This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Customs/freight brokers arrange the clearance and collection of imported cargo from customs and bond stores, and the shipment of cargo for export.
Customs/freight brokers usually earn
$35K-$100K per year
Pay for customs/freight brokers varies greatly depending on experience, their position within a company and the size of the company.
They can earn anywhere between $35,000 and $100,000 a year.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Customs/freight brokers may do some or all of the following:
- find the most appropriate and cost-effective way of moving goods
- check import/export documents and clear goods through customs
- arrange insurance for goods, and the payment of duties and taxes
- classify goods into different tariff groups by using an international tariff coding system
- communicate with transport companies and international freight forwarders and record the movement and placement of goods while they are in transit
- Depending on the company, some customs brokers may also work as freight forwarders. However, only customs brokers classify goods according to the international tariff coding system.
Skills and knowledge
Customs/freight brokers need to have knowledge of:
- customs regulations and procedures
- carriage of goods laws, including dangerous goods regulations
- transport systems
- methods of packing and stowing goods
- international laws and standards regarding the transport of goods such as those set down by the International Air Transport Association (IATA)
- shipping terms and United Nations port codes.
- usually work regular business hours, but may need to work evenings or early mornings to communicate with clients in different time zones
- work in offices, warehouses and sometimes at airports or ports.
What's the job really like?
Karen Kelland - Freight Broker
"Starting out in the job, the variety of work involved in organising the movement of goods in out and around the country via air, sea and rail really appealed to me. These days I'm the national operations manager for a freight forwarding company, which I helped establish in 1999."
It’s a job that keeps you on your toes
"You have to ensure that customer's goods arrive on time, because they often face a financial penalty if goods are late.
"It can seem like you're forever pushing the boundary and achieving mission impossible to get the booking you want. For example, if goods from Auckland are unable to be transported by rail to Wellington urgently, I'll have to quickly think of an alternative plan, like arranging for a truck driver to deliver the goods overnight."
Good people skills are vital to the job
"You might have to tell a truck driver who's about to knock off on a Friday afternoon that he has to go to the airport to pick up and deliver urgent goods. It's also vital to keep in touch with your clients and be sensitive to their requirements, because this is a customer service industry, and you have to keep that in mind all the time."
Brittany finds out what it's like to be a freight forwarder in exports - 6.19 mins. (Video courtesy of Tranzqual).
Clinton: New Zealand’s economy depends on exporting primary produce to the world. Our meat, sheep, beef and venison exports are worth millions and millions of dollars. And fish and shellfish is a huge player too. Getting highly perishable produce to its destination in tip-top condition is the job of a specialised freight forwarder – freight forwarders like Hellman Perishable Logistics in Christchurch.
Cameron: How’re ya going? My name’s Cameron from Hellman Logistics.
Brittany: Hi I’m Brittany, I’m pretty keen to have a look what’s in there, for you to tell me what’s going on.
Cameron: Keen to learn some freight forwarding?
Cameron: Alright, let’s go!
Clinton: Cameron Knauf has worked for HPL for four years. He started on the warehouse floor and now, based in the office, is in charge of freighting salmon from Marlborough to destinations around the world.
Brittany: So what exactly is your job?
Cameron: I’m responsible for making sure that the product that arrives is the right quantity, is here on time, making sure it’s going to arrive on time at its appropriate destination and making sure that any documents that we have to send with it are exact and correct.
Clinton: All perishable produce has to be kept either frozen or cool at all stages of its transportation, so the facility has large walk-in freezers and cool stores. New Zealand King Salmon send daily shipments of fresh chilled salmon to Asia and LA. Brittany is going to book today’s shipment through the freight forwarding system.
Cameron: The journey of the salmon starts in the Marlborough Sounds where the New Zealand King Salmon processing farms and plants are located. It is then sent by a truck down to Christchurch here, and then onto the airlines where it is sent overseas – usually within 48 hours of being farmed.
Clinton: With 135 boxes of salmon just arrived from Marlborough, Brittany getting on to the shipment orders.
Brittany: The gross weight is 2,673.
Cameron: That’s correct – from that now we can start entering details into our system to create the documents for travel.
Clinton: The salmon has been booked to leave on this afternoon’s Qantas flight to Sydney and on to Tokyo. An air weigh bill has to be created, so the weight, the space needed, customs clearance and allocation of codes, is entered into the system.
Cameron: So here we have the air weigh bill, which we’ll separate…
Brittany: Alright so customs and the airline know everything – is there anything else you need to do?
Cameron: Yep, what we need to do is we need to tell the boys in the store. We need to give them labels so they can label every single polybin.
Clinton: Yes that does mean 135 sticky labels for 135 bins.
Cameron: This is going to be the airline unit we are going to be loading. The whole thing is on rollers, so even with thousands of kilograms of product on it you can easily roll them off and roll them back on.
Cameron: The type of person that would be good for this job is someone who could think on their feet, who can communicate their ideas clearly and precisely, and also make important decisions. For example, when they have an aircraft delayed – whether it be mechanical or weather-related – if this happens it may miss a connecting flight, or it may not go at all, so we have to think on our feet, we may have to bring the product back to our cool store facilities, or we may have to arrange another flight to travel on.
Cameron: We’ve just had word that one of our flower shipments that is coming in slightly larger than we originally booked, so we’ve got to contact the airline and get them to make more room for us.
Brittany: Hi, it’s Brittany here from HPL, I’ve got a consignment of flowers here, but I need to up the weight – 400kg.
Airline: We’ve got a wee bit of a problem - we can do it to Sydney on the 46, but Tokyo is overbooked at this stage.
Brittany: OK, they can’t take the extra…
Airline: OK, what I’ll do is I’ll check with Sydney and see what they can do on the Tokyo leg and get back to you ok?
Brittany: Thank you, bye. They’re going to get back to me?
Cameron: One of the biggest challenges is actually getting the space and getting the bookings onto the airlines. I always try and do advance bookings for the entire month at an estimate of what we will be sending, but sometimes we need to increase that space. Most of the time we can get the space we choose, but if we can’t get that extra space – then we’ve got a problem.
Cameron: Now are they all on the first truck?
Cameron: …I need to get another can…
Cameron: …Two PMCs? Excellent…
Cameron: …Bad news – the freighter was fog-bound out of Christchurch…
Brittany: Hi, HPL you’re speaking with Brittany.
Airline: I’ve just had a callback from Sydney – they can actually take that extra space you’re after.
Brittany: OK, thank you very much.
Brittany: Yep, they can do it.
Cameron: All sorted? Excellent!
Clinton: Heading out on the same plane as the bins of salmon is another shipment of frozen beef. Brittany gets to find out how to turn an airline crate into a fridge.
Packer: What we’re going to do here, is we’re going to open this up. I’ll get you to grab some poly, and we’ll poly the bottom, and the reason we’re going to do that is it is going to protect the product from any sort of heat.
Brittany: How come you’re putting foil in here?
Packer: We’re going to have frozen product in here, and with the frozen we’re going to have dry ice, and this is going to act like a big freezer really.
Clinton: So safely packed and with documentation transmitted, the frozen meat and fresh king salmon heads off on its way to Sydney and beyond.
Clinton: In the sushi bars of Tokyo and Taiwan, the fresh taste of Marlborough will be on the menu again.
Cameron: Brittany did very well, she was keen to learn and she actually got stuck in when it came to the dirty jobs, so all in all, I think she was good.
Brittany: I’ve really enjoyed my time here at Christchurch, and the experience has been amazing and I hope one day that I can do something like this again.
Clinton: There are several national certificates related to warehousing and logistics with a specialised Level 4 certificate in international freight forwarding. There are no specific educational requirements for this job but a clean current driving licence is preferred. Training, arranged by Tranzqual, is delivered on the job. For office-based work, basic computer skills are essential. There are many freight forwarding companies based around New Zealand and the skills learnt can be taken anywhere in the world. For those at school the Gateway programme provides an opportunity for hands-on learning.
There are no specific entry requirements to become a freight broker. However, most employers prefer candidates who have a qualification recognised by Tranzqual, such as a National Certificate in Distribution.
To operate as a customs broker you need to be able to lodge documentation with New Zealand Customs, which requires a New Zealand Customs Unique User Identifier (UUI), commonly known as a Personal Identification Number (PIN).
To gain PIN accreditation, you need to achieve at least an 80% pass in three exams run by the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Federation of New Zealand (CBAFF). The CBAFF run three courses to prepare applicants for the exams.
- MITO website - information on transport and logistics qualification
- Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association of New Zealand website - information on training
NCEA Level 1 English and maths are preferred for customs/freight brokers, as spelling and the ability to make calculations are an important part of the job.
It is recommended that applicants to CBAFF courses have NCEA Level 3 English and maths qualifications.
Customs/freight brokers need to be:
- accurate and well organised
- inquiring and willing to learn while they are working
- able to work well under pressure and make decisions quickly
- good communicators and able to gain people's trust and keep information private.
Useful experience for customs/freight brokers includes:
- working for a shipping line or importer/exporter
- work in customs
- courier work
- office or accounts work
- warehouse and stores work.
What are the chances of getting a job?
The number of people employed as customs/freight brokers remained steady at between 1,200-1,300 between September 2010 and September 2012, according to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimates. However, the value of imports and exports has been steadily increasing, so employment opportunities are expected to improve.
Imports and exports increasing
Imports and exports continue to increase in volume, resulting in more cargo for customs/freight brokers to handle. The value of imports to New Zealand was about $47 billion in 2012, up from 42 billion in 2010. Exports rose from to $42 billion to $46 billion over the period.
Long-term growth predicted
The Ministry of Transport's Freight Demands Study predicts freight growth of about 40% between 2011 and 2031, which means more customs/freight brokers will be needed to arrange the transportation of these goods.
Transport of primary industry products, such as logs, coal and food products, by rail and sea are expected to drive this growth.
Both local and international freight companies operating
Approximately 350 companies employ customs/freight brokers - about a third are large international companies, and the rest are smaller, New Zealand owned companies.
- Beard, C, executive director, Manufacturing and Export New Zealand, Careers New Zealand interview, November 2011.
- Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Federation of New Zealand, 'Skills Strategy 2010-2013' (media release), December 2010.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupational Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012.
- Ministry of Transport, 'National Freight Demands Study' (media release), September 2008.
- Moran, L, project manager, MITO, Careers New Zealand interview, November 2011.
- Tranzqual, 'Freight Forwarding and Customs Broking: Skills Strategy 2010-2013', December 2010.
Progression and specialisations
Customs/freight brokers can progress into management positions.
Customs/freight brokers often specialise in either importing or exporting. They may also specialise in a type of freight, such as air or sea freight.
Customs/freight brokers can also specialise as a:
- Customs brokers arrange the clearance and collection of imported cargo from customs and bond stores, and the shipment of cargo for export.
- Dispatch clerks verify and maintain records of incoming and outgoing goods in a warehouse or distribution centre and prepare goods for despatch.
Last updated 7 December 2017