What is a Freight Forwarder?

Benedict Leong

Air freight, sea freight and a container truck

A freight forwarder is an individual or company who can help you navigate logistics’ complexity when it comes to managing your freight shipments, imports and exports. Freight forwarders use their logistics expertise, customs knowledge, and network of shipping partners to help companies ship from A to B while optimising shipments for speed and cost.

Freight forwarders come in different shapes and sizes. Smaller forwarders may specialise in just one type of freight or only a few freight lanes where they have relationships with their local partners. Some are able to offer either sea freight forwarding or air freight forwarding services, or both. Larger forwarders are essentially global freight forwarders.

Some freight forwarders use their own vehicles and warehouses, but there are also forwarders who operate without owning these assets by selecting the best carriers for each part of the shipment.

As a case in point, Janio specialises in international freight forwarding to and throughout Southeast Asia. From international air and sea freight services throughout key markets like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines to helping imports from countries like UK and Australia. Cross-border trucking services between Malaysia and Singapore are available as well.

What does a Freight Forwarder do?

Definition of what a freight forwarder is, what they do and the advantages of using a freight forwarder

If you’re starting to expand internationally and aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of international shipping, mistakes could be costly. Having your container stuck at customs will wreak havoc on your operations and are a headache to solve.

Freight forwarders function as intermediaries between the shipper and the shipping partners needed at every step to get their shipment from point A to B. They can be thought of as travel agents for cargo.

In the process of managing your international shipments, freight forwarders essentially manage customs clearance on your behalf and organise and manage your shipments to get you the most economical outcome.

Freight Forwarders Navigate Export and Import Customs Clearance for You

Customs clearance processes can be tricky, particularly in regions like Southeast Asia where each country has its own customs procedures and requirements.

Many international forwarders provide a customs brokerage service where they handle customs documentation and customs procedures in the importing and exporting country on your behalf. Experienced freight forwarders will be familiar with these different countries’ customs processes and help keep your shipments compliant.

They’ll advise you on which documents to get while organising these so that all the required documents are submitted on time. This is important for Southeast Asia where customs can get tricky as each country has its own customs regulations and requirements. Working with forwarders with established regional customs brokerage experience can go a long way in keeping your shipments moving smoothly from point A to point B.

Particularly for new shippers, working with the right freight forwarder can save your company valuable time that could otherwise be spent trying to learn these procedures from scratch. The time savings gained from this is part of the reason why certain more established companies rely on freight forwarders as well.

Freight Forwarders Optimise and Manage Your Shipments for Cost and Speed

Whether your chosen forwarder has their own fleet or otherwise, they will advise you on which mode of transport works best for your current shipment’s needs then organise everything needed to carry out the shipment with their network partners. Freight forwarders tend to do the following to help you out (note that this list of activities is not exhaustive):

  • Selecting the right carriers at each leg of the journey for the fastest and most economical route – be it sea, air or land
  • Negotiating bulk freight rates to give you better prices
  • Organising customs documentation
  • Cargo Status Tracking – especially if they have an online portal catered to international freight
  • Troubleshooting – Freight forwarders also step in if there’s a chance of something going wrong with your shipment

Large carriers can give you great service to multiple countries, but at high costs. To get great service at reasonable prices, relationships with multiple local specialist carriers are needed. Especially if you are shipping to multiple countries, maintaining relationships with many of these types of carriers could be challenging.

By working with a forwarder, you can tap on their optimisations for cost and speed that come from good relationships with their carriers without needing to build these relationships from the ground up.

How do You Get the Most Out of Your Freight Forwarder Booking?

If this is the first time you’re working with a freight forwarder, the initial meeting will generally cove the following:

  • They will cover everything you need to know about freight, and also answer any questions you may have regarding your lane and shipment. They’ll also advise on any key freight documents you may need, or if any special documentation like permits or licenses are needed for your shipment
  • They’ll provide advice and give options to better suit your shipment and your current logistics needs
  • Your freight forwarder’s representative will also keep you up to date with the progress of your shipment or if there’s any risk of significant delays.
    • Some may also have tech solutions like freight portals which provide regular updates on all your international freight shipments.

It also helps to come prepared with the following information to make the meetings more efficient and effective:

  • Incoterm – e.g. whether you are agreed to FOB or CIF terms with your buying (importing) or selling (exporting) party
  • Commodity – the type of product you’d like to ship
  • HS Code (if any) – the Harmonised System Code used to identify the type of good you are shipping
  • Origin Port
  • Destination Port
  • Quantity – number of items being shipped
  • Gross and Volumetric weight – Gross weight being actual weight and volumetric weight being how much space it takes up
  • Dimensions – length x width x height
  • Cargo Readiness Date – estimated date when the cargo is ready for shipment
  • Are you shipping dangerous goods (DGR)?
  • Commercial invoice and packing list
  • Pick up address
  • Delivery Address

Looking to start using international freight in Southeast Asia but need the right partner? Whether you’re starting out or need to supplement your existing international freight capabilities, Janio’s flexible end-to-end freight forwarding solutions have got you covered. From customs brokerage to import and export haulage, we’ve got the last pieces to your unique supply chain needs.

Want to find out more about our services or want to request a quote? Reach out to us by clicking on the banner below:


Need to Ship to Southeast Asia via Sea, Air or Cross border Trucking? Get a quote here!


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