Differences Between a Shipping Line and Freight Forwarder

You might be new to shipping products, and find it confusing to get to grips with all of the different terminology and types of business that are involved. In this guide, we’re looking at the differences between shipping lines and freight forwarder companies.

Freight Forwarder or Shipping Lines - A Quick Definition

In order to properly understand the differences between these two types of shipping business, we need to define them.

Shipping line businesses are responsible for getting the cargo to the location safely. Someone shipping goods can do so via the Shipping Line and also give them the power and permission to sign off on goods and documentation between ports if needed. The businesses can sometimes be accountable for any damages that happen to the goods, or if they get lost.

Freight forwarders, on the other hand, deal with moving items from port to port and other transport hubs using the roads or even air travel. Freight forwarding businesses can arrange the most effective way of shipping and sometimes store items if needed. The forwarder also has a HBL (house bill of lading) and will, for a fee, deal with customs on the behalf of a shipper.


Shipping Line vs Freight Forwarder - The Differences

The key difference is that a freight forwarder will take on the responsibility of transport between ports as well as getting to the ports. On the other hand, a shipping line service is just port to port via sea travel, rather than getting the goods to their final destination.

Often, freight forwarders will take responsibility for the customs forms and, for an additional fee, can deal with this complicated area of shipping. Freight forwarders can oversee the whole process and offer “door to door” delivery.

Shipping lines might be easier to track your goods due to the fact that they are not using multiple forms of transport to get them from “A” to “B”. A freight forwarder might offer this, but as the process of shipping items can include trucking, sea travel and air travel, it might be a bit more tricky.

Shipping lines also make it easier to establish if an item or items have been damaged in their care as they will be checked before and after shipping. Freight forwarders may just move the items to the next form of transport.

Shipping Lines and Freight Forwarders - The Similarities

There are similarities between the two business types, too. A freight forwarder will be able to use the same shipping lines that are available if you contact them directly. Both can sometimes sign off on responsibilities for your goods, and both will transfer goods a long distance. However, many people opt for a freight forwarder business.

Why Choose Freight Forwarders?

A lot of people choose freight forwarders for business success, as they take a lot of the doubt and worry away from business owners. If you are involved in importing or exporting goods, a freight forwarder can oversee the whole process and not just port to port transfer of goods.

Freight forwarders may also be the best option for getting great rates, they might even be able to negotiate better rates with the shipping lines to save you money in the long run.


Choosing Your Forwarder or Shipping Lines

How can you make sure you are opting for a trusted service? It’s integral that you choose a company that can get your goods safely transported.

Freight Forwarder

Ensure that the freight forwarder has experience in the area. Does their website show other companies they’ve worked with? If you can, get testimonials from them to prove their credentials.

Discuss a quote first and make sure that they offer all of the services you need. You might need specific customs forms, for example. Alternatively, you might need to make sure they have a method to get your goods to their destination after reaching a port, with further road travel, for example. Check that they are comfortable handling this before you start doing business with them.

SeaRates’ tools can allow you to easily check which forwarders might be able to offer you exactly the services you require, and at the best possible price.

Shipping Lines Companies

You should always check companies business assets to ensure that they are a real business and that they aren’t looking to scam you and take your cash or steal your ID. This due diligence goes a long way to establishing whether a company can be relied upon.

When choosing a shipping company you will want to check whether or not they offer a tracking tool such as an app that can show you when your goods have arrived and been signed for.

Always check the speed of shipment, too. You may be able to get a very good rate if you are willing to wait months for your goods to reach their destination, but this sort of hold up can be fatal for businesses, and if you haven’t thought out exactly how you are going to handle your shipping then you might spend months waiting on goods.


Fortunately, in the modern age it is easier than ever to establish which types of shipping you need for goods, compare quotes and get things moving quickly. If you want a “hands-off” experience then a freight forwarder may be the best way to take the responsibilities off your hands and ensure that your goods get to where they need to be.

Emily Andrews is the marketing communications specialist at RecordsFinder, an online public records search company. Communications specialist by day and community volunteer at night, she believes in compassion and defending the defenseless.

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