Carrier vs Courier: What’s The Difference?

A split image with a cargo ship on the left & a hospital on the right. A Dropoff courier drives in between them.

Do you know the difference between a carrier and a courier? Many people don’t, but it’s an important distinction to make. A carrier transports goods or people internationally, while a courier delivers packages and documents regionally.

There are many other differences between carriers and couriers, which we will discuss in this blog post. So, what sets these two types of transportation services apart? Let’s find out!

What Is the Difference Between a Carrier and Courier?

When you need to send a package, you have two main choices: a carrier or a courier. Both services will pick up your package and deliver it to its destination. Still, there are some essential differences between the two.

Carriers typically transport large quantities of packages at once, while couriers transport smaller shipments. Generally, carriers typically do not offer door-to-door service, while couriers often do.

In addition, carriers are less expensive than couriers, but they may take longer to deliver your package.

What Is a Carrier?

A cargo ship pulling into a harbor.

A carrier is a company or person who legally transports goods by land, water, or air. They work with shippers to get the goods from one place to another.

What Are the Main Types of Carriers?

There are two main types of carriers:

  1. Common Carrier
  2. Contract Carrier

1. Common Carrier

A common carrier is a company or person offering to transport goods to other companies or people. They have a license from a regulatory body, allowing them to work with more shippers in one day.

Some examples of common carriers include a shipowner, railroad, airline, and taxi service.

2. Contract Carrier

A contract carrier is a company or person who provides transport services for a specified shipper long-term. The contract carrier reaches a joint agreement with the shipper and agrees to work under certain conditions over the duration of the contract.

It is possible for a contract carrier to be as small as one person who owns a delivery van or as large as an international company with many vehicles, like trucks, planes, trains, and boats.

Notable Carrier Service Providers

Here are a few examples of top carrier service providers:

  • A.P. Moller–Maersk Group – The A.P. Moller–Maersk Group’s most prominent business unit is Maersk Line, the world’s leading overseas freight and cargo transportation company.
  • Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A. (MSC) – They have 480 container vessels in their fleet, including 4 of the largest container ships in the world.
  • CMA CGM Group – The CMA CGM Georg Forster is the largest ship in their fleet, holding up to 18,000 twenty-foot containers.

Not only do third-party delivery providers do shipping best, but 3PLs also do last-mile delivery best.

While we’re on the topic of shipping and delivery, learn more about the difference between the two!

When to Use a Carrier Service

When to use a carrier service. And 18-wheeler being filled with boxes.

There are different things to think about when you choose between a carrier and a courier. The weight of your packages is one thing to think about. The size and shape of your packages are also important. For example, if you are sending bigger packages in larger volumes, you will want to use a carrier.

Some types of products need special shipping procedures. Shipping carriers offer services for shipping hazardous materials.

Another important thing to consider is the distance between you and the recipient. Carriers are more equipped to deliver long distances.

What Is a Courier?

A team of Dropoff couriers standing in front of 4 branded vehicles.

A courier is a company or person that regionally delivers mail, important documents, and small packages. Courier services are faster, more efficient, and have door-to-door service more often than the post office.

If you’re looking to partner with a courier service, consider why you should hire a nationwide courier service.

What Are the Main Types of Couriers?

The main types of couriers are:

  1. Overnight Courier
  2. Same-Day Courier
  3. On-Demand Courier
  4. Nationwide Courier
  5. Medical Courier
  6. Local Courier

1. Overnight Courier

The same-day courier service usually delivers items between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. However, deliveries after 5 p.m. and at night are possible.

Several advantages to overnight courier services include keeping the goods safe in the vehicle as it is not stuck in traffic, preventing damage from the heat, and ensuring faster and more predictable delivery.

Manufacturing companies find this strategy more appealing because it helps them save time and money.

2. Same-Day Courier

Same-day delivery companies deliver packages within the same day that they are received. They must pick up the packages by noon and have them by the afternoon. Several same-day delivery companies offer the next-day delivery service, based on delivering packages the following day.

Packages are delivered this way because they are less expensive and require a smaller fleet. A courier company would pick up several packages at 7:00 a.m. and deliver them to another courier company. As a result, a courier may transport many packages at a low cost, reducing the cost to the end customer.

However, the product may not arrive at the end-user on time, and it may take up to a day.

Moreover, there are many reasons your business would benefit from same-day delivery.

3. On-Demand Courier

On-demand courier service is a way for the courier company to respond to the customer’s request. The courier goes straight to the customer’s location and only moves and delivers the package. The courier does not do any other tasks.

Check out our blog article on everything you need about on-demand logistics.

4. Nationwide Courier

Typically, nationwide courier services have a network of drivers and vehicles stationed in major cities. They are then able to quickly and efficiently deliver items to their destination. In recent years, the rise of online shopping has led to an increase in demand for nationwide courier services.

5. Medical Courier

Medical courier services transport items that are time-sensitive or require special handlings, such as lab specimens or prescription medications. Medical courier services use bonded and insured drivers who have undergone background checks and are familiar with proper handling procedures to ensure the safety and confidentiality of the items they transport.

6. Local Courier

Businesses often use local courier services to deliver documents and packages to customers within a specific city or region. In many cases, these companies also provide same-day or next-day delivery services.

Notable Courier Service Providers

Here are just a few of the leading courier service providers:

  • FedEx – This company can ship different kinds – lightweight or heavy, less urgent or express, import or export.
  • Dropoff – Dropoff provides a wide range of services that may be tailored to your needs and are available across the United States.
  • USPS – The United States Postal Service (USPS) offers express mail services that deliver domestically and overnight.
  • DHL – DHL offers fast delivery services through a vast national and international network through road, rail, and air.

The companies we mentioned above are just a few of the top last-mile delivery companies and startups in the U.S.

When to Use a Courier Service

A Dropoff courier deliveringT-shirts from a business to a consumer.

Hiring a courier is often the fastest way to get a package from one place to another. Many companies offer same-day delivery services. So if you need a package delivered fast, a courier service would suit you best.

Courier service also allows you to choose when you want to pick up or deliver something. In addition, big delivery companies often charge a lot of money for their services. But courier businesses provide a more affordable option because they have lower operating costs.

Bottom Line

So, what’s the difference between a carrier and a courier? The main distinction is that carriers transport goods long distances, while couriers deliver items regionally.

Carriers usually have larger trucks and employ a team of drivers to make deliveries. In contrast, couriers typically use their vehicles to make deliveries.

There are other distinctions as well – for example, couriers often provide additional services like package tracking or same-day delivery.

But the bottom line is that if you need to send something somewhere and want it there as quickly as possible, you should talk with a Dropoff expert today.


FAQs on Carriers and Couriers

1. What is the difference between carrier and courier?

Carriers typically transport large packages at once, while couriers transport smaller shipments. Generally, carriers usually do not offer door-to-door service, while couriers do.

In addition, carriers are less expensive than couriers, but they may take longer to deliver your package.

2. What is the difference between courier and delivery?

Couriers work as they get orders. They don’t have a truck full of packages like a delivery service. They go straight to you! On the other hand, delivery services make stops along the way.

3. What is carrier delivery?

A carrier is a transportation company that uses trucks, trains, or planes to deliver packages.

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