During an international move, you may hear a lot of titles and words that you don’t understand. It can sometimes seem like an endless list of names and companies are involved in

your move overseas. You think you know what an international mover is, that seems straightforward enough, but then you hear of freight forwarders, and they seem to be the same thing. Now you’re confused. What is the difference between an international mover and a freight forwarder? You’re going to want to know who you are paying and why, so it’s good to understand the differences between these types of companies.
Also, in case it wasn’t already confusing enough, freight forwarders are sometimes called logistics companies.

Differences between international movers and freight forwarders

It is important to know that almost all the distinctions between the two types of companies have exceptions. Freight forwarders are generally more specialized companies that deal with international shipping logistics, while international moving companies handle the on-ground packing and transportation of personal goods. In some cases, international movers can essentially do the job of a freight forwarder as well as handle the ground transport, and in some cases freight forwarders can handle ground transport as well as international shipping.

International movers and freight forwarders often work together on the same move

Part of the confusion regarding the distinction between these two types of companies is the fact that more often than not, you are enlisting the services of both companies during an international move.

Typically, the international mover will take care of the packing and loading of your shipment, but then will hire a freight forwarder themselves to ship your goods overseas. You will be charged for the freight forwarder’s service within your moving bill. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that the freight forwarders are part of the international moving company, they are third parties that get hired by moving companies.

More rarely, if you hire a freight forwarder directly, they will sometimes contract a moving company to handle the ground transportation. Once again you will see a marked-up price to cover this expense.

Freight forwarders specialize in handling all aspects of overseas shipping

Freight forwarders usually ship cargo overseas. They maintain the ships, drive them, track them, obtain permits, and deal with customs regulations in the various countries they deliver goods to. They rarely do any domestic or ground transportation. They stick to overseas shipping as their specialty. Some freight forwarders do provide ground transport services, but they tend to contract movers for that aspect of their job since most of their focus is on the logistics of international shipping.

Freight forwarders should know how to handle customs regulations in the various countries that they ship to

Part of that international shipping specialization is understanding how to deal with customs regulations in a number of countries. Since the regulations vary so much country to country, freight forwarders with experience in your specific destination are very helpful during an international move.

International movers may provide help during the customs process,but usually they expect either you or a third party forwarder to deal with the customs process. It is much more rare for a moving company to be well versed in customs regulations than it is is for a freight forwarder.

Freight forwarders are always registered with the Federal Maritime Commission, while only some movers are

The FMC regulates all international shipments leaving and entering the United states. It is illegal to ship internationally without being granted a license from them. For this reason, all legally operated freight forwarders have FMC numbers. In addition to that, freight forwarders are responsible for securing any additional permits and certifications your shipment may need depending on its contents and its destination.

International movers will only be licensed if they do the international shipping themselves, which is relatively rare. They are less likely to have the means or knowledge to fully clear your shipment through all the various regulations placed on international shipping.

International movers usually ship personal items while freight forwarders usually ship cargo for companies

An international moving company usually deals with moving household items for private citizens. They may move businesses occasionally, but they typically don’t deal with cargo, exports, or supplies like freight forwarders do.
Freight forwarders usually ship supplies and cargo for companies. When a freight forwarder gets hired by an international moving company, it basically means that your packed items become the moving company’s cargo to be shipped by the freight forwarder because the moving company is paying them to do so.


If you are moving internationally, you probably will hire one of these companies and have them contract some of the work to the other. Due to the added fees involved, this can become quite expensive for you. If you can find an international moving company that can ship your items without hiring a third party company, then you are in luck. You could also try to directly hire a freight forwarder, but don’t expect them to provide any packing services and be careful that they don’t contract a moving company to handle the ground transportation, or you will still end up paying a fee for the contract.

Freight forwarders may be best suited to handle the international shipping process, but if you are moving, it is best for you to start with a moving company. Compare many companies and make sure that they have all-inclusive services if you can. The initial price may be higher for more versatile companies, but you will avoid the marked-up contracting fee in the end.