Differences Between a Freight Forwarder and a Carrier

When it comes to global logistics, understanding the distinct roles of a freight forwarder and a carrier is crucial. Both play vital roles in ensuring goods move smoothly from one point to another, but their functions and responsibilities differ significantly. Continue reading and learn about the key differences between a freight forwarder and a carrier and how they interact within the global and local supply chain.

What is a Carrier?

A carrier, often referred to as a common carrier, is the entity that owns the transportation assets and is responsible for the actual movement of goods. Carriers can be shipping lines, airlines, trucking companies, or rail operators.Types of Carriers· Shipping Line: A shipping line operates a fleet of ships that transport goods across seas and oceans. Major shipping lines include Maersk, MSC, and CMA CGM.· Airlines: These carriers transport goods via air, which is crucial for time-sensitive and high-value shipments.· Trucking Companies: They handle overland transport, providing flexibility and direct routes for domestic and cross-border shipping.· Rail Operators: Rail carriers are ideal for bulk goods over long distances within continents.Carriers are responsible for the safe and timely delivery of cargo and for operating the vessels, aircraft, trucks, or trains that physically move the goods.

What is a Freight Forwarder?

A freight forwarder acts as an intermediary between the shipper and various transportation services, such as shipping lines, air freight, and trucking companies. Essentially, a freight forwarder does not transport goods directly. Instead, they arrange the logistics and coordinate with carriers to ensure the efficient movement of cargo.Services Provided by a Freight Forwarder· Logistics Planning: A freight forwarder helps plan the most efficient and cost-effective route for shipping goods.· Documentation: They handle necessary paperwork, including customs documentation, ensuring compliance with international shipping regulations.· Cargo Insurance: Freight forwarders often offer insurance options to protect goods against potential damage or loss during transit.· Consolidation: They can consolidate smaller shipments into one larger shipment, reducing shipping costs.An international freight forwarding company leverages its network and expertise to navigate complex shipping regulations, ensuring timely and secure delivery of goods.

Key Differences Between a Freight Forwarder and a Carrier

When it comes to their roles in the supply chain, a freight forwarder acts as a coordinator, arranging transportation, handling documentation, and ensuring smooth logistics. On the other hand, a carrier owns and operates the transport vehicles and is directly responsible for the physical movement of goods.Here are other differences between the two:


A freight forwarder offers a comprehensive suite of services, including route optimization, documentation, and shipment consolidation, ensuring efficient logistics management. In contrast, a carrier is dedicated to the actual transportation of goods, focusing on maintaining schedules and ensuring cargo safety throughout the transit process.

Relationship with Shippers

A freight forwarder directly collaborates with shippers to plan and manage logistics, offering customized solutions to meet specific needs. On the other hand, a carrier works with freight forwarders or shippers to deliver transport services according to established schedules and routes.

Can a Carrier Be a Freight Forwarder?

While primarily distinct in their roles, a carrier can offer freight forwarding services. Some large shipping lines and airlines have established logistics divisions to provide end-to-end solutions, acting as both carrier and freight forwarder. This integration allows them to offer comprehensive services, from planning and documentation to the actual transportation of goods.


Understanding the differences between a freight forwarder and a carrier is essential for efficient and effective logistics management. While a freight forwarder arranges and oversees the shipment process, a carrier is responsible for the actual transportation of goods. Both roles are vital, and their collaboration ensures the seamless movement of goods across the globe. Whether working with an international freight forwarding company or directly with a common carrier, businesses can optimize their supply chains by leveraging the strengths of each entity.