What is the difference between Courier and Freight Forwarder?

When you transfer cargo internationally by air, there are different services that you could use including couriers. Now the word ‘courier’ may not be so common in general. I would like you to understand the difference between courier and freight forwarder in the context of international air shipment services. Then I will talk through the advantages, and the disadvantages, and using a courier and a freight forwarder.

What is courier?

First of all, a courier means international delivery. The world’s three largest courier companies are DHL FedEx and UPS. These companies own their aircraft allowing them to transport, clear customs and deliver goods to the final destination. These courier companies operate freight forwarding operations, so to differentiate the service, we will use a phrase ‘courier’ for international delivery service.

What is the difference between EMS and couriers?

EMS is similar services to couriers. EMS is also an international delivery service and they are processed as postal goods. Couriers are managed by a private enterprise, but EMS is managed by a company with postal business connections. In terms of their services, they are not much different as they will deliver goods from a sender to a receiver.

However, EMS is operated by companies, who are a part of the universal postal union, and each country offers different services. The service provides the cheapest cost, however if the cargo is lost, it is very difficult to trace the parcel, as each country has different contracted companies.

In general, EMS is used for personal cargo and inexpensive postal goods.

What is a freight forwarder?

A freight forwarder means international transportation agent. You may not be familiar with freight forwarding agents, but they are agents who coordinate transportation of cargo internationally. Without having their own vessels or aircraft, they can propose different transportation methods for each cargo, which cannot be achieved by using a courier.

Advantage of a courier

The main advantage of using a courier is the transportation speed. Why can they transport items so fast?

  • Their transportation is very systematic and they focus on speed.
  • They use “simplified custom clearance”. Their custom clearance is different from normal custom clearance, which is used by a freight forwarder. If the cargo value is not so high and it’s less than 2000 USD, they are able to get faster approval with simplified custom clearance.
Asian counties1 – 3 days
USA and Europe4 – 5 days
Rest of the world5 – 6 days
Time to take to deliver from China to other countries by courier

In terms of cost, it is cheaper to use a courier for small volume of cargo. Couriers use a set price. You can find out the cost by identifying the delivery country, weight and the volume weight. What you need to remember is that there are costs which are not included in the set price. It will incur import duty and tax for the delivering country, and if it’s a remote area, additional costs may apply. If you have a regular delivery, you may be able to negotiate the cost.

To make an arrangement with a courier, all you need to do is to fill in the form on the internet. If you are in a rush to receive cargo, you can call their call center to make arrangements.

Disadvantages of using courier

  • There are restrictions of what they can transport.

They are not flexible with irregular matters. Cargos which cannot be transported by a courier are animals and plants, fresh products, hazardous items and corrosive items.

  • Large cargo costs a lot.

A large cargo costs a lot to send by courier. In general, if it’s more than 45kg in size and volume, you can obtain a better deal by using a freight forwarder, which I will explain later.

  • They cannot be flexible with arrangements.

Cargo packaging, changing delivery location, repayment of tax and when there is a trouble with customs, it may take time to solve the problem. Their main focus is speed, therefore they are not very flexible with other services.

The advantages of a freight forwarder

The main advantage of using a freight forwarder, is that they can transport cargo as requested by each customer. If the customer’s main focus is cost, schedule or safety of cargo and they use a freight forwarder’ services, they can have additional options of transporting by sea, by air or courier and choose the best transporting method.

International logistics can cause problems. It may delay the delivery date, divide the delivery location, go through special customs. What couriers are unable to offer allows freight forwarders to step in and provide services.

With regards to cost a freight forwarder, can offer lower prices with larger volumes, therefore if you are transporting large cargo by air shipment, I suggest that you to use a freight forwarder.

I hope you were able to understand the, service difference between a courier and a freight forwarder. They both deal with international transport. Courier’s focus is air speed. If you are shipping weight and volume weight under 45kg, you can take advantage of their reduced cost. On the other hand, a freight forwarder can offer more flexible services and can react promptly in case of an emergency. You can take advantage of reduced cost with larger volume, so it’s best to use both the courier and a freight forwarder depending on the situation.

I explained about the difference, advantage and disadvantage of the courier, EMS and freight forwarder. I hope this is a good support for your job. And if you want to know more about international logistics, please leave a message to let us know.

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