Preparing to ship a container requires research and planning. As the shipper, you are at the mercy of the freight broker who makes the arrangements for customs and shipping at both ends of the transportation process, contracts for the mode or modes of transportation, arranges insurance and even pays bribes, if necessary. Your efforts should be aimed toward providing the most complete information possible about the shipment so that, as brokers deliver a quote, you can make an informed decision about your containerized shipment.

Step 1.

Select the service. Is it shipping within North America? Will it be an import to or export from the United States? Or will it travel between ports outside the United States?

Step 2.

Gather the information on the container and the commodity. Is it a 20 foot container (1,186 cubic feet or 48,000 pounds) or a 40 foot container (2,372 cubic feet or 53,000 pounds)? Transportation for containerized freight is usually quoted in Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs).

Step 3.

Procure a copy of the proposed bill of lading or container manifest. What kind of goods will be shipped in the container? Household goods, industrial goods and cars are all shipped at different rates. Shipping cars in a container, uncombined with other goods, may be more expensive than using a dedicated roll on/roll off (RO/RO) car carrier.

Step 4.

Read the specifics on the shipping manifest. Is the containerized freight hazardous? Hazardous materials require specialized handling and are more expensive because the containers may only be handled by trained personnel. If the shipment is an intermodal shipment, moved by both ocean freight and truck or train, what will that overland segment of the freight movement cost--on both ends?

Step 5.

Make yourself familiar with customs clearance procedures on both ends of the transportation process. What is unthinkable in one country may be the norm in another. The freight broker will likely be aware of any additional fee might be imposed at a foreign destination or point of departure.

Step 6.

Contact several freight brokers for rate quotes, depending on the destination of the container. Not all freight brokers provide services to all destinations because of cabotage laws that protect the freight markets. For example, the Jones Act requires shipments traveling from American ports to American ports use American-flagged ships with American officers and crews. Other countries may have similar laws in place.


Ask freight brokers which land carriers they use regularly and which ocean carriers they use most often for freight with the same destination as yours. Ask for the names of people they work with at those companies and treat their responses like job references.

Check the freight broker's references. .


Remember that the world of shipping can be as competitive as the New York Stock Exchange, with brokers and transportation companies negotiating arrangements and competing for the same dollars. Good service counts--a more expensive broker with a better track record may serve you better than an economy broker who only works three days a week.