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What to Know Before You Begin Shipping Internationally

James Smith

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Shipping Internationally

Did you know that your business can grow up to 60% faster with premium international shipping?

If you’ve identified an international market for your products, you’re probably wondering how to actually make those products reach their destination.

Shipping internationally — especially for the first time — can be overwhelming. There are so many details to consider, and overlooking even one can result in shipping delays, lost packages, and dissatisfied customers. Don’t get tangled in the red tape. Here’s everything you need to know before you get started.

Do Your Homework

If you’re looking into international shipping, chances are, you’ve already identified where your demand is and what languages are spoken there. Now, it’s time to research couriers. The right courier for you will depend on what you’re shipping, how big it is, and where you’re shipping it to.

Most couriers calculate their shipping costs based on the parcel’s dimensional weight. This is a measure of both the size and the weight of your parcel. The courier will calculate your shipping cost based on whichever value is higher: the dimensional weight or the regular weight of your parcel.

In addition to the shipping cost, you may also face additional charges for weekend delivery, fuel, or signatures. When negotiating with couriers, it’s important to ask about all of these potential charges upfront, that way there are no surprises when your bill arrives. Don’t forget to ask about loyalty incentives, either. Some couriers may offer discounts based on your annual shipping volume — meaning the more you ship, the lower your rates may be.

Complete Customs Paperwork Correctly

There are a few documents you’ll need when shipping from the United States. These can include the commercial invoice, certificate of origin, and electronic export information.

Customs documents can be incredibly detailed, and any ambiguities can hold up your shipment. In general, be prepared to answer the following about the item you are shipping:

  1. What is it?
  2. What is it made of?
  3. What is it used for?
  4. Where was it made?
  5. What is the correct tariff classification?
  6. How much of the item are you shipping?
  7. What is the purchase price?
  8. If the item isn’t sold, what is the minimum cost of the materials that it took to produce it?

You’ll also need to review the Harmonized System codes for the goods you’re shipping. In the U.S., this is called the Harmonized Tariff System of the United States. These codes provide an international standard for classifying products for duty and clearance. With it, your items are grouped into broad categories and then refined into more specific groups.

Protect Your Parcels

Your carrier may automatically build shipping insurance into your cost. But is it worth it?

Ask about your courier’s shipping insurance and how much it covers. For example, if it only covers $100 but the items you’re shipping are worth more, it might be better to shop around for third-party shipping insurance. Most third-party providers charge less than couriers for shipping insurance. Sometimes, the cost can be as affordable as 3% of your parcels’ declared value.

But shipping insurance isn’t the only way you need to protect your parcels, either. Further your cost-cutting measures by asking your courier about free or discounted bulk shipping supplies. If your courier doesn’t carry them, you may be able to find them online or from larger couriers.

Shipping Supplies

Remember that smaller, lightweight packages are more cost-effective to ship and package. And the more durable the packaging, the better. Opt for new, double-walled corrugated boxes whenever possible, as these provide the most support, especially for heavier items.

A good rule of thumb is to allow two inches of space on all sides of the item. This way, you have room to pack protective materials without allowing too much space for the items to become loose. Use bubble wrap to protect individual items, then bundle them together so they don’t collide during transit.

If you’re shipping items with openings — like mugs or ceramics — use kraft paper to fill the empty spaces. Styrofoam wedges can protect the corners of large, flat items, like picture frames, and corrugated liners can help fortify the structure of the box.

Avoid using newspaper as a protective material, as the ink could transfer to the other items in the package — especially if the parcel gets wet. While airbags may seem effective, they tend to occupy unnecessary space and are vulnerable to popping. For larger orders, you might consider steel storage containers or other bulk-friendly alternatives to maximize efficiency.

Follow Country-Specific Rules and Regulations

Every country is governed by its own set of customs laws, which means international shipping is hardly ever a one-size-fits-all.

Some countries may have specific weight and size limits. Others may require additional documentation and fees to their equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some items may be restricted from even being imported at all.

Regardless of the country, some items can’t be shipped internationally, no matter what. These include:

  • Aerosols
  • Airbags
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Ammunition
  • Cigarettes
  • Dry ice
  • Explosives
  • Fresh produce
  • Gasoline
  • Nail polish
  • Perfumes containing alcohol
  • Poison

Additionally, beware of what holidays and business days the country observes, as these could result in additional shipping delays.

Shipping Internationally Doesn’t Have to Be a Hassle

From couriers to customs, there’s a lot to remember when it comes to shipping internationally. But once you get it down to a science, you’ll continue to reap the benefits of expanding your business globally.

Did you find this article helpful? Check out our business section for more ways to improve your day-to-day operations.

James Smith is the writer for Munchkin Press. He is a young American writer from California and is currently traveling around the world. He has a passion for helping people and motivates others.

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