Should I arrange transport myself or use a freight forwarder?

As an importer, you are often dependent on others to get your products to the Netherlands. For instance, on distant suppliers and transporters. Entrepreneurs who get products from a neighbouring country sometimes arrange things themselves. KVK adviser Annemarie Startman does not always encourage this.

"Every now and then, I have an importer on the line who is quite stressed," Startman says. "Someone who wants to arrange everything themselves, and then runs into problems. For instance, a container of mangoes gets stuck at the port. You don't want that because the fruit spoils. And if that happens, the fruit never sees the inside of a shop and thousands of euros are lost." 

Collecting products yourself

Startman is cautious when importers want to arrange customs matters and transport themselves. "It can be done, but if you ask me, I prefer to recommend working with a freight forwarder," she says. 
But what about when you can travel back and forth to your supplier in a day? "Then you might prefer to go out with a van yourself. If you are going to pick up decorative cushions, for example, it is not so difficult. You just need paperwork. In this case, a private transport declaration for VAT." 

Excise goods

With excise goods, using your own transport is more complicated because there is a lot of paperwork. "Suppose you pick up a pallet of wine in northern France. Then you still need to arrange a number of important things,” explains Startman. “Like informing Dutch Customs before shipping that your shipment is on its way. When you do this, you are effectively saying that you are paying the Dutch excise duty due. You also need a permit to bring excise goods into the Netherlands. And you make an electronic declaration to Customs. For this, you need an EORI number and have to buy specialised software. And you might want to take out transport insurance, with 600 fragile bottles on board."

In short, even if your products are relatively nearby and 'doing it yourself' seems feasible, the process remains complicated. "You pay for a freight forwarder, but a large part of that cost you also incur if you arrange everything yourself. Think of customs fees. And transport insurance, for example. That is probably cheaper through a forwarding agent because they have ongoing contracts with lower rates."

Using a freight forwarder

Suppose goods are coming from China, the journey to the Port of Rotterdam is long and the process is complicated. Then it would be obvious to outsource transport and customs obligations. But even if your supplier takes care of a lot of the arrangements, Startman says it is still wise to engage a freight forwarder. Even when your products arrive at Rotterdam, "Because your shipment still has to be imported into the EU. There is customs work to do." 
Just driving to the port yourself is out of the question. "Because it's so close by, that seems like a good idea, but it's just not possible. In that huge area, among all those containers, it is impossible to arrange for someone to go looking for one small shipment. You can, however, have your shipment held in temporary storage after clearance. With the right papers, you can pick it up there and take it with you yourself. Then you don't have to use a carrier."


Although a forwarder offers advantages, in theory, you can arrange everything yourself. Transport from the supplier to the port or an airport, customs matters abroad, transportation, insurance, customs clearance, loading and unloading; everything. "Yes. It can be done. If you choose to do so, make sure to find out which Incoterms® rules to agree on with your foreign business partner.” 

FOB instead of Ex Works

“With Incoterms® Ex Works (EXW), you collect the product from your business partner's warehouse. You then have to arrange all sorts of things in a country you don't know. Instead, opt for Free on Board (FOB). Then the supplier makes sure your order is loaded onto the ship you arrange."

Peace of mind and security

A freight forwarder provides peace of mind, Startman argues. "You hand over complex matters and know for sure that you will get your goods without any hassle. Especially if you are inexperienced, outsourcing is a good idea. Otherwise, you might keep having that feeling of, 'Did I do it right? Did I forget something?'" With more experience, you can always do more yourself, according to the KVK adviser. "For example, you learn from the documents you are provided with. After all, you see exactly how these are completed. Especially if you order the same products more often, you will eventually be able to take care of certain things yourself just fine."

Want to discuss your situation? Or check whether you have arranged the transport of your products properly? Contact the KVK Advice Team: 088 585 22 22.


Annemarie Startman

Entrepreneurial adviser

Annemarie Startman specialises in international business and knows a lot about doing business with Germany. On the phone every day, she helps entrepreneurs with questions about import and export, for example. She is cautious when importers want to arrange customs matters and transport themselves. "Especially when the distance to a supplier is small, doing it yourself seems feasible. But the process often remains complicated."

  • Import en export
  • Duitsland
  • KVK
Arranging import and transport yourself is possible, but I recommend working with a freight forwarder.