Direct vs. Transloading: How to Choose the Right Cross-border Shipping Service for Your Supply Chain

Direct shipping versus transloading is one of many variables when moving freight across the U. S. – Mexico border. Whether your freight is transloaded or shipped direct influences your transportation costs and shipment flexibility, but don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard much about this important choice. Your service provider might not explain all your cross-border options when you book – possibly because they don’t understand them either!

Take a minute to learn how these two border-crossing approaches compare and you’ll be able to make the best choice for your unique supply chain and business needs.


What is direct shipping?

Direct shipping, also commonly referred to as through-trailer, is when your goods stay in their original trailer when the trailer crosses the border. Direct shipment carriers have a trailer interchange agreement between the Mexico and United States carriers hauling the load, allowing the same trailer to move from origin to final destination, even while the trailer itself changes hands. This limits your carrier network and increases the price.


What is transloading?

Trans-loading is when your commodity is transferred to a different trailer- either from a US trailer to a Mexico trailer, or vice versa. It takes place at a specialized transload facility in the United States. Transloading gives you access to a larger carrier network on each side of the border. That means more carrier options, a lower price, and greater control over the entire process.


A real-world look: shipping from Mexico to the United States

It’s easier to understand these processes with a real-world, step by step comparison. Here’s an example of how freight moves from Mexico to the United States using both approaches:


Comparison chart of direct and transloading shipping

As you can see, the number of touch points is the same either way, but where the trailer stops and who’s responsible changes. While shipping “direct” might sound faster, both processes take the same amount of time.



How to choose the right border-crossing approach

There are a few variables to consider when you look at your border-crossing service options.


1. Freight Type

We may have oversimplified a little bit. Depending on your freight, you might not have a choice between direct trailer and transloading. That said, transloading is the best option for palletized freight or anything packaged that can be moved with a forklift. Automotive, food and beverage, and consumer packaged goods are commonly transloaded commodities. Direct is the best option for flatbed, over-sized, or heavy products. Really, it’s usually the only option as these products require specialized loading. It’s important (and easier) not to move them to another trailer.


2. Price

Transloading is typically the most affordable way to move freight across the border. That’s because transloading gives you access to the full capacity of two carrier bases – one in Mexico and one in the United States. You’re choosing from thousands of carriers. More carrier options mean more competition for loads. That drives down shipping prices. Direct shipments on the other hand require carriers with an interchange agreement. That reduces your pool of potential carriers and increases prices. You’re also paying a premium to reduce freight handling.


 3. Handling

If your freight can be transloaded (again, not the oversized or specialized freight), handling shouldn’t factor too much into your decision (especially if you’re working with cross-border experts). Direct shipping minimizes handling but doesn’t eliminate it completely. All freight stops at the border for inspection. Palletized direct trailer freight may still be unloaded during a  check by customs agents.

It’s also good to remember that transloading facilities are experts at freight handling.  It’s their entire business! Specialized cross-border logistics companies develop strong relationships with these facilities, and vet them to ensure your freight is handled with care. They can even connect customers to a live stream of their freight when it’s unloaded and re-loaded. Shippers enjoy cross-border expertise while still saving money.


Share your priorities with a cross-border expert

At the end of the day, it all depends on your priorities and your business. Your financial goals and freight management strategy will determine whether you ship direct or transload. Forager’s cross-border solutions consultants are always available to help you find the best option. Either way, we’ll get your freight where it needs to be.