International development projects and humanitarian efforts often involve managing challenging logistics in remote locations. Infrastructure can be minimal—or fragile—and the success of the entire operation often rests on meeting crucial milestones. In situations like these, the right logistics partner can make all the difference in getting your employees’ personal effects, Personally Owned Vehicles (POVs), office vehicles, general cargo, project cargo, consumables, and more delivered where you need them—when you need them.

If you’re looking for a new logistics partner for your non-governmental organization, we’ll show you what to look for. By considering the six questions we’ll share below, you’ll set yourself up to pick a partner with the expertise and capabilities to ensure your project’s success—and keep your mission moving forward.

#1: Can Your Logistics Partner Facilitate Duty-Free Clearance?

Securing duty-free clearance for your eligible shipments is critical to the economics of your projects. However, when you’re dealing with multiple shipments across multiple projects, it can get complicated fast. That’s especially true when you’re sending cargo to several different countries, in which each local Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, and Port/Customs authority has their own set of paperwork and procedures.

Look for a logistics partner who can assist with securing duty-free clearance for your eligible shipments.

In certain jurisdictions, your logistics partner may be able to take care of preparing the paperwork as well as the courier services. When that’s not possible due to local regulations, a strong logistics partner should point you toward the proper channels, share contact information for key officials, and guide you through the entire process step by step.

In other words, look for a partner that can help you streamline clearance, including securing duty-free status.

#2: How Much Experience Does Your Logistics Partner Have?

When executing projects in developing nations, moving cargo can present unique challenges, since infrastructure isn’t nearly as established as in other areas of the world. That’s why it’s important to look for an experienced logistics partner, one who’s solved challenges like this in the past.

First and foremost, ask your logistics partner how many years they’ve been in business. Additionally, you’ll also want to inquire how long have they’ve been an approved Transportation Service Provider (TSP) for large organizations like the U.S. Department of State.

However, you should also look beyond simple years of experience to find the right logistics partner for your organization.

Look for a logistics partner who also has:

  • Expertise in handling your particular type of cargo so they know exactly how to handle, pack, and ship it. A partner with history in this arena will also be able to leverage their knowledge to avoid any common snags along the way.
  • Experience within the area you’re working, so they understand how to navigate regional challenges, such as a country where there aren’t any roads connecting your project site to the nearest seaport.

If you can find a partner who checks the majority of these boxes, you’re likely to find someone who will add significant value to your project.

#3: What Languages Does the Team Speak?

While English is the business language of the world, it’s much easier to negotiate certain circumstances when speaking the local language(s). People who can speak the language most common in your project area can often simply get more done. To offer an example, a member of our team was struggling to get a response from a local customs agent in a French-speaking African country. After several unanswered emails and unreturned phone calls, he pulled in another team member who spoke French. One phone call (in French!) later, the team had the response they needed.

Ask your logistics provider what languages their team speaks.

A provider whose team speaks a wide variety of languages will make a good long-term partner who can serve you in many different areas of the world.

#4: What Kind of Partners Do They Use?

International logistics companies partner with agents all over the world to handle the local packing, unpacking, and transportation of cargo. With the right agents, the whole process can feel seamless from start to finish. However, when these partners aren’t properly trained and vetted, quality of service—and timeliness—can suffer. Perhaps most importantly, if your cargo isn’t properly packed, handled, and unpacked, it can mean damage or loss, which will seriously impact your project—and your overall mission.

Talk to your logistics partner about how they vet their international agents.

Do they have a process in place for locating and choosing agents? A set of standards they adhere to? Have they met any of these partners? Traveled overseas to see their operations for themselves?

To give you one yardstick we use, we only work with international agents that are vetted by the local U.S. Embassy. We’ve found that the embassy’s standards—which include proper training for movers, staff that speaks English, adherence to ethical guidelines, security measures at local warehouses, and more—have helped us connect with the best of the best around the world. Additionally, we regularly meet with international agents at the annual International Association of Movers (IAM) conference, as well as conduct local visits for an extra layer of vetting.

Ask your logistics partner how they proceed in this area, and you’ll get a sense of what to expect when working with their international agents.

#5: How Committed Are They to Using the Right Packing Materials & Techniques?

Moving cargo internationally is very different than moving it domestically. International cargo goes on a longer—and often bumpier—journey, so it needs to be packed and loaded in a specific way to prevent damage.

That means both using 1) high-quality packing materials and 2) proper loading techniques to maximize available space and prevent cargo from shifting during its journey.

Ask your logistics partner about their standards for packing materials, as well as staff training and experience.

To give you an example of the importance of packing materials, all wooden crates and boxes sent internationally must be stamped with an ISPM 15 branded mark. This stamp recognizes that the wood has been treated according to the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures No. 15 (ISPM 15). Here’s an example of what a blank ISPM 15 mark looks like:

Wooden crates, boxes, and pallets constructed with the ISPM 15 mark are importable anywhere in the world. However, if this mark isn’t present, cargo will be refused at most international borders.

That’s just one simple example of why the proper packaging matters. If you’ve ever had cargo damaged in transit, you’ve unfortunately experienced one of the other reasons that packing materials matter.

Make sure to discuss this area before choosing a logistics partner for your next project.

#6: Does Your Logistics Partner Offer In-Transit Visibility?

In order to keep your projects moving forward, you need to be able to track your shipments and know where they are at any point in time.

Ask your logistics partner whether they can provide you with in-transit visibility.

In-transit visibility offers you full transparency as your cargo moves from its origin to its destination—in other words, the ability to keep yourself and your team updated on your cargo’s delivery timeline.

In addition to in-transit visibility, you’ll also want to make sure you have a dedicated coordinator assigned to you by your logistics partner. Ideally, this is someone who knows your projects and your shipments inside and out, someone you can reach out to at any point with questions. After all, if you need an urgent update, you’ll want a direct line to the person who can get you the information you need—fast.

The Right Partner Makes All the Difference

The success of your projects relies on coordinating a number of moving parts so they all move in concert. The right logistics partner can make this job easier. From solving transportation challenges, to streamlining customs clearance, to packing your cargo so it arrives safely, an experienced logistics provider who’s well-matched with your organization can be a vital link in helping you improve lives and fulfill your mission.

Looking for a logistics partner for your general cargo, projects cargo, or consumables? Our experts would be happy to help. As a 10-year partner of USAID, we have the expertise, experience, and understanding to handle even the most challenging projects. Simply reach out for a complimentary consultation to learn more.

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