overview of their current and past shipments, as well as their status.

Plus, our automated notifications feature will help you stay up-to-date by sending you notifications as soon as there’s a status change with your shipment.

Additional resources to help you choose an international shipping company

We recommend familiarizing yourself with the shipping process and procedure of your shipment before deciding on an international shipping company. This allows you to be able to better gauge the services and features you need, those you can do without, and whether or not a company is well-suited to your shipping needs.

At iContainers, we have an elaborate Help Center with different informative and helpful articles and guides. From shipping prices and costs to customs clearance and duties, these articles deal with a wide range of topics to make sure you’re equipped with all the information you need for a smooth shipping experience.

You may also find the latest industry news, shipping tips, and market analysis on our blog, where we publish frequently to keep you up-to-date with the shipping industry.

To start you off, here are some articles that may help:

→ Need help with shipping your merchandise? Do not hesitate to get in touch with us with your questions.

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iContainers is a digital freight forwarder based in Barcelona that assists thousands of companies and families around the globe in moving their merchandise internationally.

Our online freight quoting platform has the latest technology in the sector and simplifies ocean freight, quoting and managing your bookings from the same user area.

We are part of the Agility group, and we work side by side with Shipa Freight to fully cover the demands of our customers.

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