The Pros & Cons of Using a Freight Forwarder (+ How to Choose Yours)


There are 195 countries in the world. The majority of these nations have different governmental structures, values and cultural histories. 194 of these countries are foreign to you. 

But what does that mean?

“Foreign” is a term used to describe something that is from, in or holds an attribute of, a country outside of your own. Something that is foreign to you is also “unknown,” “strange” and “unfamiliar.” 

Often, researching or traveling to a foreign land can fill a person with excitement and an eagerness to get started. 

When it comes to the transportation of your cargo, though, unfamiliarity is the last thing you need. 

For this reason, shippers sometimes find it overwhelmingly difficult to handle their freight’s international transportation. Without the understandings they need, and the right providers in their court, many good companies see their dollars wasted as arrangements fall through. 

But this doesn’t have to happen to you. There are plenty of transportation companies that specialize in relieving this burden. These companies understand even the most minute intricacies of international transportation practices. The right provider will be able to help you too. 

Here at ATS International, we’ve been helping companies around the world move their cargoes for decades. As such, we understand the profound impact a great international provider — like a freight forwarder — can make on their customers’ business. 

That said, like anything else in our expansive world, using a freight forwarder to move your goods also comes with potential downsides. 

To give you the information you’ll need to decide whether using a freight forwarder for your next international shipment is your best course of action, this article will outline:

What Are The Advantages of Using a Freight Forwarder?

As third-party transportation providers looking to help customers succeed, freight forwarders need to be at the top of their game. With so many variables in play — variables that change with every shipment — things can quickly go wrong without proper management. 

As long as a freight forwarder does the little things, their value to customers is unmatched. Sure, sustaining lasting relationships with good carriers, dedicating time to fine-tuning their expertise and continually putting customers first isn’t easy. 

But the best forwarders always do everything they can to make each shipment a success. These are the providers you’ll want to work with because if you do, these three advantages will make your life easier, and your supply chain healthier for it:

  1. Freight forwarders offer one point of contact.
  2. Good forwarders are international transportation experts.
  3. Freight forwarders manage the entire scope of international shipments.


1. Freight Forwarders Offer The Convenience of One Point of Contact

If you were to route your next international shipment on your own the list of stakeholders you’d have to coordinate and communicate with includes, but isn’t limited to:

  1. A transportation provider (trucking company, freight brokerage, etc.) in your country of origin.
  2. Individuals at your freight’s port of export to arrange cargo handling and payment information
  3. An ocean or air carrier in your freight’s origin bound for your destination country. 
  4. All warehousing associates at layover points (where applicable)
  5. Individuals at your freight’s port of destination to make arrangements for cargo handling and payment methods. 
  6. A transportation provider (trucking company, freight broker, etc.) in your country of destination
  7. Your load’s consignee to coordinate drop-off times in accordance with their schedules. 

Although this is by no means a comprehensive list — yours will vary situationally — the potential for complexity in this process is plainly evident. 

It’s likely that you don’t have the time or resources to handle the comprehensive oversight and continual communication that moving goods internationally requires

You have other things on your plate, other priorities to attend to. 

Luckily, mitigating these issues is where a good freight forwarder can make their mark

Instead of spending your time chasing down updates, making arrangements for your freight and communicating with so many stakeholders that you’re left with a spinning head and churning stomach, freight forwarders offer an alternative: Communicate with them and with them only. 

Freight forwarders understand where their duties lie, that their customers have other things on their plates additional activities to attend to. As such, the best freight forwarders make it easy for their customers to reach them with any questions, fears or concerns. 

The best freight forwarders become a conduit of communication for their customers, decreasing the lines of communication they need to maintain on a daily basis to one. 

2. Good Forwarders Are International-Transport Experts

As you know, moving freight from one region to another or from town to town domestically can be a pretty complicated process. International shipping is on a whole different level. 

With so many documents to fill out, rules and regulations to follow and jargon to understand, transporting freight from one country to the next can be overwhelmingly tough — especially if you’ve never done so before. 

Getting goods where they need to go in a timely-efficient manner is what freight forwarders do. Many of the best ones have been forwarding freight of all kinds to destinations far and wide for decades. 

As such, whether it’s less-than-containerload quantities of retail products or a project of breakbulk cargo, a good forwarder will have the expertise needed to move it. 

When the customer relationships and future success of a company are on the line, the partnership of an expert freight forwarder can prove invaluable. 

You might want to consider adding one to your network.

3. Freight Forwarders Manage The Full Scope of Each International Shipment

The third massive advantage of working with a freight forwarder to move international cargos is the oversight they administer

By working with a forwarder, the entire scope of your shipment is arranged under their watch. 

From the moment it leaves your door until it reaches your consignee’s, a good forwarder will be there every step of the way. For many great forwarders, the formulation of a “transport concept” is central to the success of every shipment

On your own, creating a comprehensive plan for your load’s international journey can get really complex. The best forwarders, however, have this down to a science. 

Each transport concept will serve to outline the best-fit accommodations for a shipment at every turn.

For ocean-bound shipments, a forwarder’s transport concept would need to:

  • Make arrangements for getting freight to its port of export (POE).
    • Will it go via rail, truck, or barge?

  • Identify which POE — based on the shipment’s specifications (destination, dimensions, mode of transport, etc.) — is the best option.

  • Select the ocean carriers capable of transporting this type of freight.
    • What vessel schedules meet the delivery requirements
  • Schedule the shipment’s best-fit route.
    • Straight to the port of destination or with a stop-off?
  • Outline how cargo will get from its port of discharge (POD) to the consignee.
    • Which is best on this end? Rail or truck, or barge?

In the end, a good amount of thought must go into each transport concept. And, with a great freight forwarder in your corner, you can rest assured that your shipment will make it to its destination in accordance with your timelines.


What Are The Disadvantages of Using a Freight Forwarder?

What utilizing a freight forwarder it gives shippers in terms of expertise, partnership and convenience, it gives up in a few other areas. For some companies, these disadvantages might be deal-breakers so it’s important that you realize exactly what you’re getting when utilizing a forwarder to transport international freight. 

The top disadvantages of working with a freight forwarder are

  1. Shippers can become reliant on their forwarders assistance
  2. Price gouging can occur with bad forwarders

Let’s take a deeper look at these two major cons.

1. Reliance on Forwarder Assistance 

When a tool makes something easier, a level of nonchalance can sometimes develop in the person using it. Grammarly, for example, helps writers compose more well-rounded content pieces by pointing out grammar and spelling issues. That said, with continued use, Grammarly promotes a level of laziness as writers don’t learn from their mistakes and opt instead to lean on Grammarly’s continued help. 

The same can be said for the relationship between a freight forwarder and the shipper utilizing them. Although this partnership can be mutually beneficial for both sides, over the long term it’s not uncommon for shippers to use their forwarder(s) as a crutch. 

Instead of developing the competencies and understandings needed to move freight on their own, many companies simply depend on their freight forwarder to handle these processes entirely. 

As a result — and without the help of their forwarder — these shippers have difficulty finding a solution should something go wrong with their shipments. 

If this doesn’t bother you, and you’re looking to enter into an ongoing partnership with a freight forwarder with the understanding that they’ll become an extension of your business — handling the things you don’t care to understand — then don’t be deterred by this fact. 

That said, if you’re concerned about becoming overly reliant on a single company and not developing these skills in-house, be wary of using a freight forwarder. 


2. Price Gouging Can Occur With Bad Forwarders

Not all freight brokers are consistently high quality. Ethical practices are sometimes lacking at the worst companies — no matter their product and service offerings. In the business of freight forwarding, there are some bad seeds. 

Some forwarders — those without a long history of servicing customers and a strong set of core values — are simply looking to turn a profit. Since international transportation can feel so complex to many shippers, freight forwarders can sometimes look to maximize their income at the expense of their customers

Price gouging happens in many areas of the transportation industry and international freight forwarding isn’t an exception. 

As such, it’s important that you’re a good consumer when choosing your own freight forwarder. Do your due diligence when selecting and be sure to add multiple companies to your network

By having more than one company to pull from for freight forwarding services — especially when first sourcing for assistance — you’ll be able to get a benchmark as to what freight with your requirements should cost to ship.

Identify any outliers and ask them why their quotes were higher. Doing so will help you identify any companies trying to price gouge you. 

With so much on the line, it’s important that you can trust your providers fully. Stay away from those who would upcharge you by getting multiple quotes and opinions. 

What Does International Shipping Cost

What To Look For in a Good Freight Forwarder

Now that you understand the advantages of using a freight forwarder and the two largest deterrents not to, let’s talk about choosing a provider. 

Here at ATS International, we understand what’s at stake. Without choosing a good freight forwarder, your ability to come through on your customer commitments will falter. This should never be the case. 

In a world as big as ours can see, though, we also know how difficult it can be to choose your best-fit freight forwarder. To help you do so, make sure to look for the following four things in each freight forwarder you work with:

1. Experience

Depth of experience says a lot about a freight forwarder. Making it in this industry isn’t easy as no two shipments are the same. That said, with the right set of experience, a forwarder will have the tools you’re looking for. 

Be sure to ask potential providers about their history moving international cargos. 

  • What commodities do they transport most often? 
  • Do they have a wide network of carriers around the world? 
  • Is there anything they aren’t as good at moving? 
  • Which regions of the world do they move goods to least frequently?

The answer to questions like these should give you a good understanding of their experience and whether they’ll make a good partner. Additionally, testimonials are always good to see.

Testimonials give you insight into what kind of service this forwarder provides. If they have outstanding testimonials, great. If there aren’t any testimonials to be found, it might be best to look elsewhere. 

2. Technology Usage

We live in the digital age. There are countless companies producing countless products designed to help companies — like your freight forwarder — offer services at the highest possible level. 

Make sure that your forwarder is on the cutting edge by asking them questions like:

  • What do you do to make sure your technologies are up to date?
  • Do you offer a load-tracking database?
  • Do you offer electronic data interchange capabilities?
  • Which technological tools do your customers find most helpful and will they benefit my business?

3. Good Forwarder-Industry Affiliations

The business of forwarding freight isn’t a lonely profession. There are plenty of agent networks, transportation clubs and organizations where great forwarders come together to share best practices, fine-tune their collective expertise and increase their understanding of key issues. 

Some of the most well-known forwarder clubs and networks are:

Although the freight forwarder you choose doesn’t need to be in all possible organizations, they should be involved in more than zero of them. 

Related: Why Should Your International Freight Forwarder Be Part of a Forwarder Network? [And Which Networks Matter]

4. Financial Stability

Financial stability is really important in any business partnership. Your forwarder’s ability to service your business’s needs is far more likely if their roof isn’t caving in. 

Beyond this, international transportation services aren’t inexpensive. Financially stable freight forwarders, however, can help their customers navigate this reality. In many instances, properly managed providers are able to fund many aspects of their customer’s transport concept — a concept that they formulated — in advance. 

This helps to keep these shipments on track and mitigate delays as dollars flow in the direction they’re needed. Not all freight forwarders are stable enough to perform this function. As such, make sure that the forwarder you select is backed by a history of stability and the company infrastructure you need. 

What Does International Shipping Cost?

Here at ATS International, we’re proud to be a core piece of the international transportation world. In this role, we’re constantly looking to educate shippers who might need a helping hand. 

International shipping price — and the factors that impact it — is one topic that we get questions about the most. 

To answer these queries, we’ve compiled an article that outlines the main factors influencing international shipping prices. 

Read “What Does International Shipping Cost?” today for more information on what you should expect to pay. 

Tags: International Shipping, International Shipping Documentation, ATS International, Freight Forwarding

Carl Verdon

Written by Carl Verdon

Carl has been working for ATS International, in various capacities, for more than 13 years. During this time, Carl's dedication to maintaining industry-leading service levels has helped customers move cargos around the world and back again... hundreds of times over. Today, as a customer service and sales manager, Carl enjoys the unique challenge that each international shipment presents as he works with his team to promote the ATS name on a global scale.

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