Free Carrier

MoneyBestPal Team
A delivery phrase used in international trade to refer to a contract between a seller and a buyer.

Main Findings

  • FCA defines the seller's responsibility for delivering goods to a named location within their own country and handling export clearance procedures.
  • FCA offers benefits like clear cost predictability for sellers, flexibility for buyers in choosing carriers, and a streamlined handover process.
  • The buyer takes over responsibility for all transportation costs and import formalities from the designated FCA location onwards.

Imagine you're running a furniture export business. You've secured a deal to ship a beautiful hand-crafted chair to a customer in Japan. FCA comes into play when you need to determine who's responsible for what during the shipping process.

Here's the gist:

Seller's Responsibility

You, the exporter, are responsible for getting the chair safely to a designated location, typically a port, terminal, or inland container depot (ICD) within your own country. This includes export clearance procedures, meaning you handle all the paperwork and approvals needed to get the chair out of your country.

Buyer's Responsibility

Once the chair arrives at the designated location, the responsibility shifts to the buyer. They're on the hook for arranging and paying for all the transportation costs from that point forward, including ocean freight, insurance, and any import duties or taxes levied by the destination country.

Think of FCA as a "handoff point" in the international shipping journey. You, the seller, deliver the chair to a specific location within your control, and then the buyer takes over, managing the transportation and customs formalities on their end.

Now, here's the key difference between FCA and other Incoterms:

EXW (Ex Works)

With EXW, the buyer shoulders all responsibility from the moment the goods leave your factory. You basically just hand them the chair, and they handle everything else. This puts a lot more burden on the buyer, especially for international transactions.

FOB (Free on Board)

Under FOB, your responsibility extends to loading the chair onto the buyer's chosen vessel at the designated port. This means you cover the costs until the chair is literally "on board" the ship.

FCA sits between these two extremes. It gives you, the seller, more control over the initial leg of the journey, ensuring the chair gets to the designated location within your country. At the same time, it relieves you of the complexities and costs associated with arranging international transportation and import procedures.

Here's why FCA is such a popular choice:

Clear Responsibilities

Both parties have clear obligations defined by the Incoterms, minimizing potential disputes over who's responsible for what during the shipping process.

Flexibility for Sellers

You have more control over the initial leg of the journey, potentially allowing you to negotiate better rates with local transporters within your own country.

Cost Efficiency

FCA can be more cost-effective for sellers compared to FOB, as you're not responsible for the often-uncertain costs of international freight.

Buyer Control: Buyers gain control over the transportation process from the designated location onwards, allowing them to choose their preferred carriers and potentially negotiate better rates.

Why Use Free Carrier (FCA)?

Imagine you're a furniture importer in Japan. You frequently source unique pieces from various countries. Here's how FCA can benefit you:

Predictable Costs

With FCA, you know exactly where your responsibility for transportation costs begins. This allows for more accurate budgeting and pricing of imported goods.

Flexibility in Selecting Carriers

Once the furniture reaches the designated location in the seller's country, you have the freedom to choose your preferred carrier for the international leg of the journey. This allows you to shop around for the best rates and services based on your specific needs.

Control Over Import Process

You manage the import clearance process in Japan, ensuring you understand and comply with all the necessary regulations and duties.

Now, let's switch hats and see the benefits for you as a furniture exporter:

Reduced Complexity

FCA frees you from the complexities of international shipping arrangements and import regulations in the buyer's country. You focus on getting the furniture to the designated location within your own borders, streamlining your logistics process.

Potentially Lower Costs

By avoiding the uncertainties of international freight costs, you may be able to offer more competitive pricing to your buyers.

Clear Liability Transfer

The Incoterms clearly define the point at which responsibility for the goods and associated costs transfers to the buyer. This minimizes the risk of disputes and ensures a smooth handover process.

Mutual Benefits for a Smooth Transaction

FCA fosters a win-win situation for both exporters and importers. Sellers benefit from reduced complexity and potentially lower costs, while buyers gain control over the international shipping process and import formalities. This clarity of responsibilities and cost predictability facilitates smoother international trade transactions.

Here are some additional points to consider:

Incoterms 2020 Update

The latest version of Incoterms, published in 2020, clarified specific FCA obligations related to export clearance. This ensures a clearer understanding of seller responsibilities for obtaining necessary export documents.

Importance of Clear Communication

While FCA defines the basic framework, clear communication between buyer and seller is crucial. Discuss any specific requirements or expectations related to packaging, documentation, or insurance to avoid any misunderstandings during the shipping process.


We've discussed the advantages of Free Carrier (FCA) for both sellers and buyers. Now, let's bring FCA to life with some real-world examples:

Example 1: Global Furniture Marketplace

Imagine you run an online furniture marketplace connecting international artisans with design-savvy customers worldwide. An artisan in Mexico crafts a stunning hand-carved table, and a buyer in France expresses interest.

Here's how FCA might work in this scenario:

FCA Contract

Both parties agree on FCA terms in their contract. The artisan (seller) is responsible for delivering the table securely to a designated freight forwarder's warehouse within Mexico.

Seller's Role

The artisan ensures the table is properly packed and obtains all necessary export documents from Mexican authorities. They then deliver the table to the designated warehouse within their agreed-upon timeframe.

Buyer's Role

The French buyer arranges and pays for all transportation from the warehouse in Mexico onwards. This includes ocean freight, insurance, and any import duties or taxes levied by French customs.

Example 2: Industrial Machinery Export

Let's say your company manufactures industrial machinery in Germany. You've secured a deal to export a complex piece of equipment to a manufacturing plant in China. 

Here's how FCA could be applied:

FCA Location

The contract specifies an FCA location, perhaps a specific container terminal in Hamburg, Germany.

Seller's Responsibilities

Your company ensures the machinery is securely loaded onto a container at the designated terminal in Hamburg. You also handle all German export clearance procedures.

Buyer's Responsibilities

The Chinese company takes over responsibility from the Hamburg terminal onwards. They arrange ocean freight, and insurance, and manage the import process upon arrival in China, including customs clearance and any applicable duties.

These examples highlight the versatility of FCA. It can be used for a wide range of products, from handcrafted furniture to complex industrial machinery, as long as both parties clearly understand their respective obligations under the Incoterms.

Remember, effective communication is key. Clearly outline the specific FCA location, any required documentation, and expectations for packaging and insurance within your sales contract. This ensures a smooth handover and minimizes the risk of misunderstandings during the international shipping process.

Limitations and Considerations

1. Increased Complexity at the Designated Location

While FCA simplifies international shipping for sellers compared to FOB, it does introduce some additional complexity at the designated handover location within the seller's country.

Here's why:

Arranging Inland Transportation

The seller is responsible for getting the goods to the designated FCA location, which may involve coordinating with local trucking companies or freight forwarders within their own country.

Export Clearance Procedures

The seller must obtain all necessary export documents and ensure compliance with relevant regulations. This requires familiarity with export control procedures and potential delays due to missing paperwork.

2. Potential for Hidden Costs

While FCA can offer cost predictability for sellers compared to FOB, there can be some hidden costs to consider:

Terminal Charges

Depending on the chosen FCA location (e.g., port terminal, ICD), the seller might incur additional charges for storage, handling, or security fees at the designated location.

Export Clearance Costs

Costs associated with obtaining export licenses, certificates of origin, and other documentation can add up, especially for complex shipments.

3. Sharing Security Risks

Under FCA, the seller's responsibility ends once the goods are delivered to the designated location. However, there's a grey area regarding security risks during the handover process.

Clear Communication on Security Measures

It's crucial to clearly communicate with the buyer regarding any specific security requirements or procedures at the designated FCA location. This helps mitigate potential risks of theft or damage during the handover.

4. Not Ideal for All Situations

While FCA offers a good balance, it might not be the best choice for all international transactions. Here are some scenarios where other Incoterms might be more suitable:

High-Value or Fragile Goods

For delicate or expensive cargo, where security and handling are paramount, alternatives like EXW (seller only delivers to a location at their own premises) or FOB (seller loads onto the buyer's chosen vessel) might offer a higher level of control for the seller throughout the initial stages of transport.

Limited Seller Expertise in Export Procedures

If navigating export clearance procedures seems daunting, you might consider using an Incoterm like Delivered Duty Paid (DDP), where the seller handles the entire transportation process and import formalities, albeit at a higher cost.

5. Importance of Contract Clarity

As with any Incoterms usage, a clear and well-drafted sales contract is essential to avoid misunderstandings. Here's what to include:

Specific FCA Location

Clearly specify the exact location where the handover of responsibility will occur (e.g., named port terminal, warehouse address).

Responsibility for Loading/Unloading

Define who is responsible for loading the goods onto the onward carrier's vehicle at the FCA location.

Insurance and Risk Transfer

Specify which party is responsible for obtaining insurance coverage and the point at which risk of loss or damage transfers from the seller to the buyer.

By carefully considering these limitations and ensuring clear contractual terms, you can leverage the benefits of FCA and navigate international trade transactions more effectively.

Conclusion: Striking a Balance in International Trade

Free Carrier (FCA) offers a valuable middle ground in the world of Incoterms. It provides a clear division of responsibilities between seller and buyer, simplifying international shipping for sellers compared to FOB while offering buyers more control over the transportation process from a designated location onwards.

Key Takeaways:

  • FCA defines the seller's responsibility for delivering goods to a named location within their own country and handling export clearance procedures.
  • The buyer takes over responsibility for all transportation costs and import formalities from the designated FCA location onwards.
  • FCA offers benefits like clear cost predictability for sellers, flexibility for buyers in choosing carriers, and a streamlined handover process.
  • However, there are limitations to consider, such as increased complexity at the designated location, potential hidden costs, and the need for clear communication regarding security measures.
  • FCA might not be ideal for all situations, particularly for high-value or fragile goods, or when sellers lack expertise in export procedures.
  • A well-drafted sales contract specifying the FCA location, loading/unloading responsibilities, and insurance arrangements is crucial for a smooth transaction.

Resources for Further Exploration

  • International Chamber of Commerce (ICC): The official website of the ICC provides detailed explanations of all Incoterms rules, including FCA:
  • International Trade Administration (ITA): The U.S. Department of Commerce's ITA website offers resources and guidance on using Incoterms in international trade:
  • Freight Forwarder Resources: Many freight forwarder companies offer educational resources on Incoterms, including FCA. These can provide practical insights into the application of FCA in real-world scenarios.


Free Carrier (FCA) is a trade term that requires the seller to deliver goods to a named airport, terminal, or other place where the carrier operates. The goods are considered to be delivered once they are handed over to the first carrier.

In FCA, the risk transfers from the seller to the buyer once the goods have been handed over to the carrier at the named place.

Under FCA, the seller’s obligations include the delivery of goods to the named place, the clearance of goods for export, and the loading of goods if the named place is at the seller’s premises.

Under FCA, the buyer’s obligations include the payment of costs associated with transport from the named place of delivery and the arrangement of insurance (if desired).

Yes, FCA can be used for any mode of transport including multimodal transport.