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Navigating the Shipping Maze: NVOCC vs. a Freight Forwarder

by | Mar 12, 2024 | Blog Post

Confused about shipping your cargo overseas? You’re not alone. The world of international shipping can feel like a complex maze, filled with unfamiliar terms and confusing options. Two key players often mentioned are Non-Vessel Operating Common Carriers and freight forwarders. Both act as intermediaries, streamlining the transportation of your goods from origin to destination, but their approaches diverge significantly.


First and foremost, let’s delve into what they do.



While both navigate the seas, NVOCCs and freight forwarders offer distinct functionalities when it comes to international shipping.

  • Freight forwarders function as the “all-in-one shipping concierges.” Their comprehensive service portfolio encompasses various aspects beyond ocean freight, including: inland transportation, storage solutions, customs clearance, trade support, and more.
  • Non-Vessel Operating Common Carriers (NVOCCs) primarily focus on “enhanced” ocean freight solutions, leveraging their expertise and consolidated buying power to secure competitive rates. Imagine NVOCCs as wholesale buyers of container space on cargo ships. NVOCCs can offer many of the same services as freight forwarders. Like Dimerco, some NVOCCs have expanded their services to include air freight, inland transportation, customs clearance support, to name a few.


Shared Responsibilities

Both NVOCCs and freight forwarders act as facilitators, ensuring your goods reach their destination. They handle tasks like:

  • Booking cargo space on vessels.
  • Preparing and processing shipping documents.
  • Coordinating customs clearance.
  • Arranging inland transportation.


In the US, governed by the Shipping Act of 1984, both entities fall under the Ocean Transportation Intermediary (OTI) category, requiring FMC registration. NVOCCs, however, have additional compliance obligations regarding issuing their House Bill of Lading (HBL). In countries beyond the US, regulations concerning NVOCCs and freight forwarders may vary, and the distinction between the two might not be as pronounced. Regardless of your location, understanding their core functions and specific regulations can help you choose the ideal shipping partner for your international needs.


Key Differences Explained

While they share common ground, NVOCCs and freight forwarders differ in their specific approaches, a key distinction lies in their approach to contracting and ownership.


  • Freight forwarders act as your representatives, booking and managing your cargo using your existing service contracts with ocean carriers. However, this reliance on pre-established agreements can involve juggling multiple documents and navigating different communication channels.
  • NVOCCs, in contrast, enter into direct contracts with shippers to transport containers themselves. This means they assume the role of “carrier,” taking on greater contractual responsibility for your cargo. In the US, NVOCCs must be registered with the FMC and comply with specific requirements for issuing HBL. Since they can issue their own HBL, they significantly simplify communications by providing you with a single point of contact and a clear, binding legal document outlining the terms of your shipment.


Regardless of your choice, you’ll receive a bill of lading for your cargo. The difference lies in simplicity. NVOCCs provide a single point of contact, while freight forwarders use the ocean carrier’s bill, potentially requiring interaction with both parties. Choose based on your preference for a streamlined process.



In-Depth Comparative Glance


Freight Forwarders: Your All-in-One Shipping Concierge

Freight forwarders act as logistics orchestrators, managing your entire shipment journey. They coordinate transportation by sea, air, land, and rail, handling everything from customs clearance to documentation. Imagine them as your one-stop shop for international shipping needs.


Key freight forwarder features:

  • Global Reach: Arrange cargo movement across domestic and international borders.
  • Storage Solutions: Find and manage storage facilities for your goods.
  • Booking Cargo: Use their customer’s service contract with the ocean carrier to make bookings.
  • Direct Responsibility: Oversee shipments under customer’s own contracts.
  • Paperwork Pro: Handle all shipping documents for a smooth journey.
  • Customs Clearance Experts: Navigate customs regulations and ensure hassle-free entry.
  • Trade Support: Take care of bank paperwork and cargo insurance.


NVOCCs: An Upgraded Shipping Experience

Think of NVOCCs as ocean freight specialists. While they don’t own the ships themselves, they secure space on vessels. They use their expertise and buying power to secure competitive rates for bulk space on specific trade routes, maximizing efficiency and cost-effectiveness for clients. But many NVOCCs offer a comprehensive suite of services akin to freight forwarders, handling everything from customs clearance and warehousing to insurance and distribution.


Key NVOCC features:

  • Single point of contact: Dealing with one entity streamlines communication and simplifies the entire shipping process.
  • Consolidated volume & competitive rates:  Leverage their combined volume to negotiate better rates with ocean carriers, which can benefit you even if your individual shipment is small.
  • Expanded service range: Like freight forwarders, they offer a wide range of services.
  • Act as carriers: Sign contracts directly with ocean carriers and take responsibility for your cargo.
  • Manage cargo movement: Handle delivery and receipt like your own goods.
  • Issue paperwork: Provide various shipping documents, including the House Bill of Lading.
  • Handle payments: Arrange port-to-port transportation fees and other charges.
  • Consolidate & deconsolidate: Group smaller shipments into containers or break them down at destination, often using third-party services or specialized facilities.


Choosing the Right Partner

The optimal choice between NVOCCs and freight forwarders hinges on your specific requirements. As mentioned, not all NVOCCs are created equal. Some, like Dimerco, also operate as full-fledged freight forwarders, offering the “best of both worlds” to shippers. This means they provide the convenience and single point of contact of an NVOCC along with the flexibility and broad logistics expertise of a traditional freight forwarder. They can manage the entire transport journey, including inland transportation, customs clearance, and warehousing, if needed.

So, if you’re tired of juggling multiple providers and want the convenience of an NVOCC with the flexibility of a freight forwarder, Dimerco offers complete control over your shipment, from booking to delivery, while taking full responsibility for the ocean leg as your carrier. To learn more, contact us to start a conversation.