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As a leading international freight forwarder, the experts at Asiana USA understand that newer companies often have various questions concerning the organization, political navigation, and the price of the international shipping process.

With the amount of misleading and contradictory information available online, it comes as no surprise that one of the most common questions fielded by freight broker agents pertains to multimodal vs. intermodal shipping.

The following guide includes an explanation of each type of shipping and the advantages and disadvantages to help your company develop and implement the most advantageous international freight shipping system for your bottom line.

Multimodal shipping

Multimodal shipping involves the movement of cargo by at least two different modes of transportation throughout the shipping process to move a cargo shipment from its origin to its destination.

Also referred to as combined transport, a multimodal shipment can involve any combination of sea, air, rail, and drayage freight services to get your goods where they are going.
The second stipulation of multimodal shipping is that, even though multiple forms or modes of transport are utilized for a multimodal shipment, these services are all administered by one single carrier company..

Carrier companies that offer multimodal shipping options are referred to as MTOs or multimodal transport operators. MTOs have the equipment and infrastructure necessary to control the means of transport a cargo shipment at every phase of delivery, no matter which mode of transport is used.

Often, this does not mean that the carrier company actually owns the required equipment. Rather, they typically work with and contract sub-carriers or actual carriers.

To ship a multimodal shipment, a company enters into one single contract of carriage or bill of lading with the MTO that stipulates that the MTO is liable for the responsible transportation of cargo at every step of the shipment process. This includes all types of shipment, such as door-to-door or port-to-door.

Advantages of multimodal shipping

Multimodal shipping methods are a one-stop-shop for shipping services and offer a host of possible benefits, including:

  • Tracking efficiency: work with one carrier in tracking your shipment from door-to-door.
  • Minimized coordination and expenses incurred from handling logistics matters with multiple carrier companies.
  • Efficient delivery process and time.

Multimodal shipping does not necessarily mean that you have to negotiate with your MTO yourself. Experienced freight broker agents like those at Asiana USA can locate, choose, and negotiate with an MTO on your behalf as well as coordinate loading, unloading, and unexpected delays.

Intermodal shipping

The definition of intermodal shipping is less straightforward. Like multimodal shipping, it involves using multiple modes of transportation to move goods.

However, for an intermodal shipment, those goods are moved in an intermodal container or vehicle, and the entire process does not require that the freight is handled whatsoever when the goods are moved from one mode of transportation to the other.

For an intermodal shipment, the shipper enters into multiple contracts with multiple carrier services. For example, one with an ocean carrier, the next with a rail carrier, another with a drayage service, and so on until freight reaches its destination.

Advantages of intermodal shipping

Intermodal shipping involves various benefits, including:

  • The reduction of cargo handling, which can improve transparency, security, reduce losses and damages, and allow for faster delivery.
  • Gives the shipper the option to choose a carrier for each leg of a shipment based on price.
  • The shipper can stop delivery at each transfer.

While these benefits can help shippers achieve the best door-to-door shipping costs, intermodal shipping also requires much more logistical work and hands-on involvement that may be best left to a freight broker agent.

The takeaway

The best way to avoid misunderstandings (and disappointing shipping costs) when working with a cargo carrier is to understand the differences and advantages of each method of shipping and communicate your needs.

Contact our team of experienced freight broker agents today to discuss your options for successfully, efficiently, and affordably shipping your products to international markets across the globe.

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