How to Navigate Cross-Border Logistics: Finding the Right Partner is a Key First Step

A major shift is underway in global logistics: more and more companies – particularly those in the industrial sector – are relocating their manufacturing operations from China to North America in response to supply chain vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic, mounting geopolitical tensions, and rising costs.

This rapidly growing trend of nearshoring is leading to more plants and warehouses being built in the United States, Mexico and Canada, and to more goods moving between these countries.  It is also increasing demand for seamless cross-border freight transportation services.

The reality of relocating manufacturing operations from one part of the world to the other in a short time brings with itself a slew of significant challenges both to big, sophisticated companies and to smaller businesses that are new to the process.  

Among such challenges is establishing a reliable and agile freight transportation operation.  Navigating the complexities of cross-border shipping can be particularly daunting, given regulatory requirements, infrastructure limitations, cargo security concerns, and complex border procedures.

Establishing a successful cross-border program requires careful consideration of several factors, and finding the right freight transportation partner is a crucial first step that can be the difference between a smooth experience or a logistical nightmare.


There’re five key factors to consider when selecting a cross-border freight transportation partner:

  1. In-House capabilities, experience, and certifications:

Not all freight transportation providers are equal, and only some have the necessary expertise and accreditations to execute seamless cross-border movement of goods. Look for carriers that employ their own experienced professionals to ensure the safety and security of your cargo throughout the shipping process.

For example, having certifications like the Partners in Protection (PIP) from the Canada Border Services Agency, can ensure efficient and secure freight movement with reduced inspections as a "trusted trader" and compliance with protocols that are in line with industry standards.

To ensure safety and security while facilitating cargo movement across the Canada-US border, ask the carrier if their drivers are Free and Secure Trade or FAST-certified, which is a commercial driver clearance. 


  1. Robust networks:

Choosing a freight transportation partner with an extensive and well-connected network will greatly streamline your shipping operations and minimize freight rehandling. Carriers with broad coverage across North America enable shippers to work with a one-stop shop for transportation services that can best accommodate their needs. For this reason, a less-than-truckload or LTL provider with a vast network may be a suitable option for maximized cost savings, agility, and better handling of freight.

Look for carriers with broad coverage of border crossings between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, as well as sufficient trailers and drivers or trusted partners to ensure a seamless transportation experience throughout the three countries.


  1. Dedicated support:

Ease of communication is essential for any partnership but when it comes to cross-border logistics, selecting a carrier with dedicated in-house support can make all the difference. Good partners are those who offer hands-on assistance with booking shipments, paperwork, and seamless coordination with customs brokers.

Whether you’re moving automotive parts, raw goods or hazardous materials, it’s important that the broker has relevant experience and understands the rules governing shipments for your specific industry. Ask if a carrier has a referral program that’ll match you with a trusted customs broker for personalized hassle-free experience on both sides of the border. 


  1. Technology-enabled experience:

In a world where faster delivery times and accurate tracking are the new standards, selecting a freight transportation partner with advanced technology is essential. Gone are the days of having to juggle multiple sources of information about shipment locations. With a tech-enabled carrier partner, you’ll benefit from a single source of truth to provide real-time updates and precise delivery ETAs.

For example, at XPO, we leverage proprietary piece-level tracking (PLT) tool to improve the customer experience by assigning each pallet a unique identifier for real-time tracking. Traditionally, LTL freight is tracked at the shipment level but with PLT, you can track each pallet of your freight individually from origin to destination – providing great visibility to where freight is at all times.

Additionally, carriers that leverage safety technology are better able to keep track of fleets, maintain consistent communication with drivers, and improve overall driver safety performance throughout the cross-border transportation process.


  1. Flexibility and capacity:

Lastly, to meet diverse shipping needs, it’s important to partner with a carrier that has the capacity to take on more freight and can provide customized shipping solutions. Do they have enough certified drivers? Do they have enough truck and trailers? Since nearshoring is also congruent to expectations of shorter lead times and just-in-time manufacturing and inventory fulfillment, carriers should also be able to handle more frequent shipments while providing on-time delivery services.

Building a successful cross-border logistics operation is no easy task but selecting the right freight transportation partner is a great way to get started. Taking a close look at a carriers’ cross-border services in addition to their level of expertise, depth of network, ability to provide dedicated support, advanced technology, and capacity will point you into the right direction. With the right partner, navigating the complexities of cross-border logistics becomes a manageable and rewarding endeavor for shippers seeking to optimize their supply chains and capitalize on the opportunity to bring manufacturing operations closer to home.


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