Within the world of logistics, there are a number of different roles and job functions.


Forwarding agents play a key part in helping companies and individuals move freight all over the globe. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what exactly a forwarding agent is and what they do. We’ll also offer you some examples so you can get a solid grasp on this role. Finally, we’ll also take a look at the other types of agents you might encounter in the logistics world.


What Is a Forwarding Agent?

A forwarding agent, also known as a freight forwarding agent or a freight forwarder, is an organization (or a person!) who acts as an intermediary for moving cargo. Forwarding agents can engage a single carrier to move freight on behalf of a customer, or they may coordinate transportation between several carriers in order to get freight from its origin to its destination.


As the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) defines this role:

A freight forwarder organizes shipments for individuals or corporations. Freight forwarders assemble and consolidate shipments and provide for break-bulk and distribution of shipments. Freight forwarders assume responsibility for the transportation and may transport the freight itself. Therefore, they are involved directly or indirectly with the cargo.


To learn more about what freight forwarders do, check out our article: Logistics Terms Made Easy: What Is a Freight Forwarder?

What Is the Function of a Forwarding Agent?

A forwarding agent works on behalf of their customer(s) to move cargo from its origin to its destination.


For example, if you’re purchasing goods from a manufacturer in China to sell from your retail stores in San Diego, you might hire a forwarding agent or a freight forwarding agent to coordinate the movement of those goods.


Depending on the Incoterms you negotiate, your forwarding agent might:

  • Hire a carrier to pick up the freight at your manufacturer’s warehouse

  • Add the freight into their consolidation (for less-than-container load/LCL freight)

  • Arrange for the freight to move to the port and clear through export procedures

  • Book passage with a steamship line to a West Coast port

  • Once the boat arrives, arrange for freight pickup at the port

  • Or, if there are any issues with the import, refer you to a customs broker who can assist in clearing your shipment

  • Move the freight to a warehouse

  • Deconsolidate the freight, as needed

  • Make the freight available for pickup or arrange for delivery to your location in San Diego

As you can see, a forwarding agent can simplify everything for you significantly, especially when it comes to international freight shipments. All you have to do is make one phone call, and a freight forwarding agent can arrange everything listed above.


Freight forwarders may offer additional services, depending on whether or not they have their own assets. Forwarders who own warehouses and fleets may be able to assist with things like packaging and storage. They may also be able to move your cargo using their own equipment. Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose the forwarder with the range of services that matches your needs.

Do You Need a Forwarding Agent?

Forwarding agents can significantly simplify your logistics. Rather than having to contact multiple carriers and coordinate them on your own, a forwarding agent can handle all of that for you. Plus, you’ll know exactly who to call if you need assistance or updates.


Additionally, if you’re moving cargo in an unfamiliar country, a forwarding agent can be indispensable for getting your cargo to port, quickly and easily. No need to negotiate with local carriers who may or may not speak the language you do.


Ultimately, while you may not “need” a forwarding agent, they can make your logistics much easier.

What’s an Example of a Forwarding Agent?

DHL is a forwarding agent whose name you might recognize.


Approved Freight Forwarders is also a freight forwarding agent. Some freight forwarding agents don’t own any assets and contract out all services to other carriers. As an asset-based freight forwarder, Approved uses our owned assets (including warehouses, fleets, and teams) in certain regions, including California and Hawaii.


Other Types of Agents in Logistics & Shipping

You’ll see the word “agent” used in a number of different roles. In the logistics world, the word “agent” implies an intermediary—someone who acts as a go-between.


To help you keep all your logistics roles straight, we’ve defined a few of the most popular agent roles below.


Understanding the Logistics Roles That Keep the World’s Freight Moving

Getting freight from its origin to its destination requires the assistance of a number of different players, including carriers, agents, and more. By understanding who’s who in the world of logistics, you’ll also begin to understand how to locate the individuals and companies that will help you move your cargo faster—and more efficiently.


Looking for a freight forwarder to assist with your logistics? We’ve been helping our clients streamline their freight operations since 1991. Just reach out to one of our experts, and we’ll set up a complimentary consultation to learn about your needs.

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