Inside FMC Licensing: References

Becoming an ocean transportation intermediary (“OTI”), a freight forwarder (“OFF”) or a non-vessel operating common carrier (NVOCC), is a great way to get involved in the international trade industry.  OFFs and NVOCCs facilitate the movement of goods overseas (via ocean carrier) from the original shipper, individuals or corporations, to their final point of distribution.  While the U.S. has regulations for each category of OTI, both OFFs and NVOCCs require a license granted by the Federal Maritime Commission (“FMC”) in order to begin operating as an OTI.  One of the many requirements for obtaining an FMC license is that OTI’s qualifying individual (“QI”) must have at least three (3) years’ experience in conducting OTI activities in the United States.  Foreign NVOCCs may also obtain an FMC license (not foreign OFFs) by demonstrating its QI has at least three (3) years’ experience as well, though not necessarily in the U.S.

To prove the minimum experience requirement, a QI must provide the FMC with information on the jobs she has held or currently holds in which she obtained the experience as well as three (3) non-related references who have firsthand knowledge of the QI’s OTI experience.  After having worked with the FMC on licensing for clients for many years, our firm has found that the FMC is very specific about the references it will accept.  The following are a few tips for those of you who are hoping to obtain your license:

  • The FMC will not accept more than one reference from a single company.
  • Each reference should ideally be from a different source type; i.e. Vessel Operating Common Carrier (“VOCC”), NVOCC, Shipper, Client, Customs House Broker, Ex-Supervisor, Ex-Coworker, etc.
  • Each reference is not required to have known the QI for three years.  The cumulative time period for all references’ knowledge of the QI’s experience is three years.  For example:
    • Reference 1 can attest to six months of the QI’s experience, and Reference 2 can attest to one year of the QI’s experience; therefore, Reference 3 must be able to attest to one and a half years of the QI’s experience.
  • If references do not respond, the FMC will close the OTI application and another application will have to be started with duplicate fees.  Make sure you contact your references and let them know the FMC will be contacting them, most likely via email, with a questionnaire about your, or your company’s QI’s, experience as an OTI.  If you think one of your references might be out of the country for a while or unable to answer the questions choose another reference as back up.  This can save you a lot of time, money, and hassle.  You should also confirm the emails addresses of your references by exchanging messages before submitting the application, as changed or erroneous email accounts are a primary reason for lack of responses.

For more information on FMC licensing, visit or contact our offices for more information.  We are able to provide both FMC licensing consulting services as well as prepare, file, and conduct all follow up on your application for you.


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