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What to Look for in an International Shipping Logistics Provider

An international shipping vessel on the ocean while it's snowing

Posted On November 1, 2021

International transportation is complicated. But working with a logistics partner with the right tools and services can give your business a competitive edge, with faster transit times, fewer issues and lower costs. But how do you find the best transportation logistics partner for your company’s needs?

Keep reading to see what to look for when evaluating a potential international shipping logistics provider.


Partnerships with a wide range of carriers.

It’s never been more important to have options when it comes to international shipping. A strong logistics provider will have relationships with numerous carriers, allowing shippers to choose the best carrier and mode, from air export to ocean import. And the international logistics provider’s network should be constantly expanding to include more carriers, ensuring your company has access to the best international shipping options available in the industry.


The ability to support domestic transportation, too.

It’s one thing for a logistics management company to be able to import inventory into the United States—but what happens next is just as important. That’s why working with a freight forwarder who can handle domestic shipping just as easily as international shipping is important. Ask prospective logistics companies about their domestic shipping services, if they can help you coordinate rail or truck shipping, and whether they include warehousing on their roster. Even better: inquire about where those warehouse locations are and what warehouse space is available, should you need it for storage or fulfillment services.


A team of in-house customs brokers.

There are exceptions, but as a general rule of thumb, the fewer parties responsible for managing your supply chains, the better. That’s why working with a freight forwarder with in-house customs brokers is important: When the people responsible for various legs of a shipment sit next to each other in the same office, and work together all day, it leaves fewer gaps in the process and less room for error.

We’ve heard stories from clients of working with multiple partners to execute international shipments, where a mistake on behalf of one logistics business led to a weeks-long delay, not to mention thousands of dollars in fines.

On the export side, most companies won’t have in-house customs brokers for the destination countries. But in those cases, look for companies with a network of customs agencies you can tap into.


A partner who will set realistic expectations.

Another rule of thumb? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

This is especially true with current industry conditions, but can apply to normal conditions, too. If a prospective provider is promising drastically lower container rates than you’d get elsewhere, there’s likely something fishy going on. Every transportation logistics company is playing in the same sandbox right now, so a guarantee of avoiding a high-level problem that’s country- or worldwide should be approached with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The same goes for evaluating the integrity of customs brokers, as well. A broker who says they can get your freight through customs for a fraction of what it should cost is a major red flag: they’re very likely doing some shady customs compliance business that will probably result in fines and back taxes as soon as you get a customs audit.


Not just a partner, a teacher.

Sure, the biggest reason for hiring logistics companies is that they’ll take care of the hard work. But you also want someone who will make sure you understand the industry and are fully aware of all your options. For example, an air freight forwarding partner should be able to let you know when high fuel prices means switching to ocean is a better idea, or your export freight has to meet new requirements in its destination country. It’s not enough for your logistics partner to have industry expertise—they need to be able to share it in a way that you can easily access, and answer any questions you have along the way.


Cutting edge technology with global visibility.

Having visibility into your shipments is important for everything from customer satisfaction and efficiency to revenue.

Unfortunately, tracking for most international shipping projects lags behind domestic shipping. But the logistics partner you work with should offer technology that’s on or above par with any other tracking tools available on the market.

But that’s the bare minimum. In addition to being able to access and track your business’s shipping updates around-the-clock, and no matter where your air cargo or ocean freight is in the world, the logistics firm you work with should be able to customize its reporting and updates. Some of our clients prefer to receive a daily report about where their shipments are, while others request to only be notified about major events, like when the ship has finally made it across the ocean and is at its destination.

The accuracy of the information you receive is also vital, although “accurate” is often a relative term. The estimated date a shipment will arrive at your door can vary widely from day to day, especially in the modern market.


Supply chain management experience for similar products or unusual goods.

No company has organized transportation for everything—but a qualified logistics organization can. When reviewing potential vendors, ask about unique freight they’ve coordinated on a global level. Their answer about how they manage unusual goods that require intricate logistics can tell you a lot. Even if your raw materials or products aren’t similar, their answer can show they would handle and ship yours.

Flat World has managed transportation for horses going to Asia, live fish traveling across the globe, highly fragile (and expensive) electronics, and industrial machinery the size of a house, so companies can rest assured that when they have a specialized product, we can figure out the best way to move it.


A dedicated point of contact and the ability to pivot.

When an international shipping issue does arise, you’ll want a logistics provider that knows your company and its shipments inside and out, from origin to ocean and fulfillment to the recipient’s front door. Part of the logistics process should include a dedicated service representative, someone businesses can always access for help with their freight, and will focus on global conditions to ensure a shipment doesn’t get stalled.

No shipper wants to hear “This is our only option” (although, in some cases, that may be true). Instead, you’ll want a service representative you can rely on to give frequent communication updates and provide alternative, creative shipping solutions when the original plan goes awry due to unforeseen (and uncontrollable) circumstances.


Global shipping logistics isn’t likely to get any easier anytime soon. Flat World works to help our customers with the services they need, from ocean and air transportation, freight tracking technology, customs compliance, rail and truckload shipping, warehousing, and more. But we’re not just a provider—we form a partnership with our customers to ensure they can make the most of their revenue and focus on growth, while we handle the complexities of their international freight.

If you have questions about international shipping services or the future of your company’s global transportation, contact us! We can perform an audit of your current freight process and provide suggestions and practices that will support your bottom line.