For many traders, the most important category of trade-related service providers is freight forwarding.
In addition to arranging transport for your goods, freight forwarders also offer a range of other services - from customs clearance and trade documentation to insurance and supply-chain management. While many forwarders offer a range of services, customs agents and customs brokers provide a different service.
Customs agents and customs brokers fulfil similar roles to each other and the terms are often used interchangeably.
What is the difference between a freight forwarder and a customs agent or broker?
While a freight forwarder will arrange for your goods to be transported from one country to another and typically provide other services as well (such as customs clearance), customs agents and brokers make sure that your goods can be cleared through customs en route to the final place of delivery in the UK.
Agents and brokers in the UK usually operate as direct representatives, but they can also act as indirect representatives. A direct representative acts in your name and can't be held liable for your customs debt. An indirect representative acts in their own name but on your behalf. They can be held liable for your customs debt.
Most freight forwarders also offer customs-clearance services. However, you should note that in some countries outside the UK customs broking is a licensed profession. This means you'll be limited in the range of people you can appoint to clear your goods through customs for you. However, when most consignments arrive at their final port/airport of destination, they are customs cleared by the importer in conjunction with their locally appointed customs broker.
Whether you decide to use a freight forwarder or a customs broker or agent, make sure that you provide them with full and accurate information. The key things to provide are a copy of the commercial invoice and the tariff classification code for your goods - unless you have asked them to classify the goods for you.