1. Make sure the freight forwarder has experience.
This could almost be the whole list. Experience, experience, experience.
It might be fairly easy to start a freight forwarding company, but the international shipping industry is not the easiest business sector in the world and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you won’t last long.
Years of experience means your freight forwarder has dealt with different situations like dockworker strikes and port shutdowns, needs for rerouting cargo, smoothing out customs or warehousing issues, and so on.
Experience usually means your freight forwarder will help you avoid customs, warehousing, and routing problems before they even start so your international shipping will go smoothly.
Experience also gives time for a company to form and cultivate business relations around the world from which you will benefit. Which brings us to…
2. Ask about the freight forwarder’s network of agents and business partners in the country you’re exporting to or importing from.
This is obviously important for the local handling of your international shipments.
Your freight forwarder should have a strong network around the world, but you need to know that they have the connections in the countries/cities of origin and destination for your imports and exports.
If you’re exporting and importing to and from Germany, it doesn’t matter how good the freight forwarder’s connections are in China.
You may have found a freight forwarder who is great for shipping to the Philippines, but don’t have the connections or experience to do a great job handling your imports from China. So make sure you ask about your freight forwarder’s connections and experience in the specific locations you need.
Business partnerships around the world also allow your freight forwarder to offer additional services, which brings us to…
3. Make sure the freight forwarder offers the services you need for your shipment.
Look at the services the freight forwarder offers.
A freight forwarder should be able to handle more than just the air shipping or ocean shipping part of your import or export. They should also be able to handle the rail and/or trucking portion of your international shipping.
I guess if you only need port to port services instead of door to door shipping, you wouldn’t find it a big deal whether or not the freight forwarder offers this service; however, if they do not have a trucking option, that says something about the freight forwarder’s network.
4. Make sure the freight forwarder has good references.
This is good advice when you’re looking for any kind of service, not just freight forwarding.
If there’s no one willing to say a freight forwarder did a great job taking care of their imports and exports, that’s a big red flag.
5. Make sure the freight forwarder has good customer service.
This is hugely important.
How fast does the freight forwarder get back to you on your freight rate request or on answering your questions?
If you’re new to international shipping, are they able and willing to walk you through what you need to know and do to make sure all goes well with your imports and exports?
Your sales person at a freight forwarding company may not have all the answers to your questions as they might be new to the company or even the industry, but they should be able to get the answers for you from the experienced team they’re working with.
How good your freight forwarder is at taking care of your individual needs speaks a great deal about their ability to give the needed attention to your shipments.
Notice, I didn’t even put freight rates in this list as much more important is your freight forwarder’s ability to take care of your shipping needs professionally and precisely.
One freight forwarder may offer shipping rates well below the rest of the competition, but you’ll usually find yourself paying for choosing them in additional costs, delays, and very poor customer service.
But if you follow the five tips above, you should find a freight forwarder who has the contracts and network which allow them to offer competitive rates.