Answers For Your International Freight Questions

We’re often fielding questions on international shipping, so we asked the experts at Freightos – the online freight marketplace where you can instantly compare and book international freight shipments – to answer some of the most common:

  • Should I palletise my goods, and what pallets should I use for Amazon?
  • Should I transport goods by courier, ocean or air? How do I calculate which one’s best?
  • What measurements (and what else) do I need to get from my supplier?
  • How do I go about finding the right forwarder?
  • Which jargon and abbreviations do I really need to know?

Should I Palletise My Goods, And What Pallets Should I Use For Amazon?

This is a great first-up question, because it’s got a simple black and white answer.

  • Pallets dramatically increase air freight costs, so if you’re shipping by air, don’t palletize until after customs clearance.
  • Ocean freight cost aren’t driven by weight to the same extent, so have the shipment palletized at the factory. This makes the shipment easier to transport, and better protected against damage or loss.

But, depending on the country, your supplier may need to provide you with a fumigation certificate.

If you’re working with a new supplier, building trust takes time, so:

Ship Or Plane? And How Do I Calculate Which One’s Best?

Unless it can get there by truck or train, the international freight modes are express, air and ocean, and their premium options.

  • Express freight (international courier) can only be used with small shipments. Check each courier for weight and size restrictions. Everything is streamlined, just book and pay online. Even customs is streamlined, and your courier will notify you if customs is involved.
  • Air freight processes are more complex and much less automated than express freight. One drawback of both modes is that more goods are restricted as being hazardous on planes than on ships.
  • Though becoming more reliable, ocean freight will always be more prone to delays like bad weather. Avoid if your shipment has a hard deadline. “Expedited freight”, the premium product, can shave weeks off transit.

Do You Want To Save Time Or Money?

Mode ranked by speed (average China-US door to door times):

  • Premium Express Freight (1-2 days)
  • Express Freight (3 days)
  • Premium Air Freight (5-8 days)
  • Air Freight (8-10 days)
  • Premium (Expedited) Ocean Freight (18-30 days)
  • Ocean Freight (Expedited) (30-40 days)

Mode ranked by cost (weight boundaries are approximate only)

  • Use Express Freight for light shipments (up to about 50 kg).

What Measurements (And What Else) Do I Need From My Supplier?

You need the shipment’s dimensions and total weight so that you can request quotes. It’s on the Packing List. If there are several items in your shipment, here’s how to work out the total volume. For each item, multiply the three dimensions together to get cubic volume, then add the cubic volumes together.

Also ask them to send the Commercial Invoice before you request quotes. It includes the standardized product description.

With these two docs, you’re halfway through preparing to request quotes.

Depending on product and country, your supplier may also need to send you:

  • Certificate of Origin, but only for the first shipment (for customs rebates, exemptions, and enforcing embargoes).
  • Material Safety Data Sheet, for hazardous products.
  • Fumigation Certificate.

How Do I Find A Good Forwarder?

There’s a lot at stake with your shipment so you want to make the right choice of forwarder. Other than by recommendation, how do you find the right one for you from the thousands out there? There hasn’t been a practical answer for that, but recently instant freight quote marketplaces have taken the guesswork out by providing reliable forwarder ratings.

Don’t rule smaller forwarders out. They’re often more focussed on smaller customers. But check which countries they have trusted agents to take care of the local arrangements.

Clearly, you want a forwarder you can trust and keep you in the loop. When you request a quote, you may get a good indication. Like, if they take days to respond with a quote, or it comes with obvious errors.

Invoicing errors are endemic to the industry, for instance the staggering amounts wrong in just booking shipments onto container ships. So, how about your quotes? Until you build experience, that makes it more difficult to check quote accuracy, especially whether all fees have been included. That’s because each forwarder has their own quote layout, their own fee descriptions, and itemize or roll up fees in different ways.An exception is for automatically generated quotes, which will take everything you requested into account, and more generally be much less likely to have errors.

Which Jargon Do I Really Need To Know?

Like any other industry, freight is rife with jargon. Freight glossaries will tell you what an abbreviation stands for, and that’s great – if you’re doing a quiz. Here’s the jargon that you absolutely need to understand, and the reasons why.

FOB & Other Freight Terms

By international convention, every international sales contract must include an incoterm (standardized freight terms that define when the shipment’s responsibility and liability transfers from the seller to the buyer). Both parties must agree to one – no incoterm, no shipment.

Each incoterm has it’s pros and cons, and some of those cons are frightening!

Here’s your go-to incoterms:

  • Free On Board: FOB plays to both your and your supplier’s strengths. Your supplier arranges the shipment within their country. Your forwarder arranges main leg and delivery.
  • Ex-Works: EXW gives you total control of the shipment from pickup to delivery. You’ll pay more freight costs than with FOB, so use a freight rate calculator to help work out how much better you’ll want the deal to be.


Less than container load (LCL) is when your shipment won’t fill a plane or container. It gets “consolidated” with other shipments at a freight consolidation center (grand name, but it’s just a type of warehouse located near airports and seaports).

Why do you need to understand this? So that you understand why your shipment takes longer and costs more than with a full container load (FCL). It carries more risk of delay or loss, too, so ensure your cartons are clearly marked – carton count, gross weight, net weight, country of origin, and tracking labels (e.g. FBA shipment labels).


Can you keep tabs on all the shipping documents that come your way? Do you know your Bills of Lading from your Letter of Credit? Do you need to? For now, check out why these few key freight documents are important for you.

OFX readers can get $100 promotional credit towards their first shipment of $1,000 when signing up to the Freightos Marketplace with this link.

Smooth shipping!

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