For international companies, managing shipping and other global logistics can seem complicated, but a clearing and forwarding agent can help make your job simpler. With tariffs, customs procedures, and other policies changing all the time, many variables can get in the way of your business. Keeping up with the newest changes in the shipping industry distracts you from what you need to focus on to help your company stand out in your field.
Freight forwarding is a great way to streamline your company’s shipping. Whether your company has been doing exports for years or is about to make its first overseas shipment, getting cheap freight shipping is easier than you think. You can get expert help with your exports without cutting into your bottom line, thanks to the significant discounts freight forwarders can negotiate with shipping companies.
Of course, trusting another company with tens of thousands of dollars of your goods can seem intimidating. Luckily, there are clearing and forwarding agents with years of experience who can help you understand the ins and outs of international shipping. A freight forwarder with trusted networks of shipping companies can get your goods to where they need to be without any stress on your part.
Difficulties of International Shipping
If you’ve done any amount of exporting before, you’ve probably run into major difficulties with international shipping. If you export regularly, you’ve probably had situations where customs forms that were previously unnecessary suddenly become mandatory, shipping partners communicate poorly or an increase in tariffs forces you to rework prices for your entire catalog. Sometimes your import partner can no longer handle the tasks that they used to, putting your whole business relationship in jeopardy.
The manpower required to research and implement solutions to these problems can be overwhelming, even if you’ve dealt with the same markets for decades. Sometimes you’ll even have to hire attorneys who deal with international export laws, and those fees can add up quickly. Plus, language barriers can exacerbate issues with importers or customs officials.
Even large businesses can struggle with these issues. While your first instinct may be to try to solve these problems on your own, it’s probably more efficient to hire an expert global freight forwarder who can dramatically reduce the time and resources you spend dealing with shipping. No matter how specialized your field is, you can find a freight forwarding company who can handle it.
What a Freight Forwarder Does
To put it simply, freight forwarding services help move your goods from your door to your importer or international partner company’s door so that you can focus on your business. On your side of the ocean, a freight forwarder can work with you to get the paperwork ready and move your goods to their warehouse.
Then, the forwarder will work with the shipping companies to get your goods loaded onto whatever planes, trains, and trucks your goods need to be on. Once your goods are in the destination country, the forwarder will act as agent to deal with any questions or issues that arise at customs. The forwarder will also deal with translation and any other obstacles that come up. The freight forwarding service doesn’t ship your goods themselves – they’ll negotiate and coordinate with different shipping companies to move your goods for the lowest price possible.
The exact services offered by freight forwarding companies may vary, and you don’t necessarily have to have a forwarder’s help for every step of your logistics. However, having one expert company deal with all the steps can free up a lot of manpower at your company. Plus, since freight forwarders deal with shipping logistics all the time, they can do the job a lot more efficiently.
Stages of the Export/Import Process
No matter where your products are coming from, exporting isn’t as simple as putting products on a boat and filling out forms for the destination country. There are a variety of forms you need to have completed, and having an experienced forwarding agent do them for you is the most efficient option. At a minimum, you’ll need an export license, an export packing list, and a shipper’s export declaration document. You’ll need to provide certain information to the agent for them to complete this form for you.
Once your shipment is ready, the forwarder can arrange for it to be taken to their warehouse in a step known as export haulage. They’ll then prepare the items for export customs clearance. When everything goes smoothly, the shipment is loaded up and sent on its international cargo ship or plane.
At the destination country, the shipment will be inspected by customs as soon as it arrives at port. Payment of duties and taxes is typically done by the receiving company, but sometimes duties may be paid by the exporter in advance. From there, the forwarding company will again arrange for the shipment to be moved to a warehouse, and then finally sent to the recipient.
Reliable Multimodal Shipping
The cheapest shipping option is not always the best shipping option – especially if you’re dealing with fragile or time-sensitive seasonal exports. When you’re in the United States, it can be hard to sort through which shipping options provide reliable and timely service at the lowest cost possible. Plus, sorting through insurance options for your goods can be complicated.
A freight forwarder can take care of getting your goods to their warehouse, and then to the air or sea shipping port. They can even help make sure your goods are properly insured. The logistics required to get shipments to their final destination isn’t easy, but a good freight forwarder can get the job done seamlessly the vast majority of the time. By relying on a freight forwarder, you don’t need to know the ins and outs of drayage services, export inspections, or other logistics.
Dealing with Niche Markets
Not all shipping companies know the ins and outs of small countries or their customs. Their staff’s job is to move your product from point A to point B – and not necessarily help you with the paperwork for point B. Some countries’ customs policies change frequently, too, so a packing and shipping procedure that worked for you in the past may no longer work.
These difficulties can be compounded if you specialize in irregular or seasonal exports. Keeping up on changes in customs procedures, tariffs, and other issues is a huge hassle when you’re making shipments infrequently. When this labor gets multiplied by the number of countries you’re exporting to, the attention to detail required can be overwhelming for your staff.
An experienced freight forwarder will know about the quirks of any given market, including how to get your goods through customs as quickly as possible. They’ll know about changes in policies that can affect everything from your paperwork procedures to how you package your goods.
Handling Small Shipments
It’s common for freight forwarders to handle small shipments from many companies at one time. These shipments will often be held at the same warehouse, then loaded onto the same shipping container. Of course, the freight forwarder keeps careful track of what paperwork goes with each container.
The shipping company will then send the bill to the freight forwarder, who will then divide up the costs based on how much each company shipped. Since the freight forwarder makes bulk shipments, they likely are able to ship at a significant discount.
This is one of the many benefits of shipping through a freight forwarder instead of trying to negotiate shipping on your own. The savings can add up considerably over time if you don’t export frequently or you rarely need a full container. Plus, you shouldn’t need to waste manpower on coordinating shipping and customs by yourself if you’re not shipping very often.
What to Look for in a Freight Forwarder
International freight forwarding companies vary in size and specialization, but there are some qualities no matter what kind of exports you work with. You’ll have to deal with the forwarding company regularly, so you need to get someone you can trust.
Professional, clear communication is a must, especially when it comes time to deal with complicated questions. A good freight forwarding company can explain the ins and outs of your target market and will acknowledge when there are unknowns.
Honesty in service fees is also important. While sometimes shipping costs will fluctuate due to uncontrollable factors like fuel prices and other surcharges, a freight forwarder should communicate with you when there’s a significant change in those costs. In some cases, a forwarder may give you a quote that doesn’t include export haulage or another key service, so always ask if the terms of the quote are unclear. If you’re new to exports, it’s especially important to get a forwarder who can explain all of the specialized terms to you.
Updates on shipping times, customs issues, and other matters should be conveyed in a timely matter. Sometimes a delay will be unavoidable, but a good freight forwarder will at least keep you updated and can consider steps to keep the delay from happening again.
Finally, look at how long a freight forwarder has been in business. International freight is a complex business, and the strength of a company’s contact network impacts how cheaply and reliably they can get the job done. Since the strength of a forwarder’s network can vary from country to country, ask your potential agent about how long they’re been doing business in that country before you sign any contracts with them.
Playing by The Rules
A freight forwarder is typically going to have to follow the same rules as any other person or company importing goods into a country. While they may be able to help you with the fine print of customs rules and procedures, they probably won’t find outright loopholes for you. If a freight forwarding agent tells you that something can’t be brought in or needs to be handled in a certain way, you should trust their advice. After all, their job is to make your job easier, and they know that you want to get the job done with as few hurdles as possible.
As a general rule, freight forwarders will not carry prescription or illegal drugs, explosives and flammable liquids, batteries, alcohol, and perishables. Though there are some exceptions for these rules, they vary widely based on the destination and origin countries. Some restrictions apply differently to air and sea travel.
Also, while a freight forwarder will communicate with you about what paperwork they need, a freight forwarder cannot compensate for lack of record-keeping by a company. Whether you deal in cosmetics or scrap metal, you need to keep appropriate records of your goods as mandated by various customs officials. Since some countries and freight methods are stricter than others, make sure to consult with your freight forwarder before altering any record-keeping practices.
Remember: a clearing and forwarding agent is a partner in your business endeavors. Clear and honest communication with them is critical if you want them to be able to do the job right.
Dealing with Delays
Like any line of work, freight forwarding isn’t immune to delays. Poor weather, labor stoppages, difficulties at customs, and other frustrations can cause your goods to be stuck in port for longer than expected. Even national holidays can have an impact on shipping and customs timelines. (China has its famous Chinese New Year, and Golden Week holidays in February and October, respectively, that can cause serious shipping delays.)
A good freight forwarder can minimize delays, though. They will know the ins and outs of shipping to a specific region during various times of the year, for example, and can help you keep your goods moving even during blizzards, monsoons, and worse. They can let you know when to ship your products earlier than usual to get them in ahead of a scheduled holiday or typhoon season. When a delay does occur, they can communicate with the appropriate partners to get your goods moving again. This is especially critical for seasonal goods that absolutely must arrive by a certain date.
Where to Start
Since international shipping and freight forwarding need to be tailored to each company’s needs, start by contacting a freight forwarding company to sort through next steps. At Asiana USA, one of our agents will take the time to talk through your company’s goods, markets, and other factors that influence how the agent does his or her job. We can discuss the services we offer, the shipping routes possible, and the potential obstacles in shipping products to your destination.
Of course, we’ll know how to overcome those obstacles, too. Focus on your business’ growth and stop wasting time and resources on navigating export logistics. Our solutions are innovative and up to date so that you can leave the difficulties of shipping logistics to us.