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Five Questions to Ask Your Forwarder: Understanding Shipping Quotes, Customs Charges, Compliance, and More

Here are five key questions to ask your freight forwarder to make sure you have the information you need to ship with confidence.

Dylan Sommer

International freight can be overwhelming. And although your forwarder is a great resource to answer your questions, sometimes it’s hard to even know what to ask.

To help you out, here are five key questions to ask your freight forwarder to make sure you have the information you need to ship with confidence.

5 questions to ask your forwarder

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Question 1: What is included in my freight quote?

A freight shipping quote should contain line items breaking down your freight costs. You should be able to see how much you’ll pay for each part of your shipment’s journey, including transport, origin and destination port handling, CFS fees, and any additional costs for peak season or congestion.  If anything in your freight quote isn’t clear to you, ask your forwarder.

More importantly, if you see only a lump sum without line items, insist that your forwarder explain your cost breakdown – or consider working with a forwarder with greater transparency (or use the marketplace where costs are broken down clearly on every quote!). Making sure you understand your costs in advance means you’re less likely to be surprised with extra fees later on.

In addition, if you’re getting quotes from multiple freight forwarders, confirm that your quotes include the same services so you get an accurate comparison.

Question 2: What extra charges may be added to my freight quote?

No matter how well you plan your shipment costs, some unexpected charges may come up, such as detention or demurrage charges for last-minute delays, or a customs exam. But you can still find out in advance how much these situations might cost, should they arise.

Ask your forwarder about potential added charges. These amounts are fairly standard and your forwarder should present them upfront.

In the case of customs costs, which are usually not included in a quote because they are not charged until your goods arrive at the destination port, your forwarder can also give you a fairly accurate estimate in advance.

Note: freight forwarders are required to list rates for potential charges – so you never get hit with surprises!

READ MORE: Top Reasons Your Freight Is Delayed

Question 3: How can I minimize unexpected charges?

Your forwarder should not only let you know potential charges in advance – they should be able to walk you through how to avoid them when possible.

For example, you can work with your forwarder to think through the possible scenario of goods arriving late to your warehouse. In that case, is it more worthwhile for you to pay for extended warehouse hours or cover the cost of storing goods that can’t be delivered immediately? These decisions will depend on your business priorities, and your forwarder can help you consider them and implement them.

Another case of unexpected charges are customs exams. These are random, but if all your paperwork is in order, it can minimize your chances of being selected. Your forwarder can help you check your documentation.

questions to ask your forwarder

Question 4: Did I complete all the necessary paperwork properly?

Paperwork is a hassle – and incomplete or inaccurate paperwork can cause delays and extra fees. Your forwarder can help.

General freight documentation

Ask your forwarder if you have all the necessary paperwork to get your shipment moving. Do you need an export license and if so did your supplier provide one? Is your HS Code classification accurate? Are any details missing in your shipping information? Your forwarder can check that everything is in order.

Special documentation

Some goods – such as food, medicines, or anything copyrighted –  require special compliances to import into other countries.

Ask your forwarder if your goods need any extra paperwork, permissions, or tariffs, even if you think the answer is no. Your forwarder can tell you if there’s anything you’re missing to keep your goods moving smoothly.

You are ultimately responsible for any missing or inaccurate information on your documentation, but an experienced forwarder can help you get everything in order.

Question 5: What communication systems do you have in place?

When working with a forwarder, you need an easy way to communicate with them. In addition to making sure you understand how to reach your forwarder whenever you have a question, here are some specifics to ask about:

Shipment tracking

Once you ship, you’ll want to be able to see your shipment’s status. Ask your forwarder if they plan to send status updates when your shipment is picked up, loaded, delivered, and any other milestones you need to track. In addition, ask about a dashboard where you can track status.

Document access and management

Ask your forwarder about their system for keeping all your paperwork easily accessible.

What happens if something goes wrong?

Even the best-planned shipments can face the unexpected, from weather delays to port disruption to warehouse backups. Make sure you know the best way to communicate with your forwarder in urgent situations.

If you ship on, our platform provides document management, shipment tracking for all your shipments in a single dashboard, and easy access to your forwarder whenever you need.

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