7 Things to Consider When Choosing a Freight Forwarder for Aid Supplies

If you’re new to the process (or more appropriately, the ordeal) of international shipping, then you may not yet understand how vital a freight forwarder can be to making sure your humanitarian supplies get where they’re going on time and intact. To aid your process, we identified some things you should consider when choosing a freight forwarder for your humanitarian aid supplies.

What are Freight Forwarders and Why are They So Important?

Simply put, a freight forwarder is an independent agent who is an expert in organizing freight movement including arranging transportation, import, and export regulations, preparing all the necessary documents, and tracking the logistics to make sure your products get to the final destination as planned. They don’t actually move the freight themselves, but they coordinate all the other involved parties and handle the details to move your shipment as efficiently as possible.

The best freight forwarders also tend to have experience navigating issues that may arise (even when everything is done correctly) and can literally be the difference between keeping your shipment on track or falling behind by days or even weeks. And as we all know, when it comes to delivering humanitarian supplies and disaster relief, timing matters and every day counts.

Finding a good freight forwarder is like finding a great supplier. They become your partner in every shipment and work just as hard as you do to ensure that your order gets where it’s going.


To help you compare and assess different forwarders, we chatted with Gordon Brown at MEBS Global Reach, LLC and created a list of the top seven things you should consider before selecting your go-to freight forwarder.

Key Considerations when Selecting a Freight Forwarder:

  1. Their experience shipping into developing countries, and more specifically, your point of delivery.  Discuss their experience in understanding export and import regulations of your commodity into these locations.
  2. Whether they are familiar with shipping aid cargo for NGO’s, UN Agencies or USG-funded projects including their understanding of donor-funded procurement policies including their experience with routing, processing duty exemptions and clearing duty/tax-free, air cargo, and U.S. Flagged regulations.
  3. Their familiarity with the nature of the cargo you will be shipping. Some forwarders specialize in certain load types including dangerous/hazardous goods, expedited, high-value, cold chain, etc.
  4. Their recommended routing and mode of transport including intermodal, ground, air, and ocean and their ability to handle the entire shipping logistics process as well as the handoff.
  5. What delivery options they use including to port of entry and whether they also organize in-country transportation to get your products to the final destination.
  6. What additional services they can provide including insurance, expediting, warehousing, site services, relocations, and general cargo.
  7. Consolidation and warehousing abilities, i.e. receiving at the country of origin – which can include cargo packing; cargo handling; storage options to consolidate orders from different vendors, if desired; and storage at the destination should there be a change in the political, social or environmental climate.

Not Sure Where to Start?

There are numerous service providers in the freight forwarding industry including some you may already be familiar with like UPS, DHL and FedEx for small and medium sized shipments. For larger LTL and full container shipments, providers include SBS Logistics, Kuehne + Nagel Inc, and MEBS Global Reach, among others.

Freight forwarding is one aspect of the humanitarian relief process where your research will really pay off. Take the time to scout different providers and make a list of those that you’re most interested in. Then try to interview at least your top three to determine which agent and company are the best fit for your organization and can help you handle all your shipment needs.


19 thoughts on “7 Things to Consider When Choosing a Freight Forwarder for Aid Supplies

  • Thank you for all this great information about choosing a freight shipping service. It’s interesting that you say to make sure that they are familiar with your type of cargo. I know that I would want to make sure that they know how to handle the goods I have.

    • Thanks for your comment Frank. Shipping is one of the biggest issues in aid, so we’re doing our best to help educate!

    • Thanks Jason for your note. We hope we made it somewhat easy to understand for our readers because it’s rather complex. Let us know if you have any suggestions on future related topics!

  • I didn’t know a freight forwarder prepared shipping documents. That must be useful when crossing boarders. Every nation has slightly different procedures for moving through their land.

    • Thanks for you note @LNWeaver! International shipping as it pertains to international aid is one of the most complex and frustrating industries. As you pointed out, every nation has different procedures, duties, tariffs and taxes. And what’s more, getting from x to y takes a lot of time and money. And that’s not good when lives are at stake. However, good freight forwarders and local custom clearance agents can really help!

  • Very informative and useful blog. Thanks for sharing. A good freight forwarding service can save you untold time and potential headaches while providing reliable transportation of products at competitive rates.

  • My brother is moving over seas due to a change in his job, and he is looking for a freight forwarding company to help him transport his belongings. It is good to know that one should discuss the company’s experience in understanding export and import regulations before committing to their work. I like what was said about how it would be wise to ask about shipping into developing countries and more specifically, into your point of delivery. I will be sure to share this information with my brother, thanks.

    • Glad you found it helpful! Also be sure to ask them what their experience is with the particular country! Best of luck!

  • Great tips. Its really helpful. Thanks for sharing. Freight forwarding is an essential component of logistics process, Selection of freight forwarder can have a great impact on overall logistics service.

  • You article just cleared the path of finding a international freight forwarder for me. I need a international freight shipping company/forwarder to help me transport products from supplier in China to the United Kingdom.

  • I agree with you in that it is important to ask the freight company you want to work with about their experience with the policies of the area where you want to ship to. It makes sense to think that doing this can also help you choose a shipping company that can provide the help you need when moving your goods. As I see it, taking the time to do some research and reading online reviews can also help you find the best one for the type of shipping you want to do.

  • I think the most important thing to consider when choosing a freight forwarding service that you mentioned was how you suggest discussing their experience with export and import regulation. I feel like this is the most confusing part of international shipping, so you’d definitely want a shipping service that has plenty of experience handling all sorts of regulations. What would be the best way to determine the company’s experience with this?

  • Very informative article, Which you have shared here about the freight forwarding. After reading your article I got very much information and It resolved many of my doubts.

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