The information below is available on the website ( by going to the link for Ocean Transportation Intermediaries (OTI) section (2nd entry on right side column). There is a form and instructions for completing a license application, and submitting a bond.  See below for a summary of information on how to become a Freight Forwarder and Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC).   
If you desire to operate a US company and apply for a license as a US based entity you would do the following:
Is there a test to obtain a license to become an OTI or Freight Forwarder/NVOCC?
There is not a test requirement to obtain a license to become an Ocean Transportation Intermediary, which includes licensing as a Freight Forwarder and/or a Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier. They are separate and different but an entity can apply for and be licensed as both.  The fee mentioned below is not doubled if an entity applies as both.
What is a Freight Forwarder?
A Freight Forwarder is a person that dispatches shipments from the United States via a common carrier and books or otherwise arranges space for those shipments on behalf of shippers. He deals in cargo that is for export. He/she will process the documentation and perform related activities incident to the shipment.
What are the requirements for obtaining a license?
The basic requirements for licensing as an Ocean Transportation Intermediary Freight Forwarder are covered in 46 C.F.R. 515 and the application process is completed by filing a Form FMC-18 in either paper format (typewritten and in duplicate) or electronically.  Upon submission, an application fee of $825.00 is required for paper format.  If filed electronically, currently an application fee of $250 is required.  Once you elect to file electronically, no paper documentation will be permitted, except for the application fee, e.g., check or money order, and an originally signed Part G (Certification) of the application.
Steps to Obtaining a License
The applicant must first determine whether it will be a sole proprietor, partnership or a corporation. If a person desires to be a sole proprietor the license will be issued in his/her name and any trade name they operate under. The ownership and any affiliations must be identified on the form.  This is not related only to foreign commerce, but is inclusive of all business activity.
The applicant must identity the Qualifying Individual (QI). This person must be of good character, who has a minimum of 3 years of relative experience in the United States working in the shipping//freight handling/billing/chartering/ cargo handling portion of the Maritime Industry. The QI must be an active officer of the company. The employment history of the QI and the names and contact information of at least 3 non-related references that have first hand knowledge of the QI's work experience are required to be submitted. If applicable, the articles of incorporation and the state approved identification for a fictitious business or trade name, and a certificate of good standing for an existing corporation must be submitted.
Proof of financial responsibility in the form of a bond, proof of insurance or other surety of $75,000.00 for a NVOCC must be provided.  A person is considered to be "in the United States" if such person is resident in, or incorporated or established under, the laws of the United States.    An   NVOCC must publish a tariff containing the actual rates, charges, classification, rules, regulations and practices of a common carrier or a conference of common carriers and file FORM FMC-1 with the Commission.
What may prevent me from obtaining a license?
Prior to the issuance of a license, a person may not perform, or hold out to perform, ocean intermediary services. Proof of financial responsibility in the form of a surety bond for $50,000.00 must be provided.
The regulations concerning OTI licensing requirement may be viewed at the Commission's website
The information needed to complete the application is available on the website There are a series of frequently asked questions and the answers available that will help understand the licensing procedure.
There is information available in 46 CFR Part 500 (to the end) about the maintenance of records. 
Unfortunately, the NCBFAA cannot recommend anyone in particular to assist you because of regulations but can tell you that tariff publishing companies, law firms, and maritime consultants can assist you. They have experience in processing applications and know the required information that must be submitted. Most of these firms can be located on the World Wide Web, or in Maritime related periodicals.
NCBFAA cannot specify what the cost of a surety bond will be, because it varies from company to company and applicant to applicant.  The assets, credit history, length of time in the business among other items are all considered by the surety company.  They must be approved by the US Treasury Dept. I would recommend trying a few different companies.

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