Federal Maritime Commission Bond

Ocean transportation intermediaries (OTIs) such as ocean freight forwarders (OFFs) and non-vessel operating common carriers (NVOCCs) are required to post Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) bonds. The FMC requires these bonds to get an OTI license to assure compliance with stringent standards and demonstrate financial responsibility. Their major goal is to protect the interests of shippers, carriers, and the whole industry by ensuring that OTIs follow the severe rules outlined in the Shipping Act of 1984 and other FMC standards. OFFs must secure these bonds, responsible for organizing international cargo movements, and NVOCCs, which provide ocean transportation services without vessel ownership, to maintain confidence, accountability, and regulatory compliance within the maritime commerce environment.

These bond amounts are the same in every state in the United States. As a result, the specific state has no bearing on the bond amount or criteria for FMC Bonds.

Quick Overview

Bond Amount:

  • Ocean Freight Forwarders (OFFs): $50,000
  • Non-Vessel-Operating Common Carriers (NVOCCs) domiciled in the U.S.: $75,000
  • Non-U.S.-domiciled NVOCCs: $150,000


  • 1-9% of the bond amount
  • varies based on several factors, including the type of bond required, the coverage amount, and individual creditworthiness. Bond premiums may differ for each applicant
  • Additional coverage may be necessary for specific trade routes, such as the China-U.S. trade, where the Chinese government may mandate an extra $21,000 bond
Example FMC Bond Form
Example FMC Bond Form

Understanding the Different FMC Bonds

Ocean Freight Forwarders (OFFs): Ocean Freight Forwarders organize the international movement of cargo. They handle shipments from the United States using common carriers for shippers, manage documentation, and handle tasks related to these shipments. OFFs must obtain an FMC-48 bond, usually amounting to $50,000, to ensure compliance with FMC regulations.

Non-Vessel-Operating Common Carriers (NVOCCs): NVOCCs provide ocean transportation to the public without owning or operating vessels. They issue their bills of lading or similar documents and work with vessel-operating common carriers. There are different bond requirements based on their domicile:

U.S.-based NVOCCs: Unincorporated U.S. branch offices require a $75,000 bond plus additional coverage.

Non-U.S.-based NVOCCs: Required to carry a $150,000 bond or other financial guarantees. If operating in the China-U.S. trade, an additional $21,000 bond may be needed to meet Chinese government requirements.

Application and Licensing Process

Steps for Obtaining an OTI License (Ocean Freight Forwarders & NVOCCs):

  1. Qualifying Individual: Appoint a qualifying individual with at least three years of demonstrable OTI experience, either an officer, sole proprietor, or partner.
  2. Application Submission: Complete the Application for a License as an Ocean Transportation Intermediary (Form FMC-18) electronically or in print.
  3. Proof of Financial Responsibility: Provide a surety bond (FMC-48) or other accepted proof of financial responsibility as required by the FMC.
  4. Fee Payment: Pay the required license application fee.
  5. Additional Steps for Non-U.S.-based NVOCCs: Establish a presence in the United States, such as an unincorporated branch office.

Federal Maritime Commission Bond FAQs

What protections are offered by FMC bonds? 

Federal Maritime Commission Bonds, such as the FMC-48 or FMC-69 bonds, protect against non-compliance with FMC regulations. These bonds ensure that the bonded Ocean Freight Forwarders (OFFs) and Non-Vessel-Operating Common Carriers (NVOCCs) adhere to the Shipping Act of 1984 and the rules of the Federal Maritime Commission. In case of valid claims, judgments, or orders against the bonded parties related to transportation activities, the bond covers payments for damages, reparations, or penalties issued by the FMC, benefiting shippers and carriers involved in the ocean transportation process.

What differentiates an Ocean Freight Forwarder (OFF) from a Non-Vessel-Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC) regarding FMC Bonds?

Ocean Freight Forwarders (OFFs) primarily arrange and handle cargo movement from the U.S. to international destinations using common carriers. On the other hand, Non-Vessel-Operating Common Carriers (NVOCCs) provide ocean transportation services to the public without owning vessels, issue their bills of lading, and collaborate with vessel-operating common carriers. Both OFFs and NVOCCs need FMC Bonds, but the bond amounts and specific requirements may vary based on their distinct roles and operations.

Can companies with low credit obtain Federal Maritime Commission Bonds?

Yes, companies with less favorable credit histories may still obtain FMC Bonds. Some surety bond companies offer programs tailored to assist those with lower credit scores, although the premium rates for these bonds may be higher. These programs aim to support businesses by providing bonding options even with imperfect credit, ensuring accessibility to necessary bonds for compliance and operations in the international shipping industry.

What additional requirements might NVOCCs face in specific trade routes, and how do FMC Bonds adapt to these needs?

In specific trade routes like the China-U.S. trade, NVOCCs have unique requirements imposed by the Chinese government. For instance, NVOCCs in the China-U.S. trade must file an Optional Rider for Additional NVOCC Financial Responsibility. This addition increases the standard $75,000 NVOCC bond by an extra $21,000, demonstrating compliance not just with FMC but also with the specific financial responsibility requirements of the Chinese government.

Are there specific situations where FMC Bonds might not be mandatory for international shipping entities?

While FMC Bonds are crucial for most international shipping entities, there are instances where licensing might be optional. For example, licensing is voluntary for non-U.S.-based NVOCCs, but it becomes mandatory if they aim to perform OTI services in the United States. In such cases, a surety bond or proof of financial responsibility remains necessary for compliance with FMC regulations.

What role do FMC Bonds play in ensuring compliance in specialized shipping areas like used household goods transportation?

Interestingly, FMC Bonds have specific exclusions. They do not cover shipments of used household goods and personal effects for the Department of Defense or the federal civilian executive agencies shipping under the International Household Goods Program administered by the General Services Administration. This exemption highlights the bond's limitations and specialized focus within the realm of ocean transportation intermediary services.