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How to Become a Licensed Freight Forwarder with the Federal Maritime Commission

Updated on January 25, 2012

A freight forwarder is an ocean transportation intermediary that acts as an agent for international freight shipping companies. The Federal Maritime Commission requires a license to provide freight-forwarding services for shippers.

There are two kinds of ocean transportation intermediaries under the rubric established by the Federal Maritime Commission in the Code of Federal Regulations. They are freight forwarders and NVOCC's (non-vessel operating common carriers). Both have similar but slightly different license requirements.

The official Code of Federal Regulations term for this occupation is "ocean freight forwarder." Technically, this is a person or company that is in the United States and dispatches shipments from the U.S. via a common carrier. This includes booking or arranging space for cargo transportation and performing paperwork or related processing activities for shippers.

International shipping-related companies that perform services fitting the above definition of freight forwarding need to first get a freight forwarder license from the Federal Maritime Commission. Requirements include experience and a bond or other kind of surety.

The actual license required is for an ocean transportation intermediary. This is why freight forwarders and NVOCC companies are sometimes confused and jumbled together. Under FMC rules, a freight forwarder needs at least 3 years of experience. This means that there must be a qualifying person with the freight forwarding company that has at least 3 years of experience. Partners may not combine their experience to reach 3 years.

A freight forwarding company must show some form of financial responsibility in the amount of $50,000. The form of this responsibility is a bond, insurance, or any other form of surety. This is lower than the NVOCC requirement of $75,000. However, for both types of ocean transportation intermediaries, the amount is increased by $10,000 per branch for unincorporated branch offices.

Contact the Federal Maritime Commission if you need to apply for a freight-forwarder license. The address is below.

Federal Maritime Commission
Bureau of Tariffs, Certification and Licensing
800 North Capitol Street, NW
Washington, DC 20573
(202) 523-5843

Code of Federal Regulations, Title 46 (Shipping): FMC Rules and Regulations on Ocean Shipping in Foreign Commerce


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