Freight Forwarder vs. NVOCC: What’s the Difference?

Even people who have been in the industry for years have trouble differentiating between a freight forwarder and an NVOCC (Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier). Although they are two different types of providers, they do have a lot of cross over. So what’s the difference?

A Freight Forwarder is engaged in all modes of transportation including international and domestic loads. They are involved with the client from arranging the shipment, preparing documentation, customs clearance, warehousing and delivery, all critical parts to provide service to the supply chain on behalf of the client. They will provide you with a house bill of lading, while the carrier of the load will provide the master and in the case of a claim you will work with both parties to handle the problem.

An NVOCC is defined as an ocean “carrier” that does not have their own ships. Instead they lease space from ocean carriers on their customer’s behalf. This type of carrier will have their own bill of lading, publish tariff rates and enter into service contracts with steamship carriers through licensing granted through the FMC (Federal Maritime Commission). If there is a problem with your shipment you work directly with your NVOCC and they are fully responsible for your shipping container or cargo. Note…

You must be a freight forwarder to be an NVOCC as this is an important regulatory designation that allows 3PLs to incorporate ocean logistics into their service of offerings.

The main difference between the two is responsibility. Both companies track your cargo and move it through the supply chain, but an NVOCC also acts as your carrier therefore has more responsibility for your cargo. Both are important to your supply chain and are critical elements any third-party logistics provider should offer.

AFS is a fully bonded and licensed Freight Forwarder and Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier with the Federal Maritime Commission. To learn more about how we can lower your costs and streamline your supply chain contact one of our subject matter experts at 877-242-3383 or visit



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