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A freight forwarder, forwarder, or forwarding agent, is a person or company that organizes shipments for individuals or corporations to get goods from the manufacturer or producer to a market, customer or final point of distribution. Forwarders contract with a carrier to move the goods. A forwarder does not move the goods but acts as an expert in supply chain management. A forwarder contracts with carriers to move cargo ranging from raw agricultural products to manufactured goods. Freight can be booked on a variety of shipping providers, including ships, airplanes, trucks, and railroads. It is not unusual for a single shipment to move on multiple carrier types. 'International freight forwarders" typically handle international shipments. International freight forwarders have additional expertise in preparing and processing customs and other documentation and performing activities pertaining to international shipments.
Information typically reviewed by a freight forwarder includes the commercial invoice, shipper's export declaration, bill of lading and other documents required by the carrier or country of export, import, and/or transshipment. Much of this information is now processed in a paperless environment.
The FIATA shorthand description of the freight forwarder as the 'Architect of Transport' illustrates the commercial position of the forwarder relative to his client. In Europe, some forwarders specialize in 'niche' areas such as rail-freight, and collection and deliveries around a large port.
Some forwarders handle domestic shipments only.
National variations 
In Australia most licensed Customs Clearance Agents (commonly referred to as Customs Brokers) operate under a freight forwarder.
Freight forwarders must have a government license.
Transport Canada is the federal department responsible for implementing and enforcing transportation policies and programs. The Canadian Border Services Agency is responsible for enforcing most regulations that affect international freight forwarders. International security measures are the dominant concern.
The Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA) was established in 1948 to support and protect the character, status and interest of foreign freight forwarders by establishing uniform trade practice and regulations. CIFFA also plays an educational role by providing certificate and advanced certificate programs.
International merchandise trade is worth €148 billion to the Irish economy. 82% of manufactured products are exported, further highlighting the importance of freight forwarders to the national economy. Associations including the Irish International Freight Association and FIATA help maintain the professionalism of this industry through educational and representative roles. FIATA offers a Diploma in Freight Forwarding.
In Kenya freight forwarders are commonly referred to clearing and forwarding agents. A license is required, which can be acquired from Kenya Revenue Authority. Freight forwarders in Kenya are responsible for clearing consignments through Kenya customs, arranging transportation and forwarding the consignment to the consignee. Both exports and imports must clear customs in Kenya.
Freight-forwarding in Nigeria has been in place since the exporting of groundnut as a cash crop beginning in 1914, though not initially as freight forwarding but as the means of transportation of goods and services from one country to another. Following the methodology of their British forebears, agents were used to facilitate the transport of goods and services.
In the U.K., freight forwarders are not licensed, but many are members of the British International Freight Association. They consolidate goods from different consignors into full loads for road transport to Europe, known as groupage. Some offer services such as export packing.
Companies that handle domestic U.S. freight must be registered with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Such forwarders are "carriers" who accept freight for transport and are liable for delivering the freight under their own bill of lading.
The legal definition at 49 U.S.C. § 13102 (8)is: "Freight Forwarder—the term 'freight forwarder' means a person holding itself out to the general public (other than as a pipeline, rail, motor, or water carrier) to provide transportation of property for compensation and in the ordinary course of its business — (A) assembles and consolidates, or provides for assembling and consolidating, shipments and performs or provides for break-bulk and distribution operations of the shipments; (B) assumes responsibility for the transportation from the place of receipt to the place of destination; and (C) uses for any part of the transportation a [surface carrier] carrier subject to jurisdiction [of the Department of Transportation] of under this subtitle."
International ocean freight forwarders arranging for shipments to and from the US must be licensed by the Federal Maritime Commission as Ocean Transportation Intermediaries. An Ocean Transportation Intermediary is either an ocean freight forwarder or a non-vessel operating common carrier (NVOCC). An ocean freight forwarder is an individual or company in the United States that dispatches shipments from the United States via common carriers and books or otherwise arranges space for those shipments on behalf of shippers. Ocean freight forwarders prepare and process documentation and perform related activities pertaining to shipments. An NVOCC is a common carrier that holds itself out to the public to provide ocean transportation, issues its own bills of lading or equivalent documents, but does not operate the vessels that transport cargo. Companies may obtain both licenses and may act in both capacities. The U.S. legal distinction between the two is that a freight forwarder acts as the agent of a principal (typically a shipper or consignee) and the NVOCC is a transportation company (carrier) that is physically responsible for the carriage of goods and acts as its own principal. Companies acting strictly as an Ocean Freight Forwarder typically do not issue their own contract of carriage (bill of lading) and as agent are generally not liable for physical loss or damage to cargo except in cases of errors in judgment or paperwork or fiduciary responsibility. NVOCC's act as ocean freight carrier and issue their own bill of lading and are legally responsible for physical loss or damage in accordance with the terms and conditions of their bill of lading and tariff. Similar to other countries, freight forwarders that handle international air freight frequently obtain accreditation with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as a cargo agent; however, they must obtain an Indirect Air Carrier (IAC) certification from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
One of the earliest freight forwarders was Thomas Meadows and Company Limited of London, England, established in 1836. According to "Understanding the Freight Business," written and published by the executive staff of Thomas Meadows and Company in 1972. The advent of reliable rail transport and steamships created demand for the fledgling freight forwarding industry. Trade developed between Europe and North America, creating additional demand. The first international freight forwarders were innkeepers in London who held and re-forwarded the personal effects of their hotel guests.
The original function of the forwarder was to arrange for carriage by contracting with various carriers. Forwarder responsibilities included advice on documentation and customs requirements in the country of destination. His correspondent agent overseas looked after his customers' goods and kept him informed about matters that would affect movement of goods.
In modern times the forwarder accepts the same responsibilities. It operates either as a domestic US carrier or otherwise with a corresponding agent overseas or with his own branch-office. In a single transaction, the forwarder may be acting as a carrier (principal) or as an agent for his customer or both.
Document transfer fee/Document handover fee 
International Freight Forwarders, NVOCC's and customs brokers often charge for transferring documents to another transportation company at destination. This fee is a part of the ocean freight charges, being paid by the importer at the port of discharge in the incoterm FOB (free on board), and by the exporter at the origin in the incoterms CFR (cost and freight) and CIF (cost, insurance and freight). This fee is separate from documentation fees charged by carriers and NVOCCs as part of the freight charges on a bill of lading and is separate from other fees for document preparation or for release of cargo. Some companies call this an administration fee, document fee, document transfer fee, but it exists in some form in most destinations and is well known to most shippers. Steamship carriers do not have this fee.
- "Freight forwarder." Random House Unabridged Dictionary (1997). Random House, Inc., on Infoplease. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
- Irish International Freight Association
- "Kenya Clearing & Forwarding Agents | Kenya Freight Forwarders - Customs Clearance | Aeromarine Logistics - Freight Clearing Forwarding Kenya". Aeromarine.co.ke. Retrieved 2013-01-17.
- Federal Maritime Commission, Office of Transportation Intermediaries