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11 essential questions to ask your freight forwarder

icontainers_news_1a50488895.svgLogistics & Shipping
Updated on 27 Dec 2023
7 min read
Ocean FCL
Ocean LCL
Air Freight

Questions to ask your freight forwarder to help your business succeed

The ocean freight industry is a complex one. And you’ll want to make sure the people you work with are a right fit for your business, especially the ones responsible for transporting your cargo.

Different freight forwarders operate differently. So before deciding, it’s always best to clear any doubts you have about their services, their locations, and even their network.

Here are 11 essential questions to ask your freight forwarder to get the information needed to help your business.

1. How extensive is your network?

It’s important for a freight forwarder to have a reliable and established international network. This helps to facilitate the shipping process for their clients for a more streamlined end-to-end process. The larger the network, the more likely the freight forwarder can meet shippers’ demands and requirements.

Having your freight forwarder physically present in the country to and/or from which you’re shipping is a big advantage, especially if you’re shipping door-to-door.

If your freight forwarder isn’t present in the country to/from which you’re shipping, make sure it has reputable agents there it can rely on. Get the names of these agents and partners and do some research on them as well.

2. Can I track my cargo?

In this day and age, being able to track any shipment, be it your order on Amazon or a DHL parcel you’re waiting for, is a must. The same applies to the shipping industry. An increasing number of freight forwarders are going digital and offering a 24⁄7 track and trace service for your cargo should be a basic feature.

With a tracking service, you can better plan your logistical needs and gives you a heads up for an alternative plan should things go wrong. This gives you a peace of mind and ensures that you fulfill your commitment to providers and clients along your supply chain.

At iContainers, our 24⁄7 track and track service is complemented by automated notifications. This means you’ll be alerted of any shipment status changes as soon as it happens.

3. Can you help me with customs clearance?

Customs clearance is an integral part of any ocean freight process and one that can make or break not only your shipment but also throw your entire supply chain into disarray.

Most freight forwarders handle customs clearance. But some may just strictly be forwarders, meaning they handle only the transportation and logistics of your shipment. In such a case, you’ll need to find a separate broker to handle customs clearance for your shipment.

iContainers offers customs clearance services at origin and destination in countries where we have physical presence. Our network of agents are also available to help you in destinations we’re not yet located.

4. How quickly can I get a quote?

Rates vary depending on many different factors including sail date, carrier, volume of merchandise, etc. So the sooner you get a quote, the earlier you can begin to plan your shipment to make sure you can meet your deadlines.

With iContainers’ platform, you can get instant quotes online and book your entire shipment in under five minutes.

5. What’s included in your rates?

A large portion of the ocean freight industry remains opaque even today. There may be many leading digital freight forwarders that are working towards injecting price transparency, it’s still always good to get a breakdown of what services their container shipping rates include.

For example, certain services such as documentation and customs-related charges may be included by some forwarders but not by others.

In general, freight forwarders with an extensive and reliable network can provide more cost effective solutions and additional benefits such as customs clearance, online tracking, etc.

6. Will there be any costs at destination to consider?

There are always destination costs for shipments. The costs, however, vary from port to port and shipment to shipment. Some of the more common destination surcharges include release fees, terminal handling charges, and other delivery charges if your shipment is door-to-door.

Most freight forwarders work with a network of agents all around the world who can help with destination charges and payments. Alternatively, you may also choose to work with your own preferred agent at destination if you have one.

7. What kind of additional charges could I risk running into with my shipment?

There are many elements that can go into the overall price of your shipment. These depend on seasonality, commodity, destination, and other factors beyond your control. Surcharges such as the General Rate Increase (GRI) and Emergency Bunker Surcharge (EBS) can be announced at the last minute and be applicable to your shipment. In the US, under FMC guidelines, carriers must allow for a 30-day cushion for GRIs to come into effect.

But there are other charges to consider. We recommend giving our posts on understanding ocean freight quotes and the lesser-known shipping charges a read to be aware of the various fees that may apply to your shipment.

8. Are you licensed and bonded?

Making sure your freight forwarder is licensed and bonded should be the first step in deciding whether to work with them.

A licensed freight forwarder is required to follow regulations set by the licensing body, which can mean fair rules, standards, and prices. This also ensures you have support and a channel for complaints if you feel you’ve been mistreated.

Bonded freight forwarders provide customers with protection and can reimburse them in the event the freight forwarder suffers financial losses.

9. Are there any specific requirements at destination I need to be aware of?

Import requirements differ from country to country - even for the same commodity. This is especially so if you’re moving overseas. Some countries have very strict rules on specific personal items and vehicles.

Make sure to check with your freight forwarder or your agent at destination if there are any special requirements you need to know about at destination. This could be special licenses for your cargo, extra documents.

In the case of an international move, there may even requirements stating that only citizens or diplomats are allowed to move there and needing to have been out of the country for a certain period of time before being allowed to move back home.

10. Do I have to pack and prepare my own cargo?

Some freight forwarders offer packing services. These may be in-house or outsourced to an external company. Other freight forwarders may not, which means it’ll be up to the shipper to pack the cargo.

You can get your own professional helper to pack your cargo. But if you’re doing it on your own, make sure to read up on how to properly pack your cargo and load your container to reduce risks of damage.

11. If I need to ship by a certain date or need cargo to arrive by a certain date, what are my best options?

If you have urgent cargo, let your freight forwarder know immediately so they can plan for it. Keep in mind that getting your cargo onto the first-available sail date and vessel as that may sometimes mean higher prices.

Sometimes, it may be worth it to pay a little bit more to get a faster transit or a direct service for better reliability. Some shippers prefer to get their cargo to destination as soon as possible, while others prefer a more affordable option. Make sure to let your freight forwarder know what your priorities are.

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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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