How to Get a Freight Broker License in California

Hugely important intermediaries in regional and international shipping, freight brokers act as critical intermediaries between companies wishing to ship goods (shippers) and the trucking and other transportation companies that move the goods (carriers).

As a transportation broker, you will be responsible for finding your clients the best rates by negotiating with carriers and other transportation providers, tracking the goods in transit and providing updates to clients, and ensuring that all goods arrive on time and are legally compliant.

As an integral part of the freight and shipping industry, all freight brokers must be licensed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). So, if you are considering opening your freight brokerage in California and want a step-by-step guide to obtaining your license, you have come to the right place.

Requirements to Become a Freight Broker in California

Thankfully, the process for applying for your freight brokerage license in California is relatively straightforward. First, you'll have to ensure that you meet the basic requirements to apply for a freight broker license. These requirements include the following:

  • You must be at least 18 years of age
  • You must have a high school diploma or GED equivalent
  • You will need to have a good credit score
  • You must register your business in California
  • You must obtain a trust fund or freight broker bond amount of a minimum of $75,000
  • You must submit proof of obtaining an insurance policy to a minimum liability of $750,000 per occurrence for cargo losses or damage

Ensuring that you meet these requirements in advance and that you can provide proof of those requirements, such as documentary evidence of your surety bond and relevant insurance policy, is the best way to streamline the process of applying for your freight broker license.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Obtaining a Freight Broker License in California

Once you've ensured that you meet all the above requirements, you can proceed with your application. To make the process as simple and easy to follow as possible, we've broken it down into a step-by-step guide that covers everything you need to do:

1. Apply for your U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) number 

Your first step in applying for your California freight forwarder license is to apply to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) for your USDOT number. You will need your USDOT number to apply for your license. To apply for your USDOT number, you must supply the details of your freight brokerage business registered in California.

2. Apply for your license with the FMCSA

Once you have obtained your USDOT number, you can submit your license application to the federal motor carrier safety administration (FMCSA). The forms required for this can be found on the FMCSA website for easy online application. When you submit your application, you must also pay an application fee of $300.

3. Provide proof of your liability insurance

To qualify for a California freight broker license, you must demonstrate that you have access to liability insurance to cover any losses or damages that might occur during your business operations. You will need to provide proof of this insurance before you can be issued with your license.

Freight Broker Bonds vs. Insurance

Freight broker bonds protect shippers/motor carriers, not freight brokers.However, freight broker insurance does protect freight brokers. 

Many new freight brokers that invest the bare minimum on insurance coverage quickly realize they are disqualified from working with larger shippers. Each year, more freight brokers are pulled into litigation, and ultimately go out of business due to huge judgments and legal fees they can’t afford.

Although insurance is not required to operate, the most important reasons to have it in place are to:

  • Protect your bottom line
  • Create increased security around your bond, and avoid leaving yourself open to paying legal fees by not purchasing insurance.
  • Increase top line: by having insurance, you become more attractive in today's marketplace to shippers and wholesalers.

Freight Broker Insurance Types

There are several types of insurance coverages that are recommended for freight brokers; please see the list below:

  • Business owner’s policy (BOP)
  • General liability
  • Workers' compensation
  • Commercial auto
  • Professional liability/errors and omissions (E&O)
  • Contingent cargo
  • Contingent auto liability

If you’d like to learn more about all of the insurance coverages available to you, please read our freight broker insurance guide.

4. Provide proof of your surety bond

As with your liability insurance, you must provide evidence of your freight broker bond before issuing your license. The FMCSA requires brokers to have a minimum of $75,000 in coverage and to fill out form BMC-84 with details of their surety bond provider.

5. Designate a California process agent

A process agent is an individual or corporation that is authorized to receive legal documents on behalf of your freight brokerage business. You will need to designate a process agent in California before your license can be issued and fill in form BOC-3 as evidence of this designation.

Once you have completed these five steps, you can submit your application for broker authority to the FMCSA for review. There is, however, one more step that you can take to ensure that your freight broker business has the best possible chance of success, enrollment in a freight broker training course.

California Freight Broker Training Programs

While there are no mandatory training and education requirements to obtain a California freight broker license, enrolling in a freight broker training course is an excellent way to get a firm grounding in some of the essential parts of running a freight broker business.

The freight broker training programs provided by local career colleges, California State University, and specialist freight broker schools such as the Freight Broker Training Institute provide an excellent foundation in critical skills such as record-keeping and invoicing, federal, state, and local transportation law, financial management, and risk management. You can even enroll in an online course and study from home at your own pace.

Enrolling in a freight broker agent training program is an excellent way to ensure that you have the skills and knowledge necessary to ensure your freight broker business has the maximum chance of success and profitability.

Career Growth and Salary Expectations of a Freight Broker

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California's average freight broker salary is $52,060. However, the amount a freight agent can earn depends mainly on their experience, skill level, and location.

To give you the most straightforward idea of how location impacts potential salaries, we've broken down the most common freight brokerage location in California and their associated average annual salaries:



Avg. Annual Salary

Los Angeles


San Diego


San Jose


San Francisco


Long Beach








Santa Ana





As a hub for freight brokerage, California offers excellent career growth opportunities for freight brokers. While the BLS predicts a healthy 2.2% annual job growth nationally, the projection in California is nearly three times that, standing at 6.4%.


To make your application for a California freight broker license as smooth and stress-free as possible, we've answered some of the most common queries that applicants have below:

Q: How Much Does It Cost to Become a Freight Broker in California?

A: The essential cost of applying for a California freight broker license is $300. However, there are associated costs, such as the cost of your surety bond, insurance premiums, and the cost of establishing a business to take into account.

Q: How Long Does It Take to Become a Broker in California?

A: The exact time it takes to become a freight broker in California depends on whether you choose to complete a training course before applying. However, as a general rule, it takes between three to six months to receive your license after the date of your application.

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