What is the difference between Courier, EMS and Freight Forwarder? Explained each Air cargo service.

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You can learn by audio.

When you transfer cargo internationally by air, there are different services that you could use including couriers.

Now, the word “Courier” may not be so common in general. This time, I would like you to understand the different international air shipment services.

Then, I will talk through the advantages and the disadvantages, and using a Courier and a Freight Forwarder.

How difference between Courier, EMS and Freight Forwarder?

What is a courier ?

First of all, a Courier means international delivery.

The world’s three largest Courier companies are DHL, Fedex and UPS. These companies own their aircraft allowing them to transport, clear customs and deliver goods to the final destination.

These Courier companies operate freight forwarding operations, so to differentiate the service, we will use a phrase “Courier” for international delivery service.

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Sagawa Express is also a courier service at Japanese company!

What is EMS?

Let me explain about EMS which is similar services to Couriers.

EMS is also an international delivery service

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They are processed as postal goods.

Couriers are managed by a private enterprise, but EMS is managed by a company with postal business connections.

In terms of their services, They are not much different as they will deliver goods from a sender to a receiver.

However, EMS is operated by companies, who are a part of the “Universal Postal Union” ,and each country offers different services.

This service provides the cheapest cost, however if the cargo is lost, it is very difficult to trace the parcel as each country has different contracted companies.

In general, EMS is used for personal cargo and inexpensive postal goods.

What is a forwarder?

A Freight Forwarder means “International Transportation Agent”.

You may not be familiar with Freight Forwarding agents, but they are agents who coordinate transportation of cargo internationally, without having their own vessels or aircraft.

They can propose different transportation methods for each cargo which cannot be achieved by using a Courier.

Advantage of Courier

Now, I will explain the advantage of using a Courier.

The main advantage of using a Courier is the transportation speed.

Why can they transport items so fast? Their transportation is very systematic and they focus on speed.

Their custom clearance is different from normal custom clearance, which is used by a Freight Forwarder.

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It is called simplified custom clearance.

From Japan, it takes 1-3 days to deliver if it’s Asian countries, 4-5 days for the USA and Europe,
and 5-6 days to deliver to other areas.

Courier for small cargo

In terms of cost, it is cheaper to use a Courier for small volume of cargo. Couriers use a set price. You can find out the cost by identifying the delivery country, weight and the volume weight.

What you need to remember is that there are costs which are not included in the set price. It will incur import duty and tax for the delivering country, and if it’s a remote area, additional costs may apply.

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If you have a regular delivery, you may be able to negotiate the cost.

Easy to request

To make an arrangement with a Courier, all you need to do is to fill in the form on the internet. If you are in a rush to receive cargo, you can call their call center to make arrangements.

Disadvantage of Courier

There are advantages for using a Courier but there are also disadvantages.

The disadvantages of using a Courier are;

・There are restrictions of what they can transport.
・Large cargo costs a lot.
・They are not flexible with irregular matters.

Cargoes which cannot be transported by a Courier, are animals and plants, fresh products, hazardous items and corrosive items.

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In this case, we recommend you to use a forwarder.

A large cargo costs a lot to send by Courier.
In general, if it’s more than 45kg in size and volume, you can obtain a better deal by using a Freight Forwarder.

Another disadvantage is that they cannot be flexible with arrangements.
Cargo packaging, changing delivery location, repayment of tax, and when there is a trouble with customs, it may take time to solve the problem.

Their main focus is speed therefore they are not very flexible with other services.

Advantages of Freight Forwarder

The main advantage of Freight Forwarder is that they can transport cargo, as requested by each customer.

If the customer’s main focus is cost, schedule or safety of cargo, and they use a Freight Forwarder’ services, they can have additional options of transporting by sea, air or Courier, and choose the best transporting method.

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It’s a cool forwarder that has various options.

International logistics can cause problems.

It may delay the delivery date, divide the delivery location, go through special customs. What Couriers are unable to offer allows Freight Forwarders to step in and provide services.

With regards to cost, a Freight Forwarder can offer lower prices with larger volumes, therefore if you are transporting large cargo by air shipment, I suggest that you to use a Freight Forwarder.


I hope you were able to understand the service difference between a Courier and a Freight Forwarder.
They both deal with international transport.

Courier’s focus is their speed.

If you are shipping weight and volume weight under 45kg, you can take advantage of their reduced cost.

On the other hand, a Freight Forwarder can offer more flexible services, and can react promptly in case of an emergency.

You can take advantage of reduced cost with larger volume, so it’s best to use both a Courier and a Freight Forwarder depending on the situation.