Should i use a freight forwarder or a international courier?

A common question for start-ups, or a massive mistake when starting your importing business!

Navigating the world of global shipping can be complex, and choosing between a freight forwarder and an international courier can be a challenging decision. Each offers unique benefits depending on your business requirements, budget, and desired timeframes. Read on to understand the key differences and similarities between the two, enabling you to make a more informed decision.

So here are some tips to avoid any costly mistakes.

Freight Forwarder vs International Courier

What is a Freight Forwarder?


A freight forwarder, or freight forwarding company, handles the logistics and paperwork necessary for international shipping. They do not typically handle shipments themselves but instead organize various carriers—via land, sea, and air—to move goods from one place to another. They’re masters of trade regulations, shipping routes, and the costs involved in freight shipping, acting as an invaluable intermediary for businesses seeking to transport their goods globally.


What is an International Courier?


International couriers, on the other hand, are companies that directly handle the pick-up, transit, and delivery of parcels and documents across borders. They often specialize in fast, reliable, and trackable deliveries, making them ideal for businesses needing time-sensitive deliveries or smaller shipments. DHL, FedEx, and UPS are examples of well-known international couriers.

Freight Forwarder vs International Courier: Key Differences


  1. Size and Weight of Shipments: Freight forwarders often handle larger, heavier shipments, making them the go-to choice for shipping bulk goods. In contrast, international couriers specialize in smaller, lightweight items and documents.
  1. Speed: If speed is a critical factor, an international courier service might be more suitable due to their express delivery options. Freight forwarders, while often less expensive for large shipments, may have longer delivery times due to complex logistical needs.
  1. Services: Freight forwarders usually provide a wide range of services, including warehousing, booking cargo space, negotiating freight charges, freight consolidation, cargo insurance, and customs documentation. On the other hand, international couriers focus on the swift delivery of packages, with tracking services and guaranteed delivery times.
  1. Customs Handling: Freight forwarders typically handle the customs clearance process, including documentation, duties, and other related formalities. This is particularly useful for businesses shipping bulk or complex items. International couriers also offer customs handling, but their services are often better suited to less complicated, smaller shipments.

The obvious time when you would use an International Courier?

An international courier is suited for small packages. shipments that weigh less than 100 kgs with individual items that is light carried by hand, weighing less than 10 kgs each. 


Businesses will use a international courier when starting up or when they are looking to move some sample products. 

The growing phase of when to start considering a Freight Forwarder?

A freight forwarder becomes most cost effective when you have sizable shipments. Both in weight and measurements. 

 In simple terms, shipments with a weight over 100 kgs or more than 1 cbm should move via a freight forwarder.

Useful tip for the novice to importing. 

If you have started moving shipments with an international courier and business grows, its essential to keep 2 suppliers handy for comparisons. 


Let’s say you start moving shipments between 50 to 100 kgs. I would highly recommend that you request quotes from both…. this is when both international couriers and freight forwarders should have similar pricing. 


The most frequent issues we see is that a business grows, and clients will remain sending shipments via an international courier, or a business starts off with a freight forwarder. 

Deciding between a freight forwarder and an international courier ultimately depends on your specific needs. Evaluate factors such as shipment size, speed, budget, and additional services before choosing the right fit for your business. Always remember to research and compare different service providers to ensure that you’re receiving the best value and service for your investment.

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