Shipping agents make the arrangements for trucks, railroad cars and ships to move freight between two or more places. If you're planning to become a shipping agent, your training is largely on-the-job. You need to get a job with a reputable freight forwarder, not only to get the experience but to gain a following among the forwarder's clientele. The job with the freight forwarder also provides you with the financial wherewithal to get your license.
As a shipping agent -- also called a freight forwarder -- you must have a license issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. You don't need the license, called an operating authority, to work for a freight forwarder. You only need an operating authority when you go into business for yourself. The operating authority allows you to work as a motor carrier. This means you can make contracts with others, such as manufacturers, for the carriage of freight by truck, whether you own the truck or arrange to use trucks owned by a trucking company.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you start out as a clerk or warehouse worker for a freight forwarder. You may check cargo manifests, prepare bills of lading or inspect cargo in a warehouse. Eventually, you'll keep the books for a freight forwarder. The freight forwarder will give you more responsibility as you prove you can handle it. Eventually, you'll deal with the forwarder's clients and arrange transportation for shipments. You'll learn the business by working in the business, although you may have to take short training courses.
When you're ready to get your own operating authority, contact your bank or an insurance company and apply for a surety bond. As of October 1, 2013, the amount of the bond is $75,000. The initial application for your authority is made online, but you must present proof of the bond to the FMCSA by mail before your operating authority is issued. Until you have the operating authority in your possession, you cannot act independently as a shipping agent.
The License Application
You apply for the operating authority by completing Form OP-1FF. The form can be completed by answering a series of online questions or by downloading the form, completing it and sending it to the FMCSA, at P.O. Box 70935, Charlotte, NC 28272-0935, by mail. You must also complete FMCSA form BOC-3, to designate yourself or a trusted third party as your official contact for legal service.
If you complete the form OP-1FF online, the FMCSA issues you an identifying number, called a USDOT number, by mail or return email. This is not your operating authority. Your operating authority may take several weeks to arrive, since you must mail the information on your surety bond. When you send the surety bond information, ensure the bond information includes your USDOT number, so that the bond is associated with the correct file at FMCSA. If you don't plan to use your own vehicles in your business, you may request a waiver for any required cargo insurance.