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Types of FMC Licenses


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What are the different types of FMC licenses?

Licensing requirements and regulations for ocean freight forwarders and Non-Vessel-Operating Common Carriers (NVOCCs) operating in the USA were established by the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) in May 1999. Due to these regulations, every NVOCC or ocean forwarder operating in the USA must obtain a license to operate as an “Ocean Transportation Intermediary” (OTI) before it begins operations. NVOCCs outside the USA are not eligible to hold the FMC-OTI license but are required to register with FMC before they begin handling shipments to/from the USA as NVOCCs.

The FMC-OTI license application process is detailed and time consuming. All applicants are subject to rigorous investigation by the FMC’s Bureau of Certification and Licensing to determine if they have the necessary experience and character to render OTI services in compliance with the Shipping Act and FMC regulations. Each applicant must submit a complete application process with supporting documents and the filing fee. Corporations that apply for the license must demonstrate that at least one of their officers has a minimum of three years of experience working in the USA for a licensed OTI, or for an FMC regulated ocean carrier, and three references who must confirm their first- hand knowledge of this experience. The FMC issues the below three types of OTI licenses.

  • OTI-Ocean Freight Forwarder
  • OTI-NF


Holders of this license may issue bills of lading for shipments to/from the USA. All freight rates and charges applied on their BLs for both U.S. exports and imports must be filed in their FMC tariffs or an approved tariff alternative such as Negotiated Rate Arrangements (NRAs) or NVOCC Service Arrangements (NSAs). NVOCCs may also provide forwarding services as part of their services for shipments moving under their House Bill of Lading. Charges for these services must be filed in their FMC tariff. NVOCCs may enter into service contracts with ocean carriers and co-loading agreements with other NVOCCs. One key thing an NVOCC may NOT do is collect forwarding commissions (brokerage) from ocean carriers. This is the most popular license. It requires a bond of US$ 75,000.

DPI Members may learn more about FMC licensing for NVOCCs in these posts:   What is an NVOCC? and Qualifying Individual (QI).

2. OTI-Ocean Freight Forwarder (OFF)

Holders of this license may operate as ocean freight forwarders in the USA, or as agents of NVOCCs who have their own FMC bonds & tariffs. Ocean forwarders may NOT issue their own bills of lading as Carriers and must invoice their customers the same exact ocean freight as charged by the ocean carrier. Ocean forwarders may also invoice their customers additional fees for preparing documentation and other services as agreed; tariff filing is NOT required for these fees. Only FMC licensed ocean forwarders may collect commissions (brokerage) from ocean carriers for US export shipments. Ocean forwarders may NOT enter into service contracts with ocean carriers and/or co-loading agreements with other NVOCCs. It requires a bond of US$ 50,000.

DPI Members may learn more about FMC licensing for ocean freight forwarders here.



Holders of this license may operate as NVOCC or as ocean freight forwarders in the USA. Both bonds are required. Some companies hold this license because they handle full container load shipments as forwarder, but handle LCL shipments as an NVOCC. This license does not allow an NVOCC to issue its bill of lading and collect forwarder commissions on the same shipment.


NVOCCs Outside the USA

The OTI license is not required for NVOCCs whose operations are located completely outside the USA. Only the FMC registration, tariff, and a bond of US$ 150,000 are required for NVOCCs outside the USA. With these an FMC registered NVOCC outside the USA may conduct full operations, including issuing its bill of lading for shipment to/from the USA. Also, an FMC registered NVOCC may enter into service contracts with ocean carriers serving U.S. ports. When an NVOCC outside the USA uses an agent to provide ocean transportation service FMC will hold the NVOCC fully responsibility for all actions of its agent. FMC also requires agents to clearly identify the name and FMC number of the NVOCC it represents on all shipping documents, invoices, and BLs. Failure to do this can result in penalties.

DPI Members may learn more about FMC registration for NVOCCs outside the USA in these posts:  What is an NVOCC? and FMC Registration for NVOCC Outside the USA.


How can DPI help?

The experts at DPI have assisted thousands of companies obtain FMC licensees and registration. Learn more about DPI’s FMC Licensing and Registration Services here.

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