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What Is the Difference Between Cargo and Freight?

Cargo and Freight

While cargo and freight both serve the same basic purpose, they do have differences that set them apart from one another. Each term is indicative of how the product is being transported and not so much about what is being shipped. In some cases, it may have to do with the distance the product is being shipped as well.


Cargo is usually sent by ship or plane due to the fact that it must travel over large bodies of water and go from one continent to another. Cargo ships and cargo planes are designed to carry large quantities of goods across the world. Cargo is often the word used when discussing international shipping. In many cases, this means traveling over water or in the air.


The term freight is used to describe products that are shipped overland using either trains or tractor-trailers. Tractor-trailer, also known as semis, travel along the highways. The trailer portion of the semi can also be loaded onto flatbed railroad cars and shipped by train. Freight is normally shipped within a specific geographic area and usually remains on land. While some products may be moved as cargo during a flight across the country, it resorts to being freight as it resumes travel overland.

For businesses who only ship within close proximity to their location, most will never have to deal with cargo rates or insurance. Larger businesses, however, may have to work with both freight and cargo shipments. It’s important to understand the differences between the two considering the differences in the time it takes to ship and the types of insurance that may be needed. Talk to your insurance carrier or your shipping agent if you have any questions concerning the differences between freight and cargo.

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