International shipping is getting easier and cheaper by the day.
Most notably, new technology allows you to access the cheapest rates for international shipping in just a few clicks. A wealth of resources also exist to guide you through the process of international shipping. Yep, this is is one of those handy resources.
This guide walks you through the key factors and steps in international shipping. We'll cover everything from finding cheap rates to picking couriers to packaging. By the end, you'll have a birds-eye-view of global shipping. You'll be ready to ship to anywhere.
At Easyship, we help merchants simplify their shipping. Our all-in-one shipping platform offers the best international shipping rates, plus key customs document generation to make international shipping a breeze.
Use this guide to international shipping to create an effective international shipping strategy.
#1. Determine Shipment Category For Customs
The biggest difference between international and domestic shipping is clearing customs.
Unlike domestic shipments, every package that crosses an international border must pass through customs in the receiving country. Once the package clears customs, it's delivered by your chosen international courier to the end-customer.
To clear customs, your shipment must include the required customs documentation. The most important customs paperwork is the commercial invoice which tells customs inspectors what's in the package. This lists the shipped goods, their item category, and their estimated value.
Other key customs documents include:
Look up the item category of your shipped goods. Are you shipping a computer? A document? A rocking horse? Each item category carries a different Harmonized System code (HS), which should be in your customs documents.
"When you're shipping a package internationally, the main thing is to communicate exactly what you’re shipping," says Tom Taggart of UPS. "If you know the Harmonized System code—the 10-digit code member countries use to classify traded goods for customs purposes—use it."
Declaring your goods and their value lets the customs officers decide whether you owe import duty and taxes on the shipment. (We'll cover how to calculate import duties and taxes in section 6).
Customs officers reserve the right to inspect all packages, so it's best to play by the rules. Otherwise, your package may be detained at customs.
You can get detailed help on completing customs paperwork in this blog.
#2. Determine Where You're Shipping
Just like domestic shipping, it's important to enter an accurate delivery address for your shipment, as well as your own contact details. This way, customs officers can contact you or the recipient with any questions.
Double check the contact details of your recipient. A staggering number of packages get lost or go undelivered due to inaccurate shipping details. You'll want to provide your shipping courier (we'll talk about choosing couriers in section 4) with the recipients address, email, and phone number to facilitate the delivery process.
International shipping couriers are like a middle man who transfers your item from customs to the customer. This means it's best to give them all the details.
For merchants, address validation tools can help you get the correct delivery address at checkout.
#3. Check International Shipping Restrictions
Every country restricts or prohibits the entry of certain goods. Once you know your destination, research the restricted items in that country.
Certain categories, such as food and nutrition products, are subject to different international regulations depending on which country you’re shipping to. Additional customs forms or permits may be necessary on specific items.
Make sure to check that your items are a permitted import. This way, you'll have a quick and easy customs clearance process.
#4. Compare International Shipping Rates
What's the cheapest way to ship internationally? This depends on your choice of shipping company, as well as which options are offered to your end-destination.
Shipping rates are impacted by a handful of other factors, including:
- Package weight
- Package dimensions
- Delivery timeline (speed of delivery)
- Import duties and taxes, if applicable
- Price quotes from the courier
Take some time to compare prices between couriers that ship to your target destination. Be sure to get specific about the factors listed above. The easiest way to do this is to use a free shipping rate calculator.
Seen below, shipping calculators give you real-time, accurate rates from the cheapest couriers based on your package weight, destination, and delivery times.
Below is the cheapest way to ship from Denver, CO to Nigeria.
Alternatively, you can visit the websites of major couriers like UPS, USPS, DHL and FedEx to source rates directly. However, these quote services often include ‘hidden fees’ like fuel surcharges, remote areas charges, taxes and duties, and more.
You can also use a courier comparison tool to compare courier rates and delivery times side by side. Pay attention to rates from top couriers, including:
Meanwhile, the cheapest rates are sometimes available from regional couriers. Shipping rate calculators can help you find these "hidden" cheap rates that may get overlooked if you don't know all the couriers in your destination country.
The table below shows estimated shipping rates and transit times for a 2lb. package sent from the US to Nigeria.
For merchants, it's important to ensure a timely delivery for customers. You'll want to choose a reliable courier that offers delivery speeds that your customers find satisfactory. Note that all rates are quoted in business days. You'll also want to bake into your quoted delivery times the timelines provided by the couriers you expect to be using.
Easyship's shipping rate calculator can help you find the cheapest, fastest rates to any destination in the world.
#5. Calculate Import Duty and Taxes
Every country assesses import duties and taxes on incoming shipments. Not every import is subject to these fees, though. Shipments below a certain value threshold – known as the de minimus value – are duty-free and incur no charge.
Customs officers determine whether you owe duty by looking at your customs documents, namely the commercial invoice. Calculating import duties and taxes involves two separate tabulations: duty and tax.
Both duties and tax are calculated as a percentage of the declared value of the goods, which includes:
- Item cost
All duties and taxes must be paid before the shipped goods are released from customs. As importer, you decide who pays for import duties and taxes – you or the customer. Duties and taxes can be paid in one of two ways:
- Deliver Duty Paid (DDP): Duties and taxes are paid before the package arrives at customs. Your global courier will bill you directly for any assessed duties and taxes. This means the shipment won’t be subject to additional fees and will pass through customs more quickly. The courier transports the package from customs to the customer.
- Deliver Duty Unpaid (DDU): Unpaid duties and taxes are absorbed by the customer. The DDU shipment is forwarded to a customs broker (a middleman) who collects the required amount from the customer upon delivery.
For merchants, deciding between DDU and DDP requires a bit of cost analysis. Smaller merchants will often pass duty onto customers, because paying these fees themselves isn't cost-effective. Larger merchants, by contrast, often pay duties and taxes to ensure a better customer experience.
You can use our Free Tax and Duty Calculator to determine any customs duty you’ll owe.
#6. Package For Secure Delivery
Your choice of packaging impacts your shipping rate and the delivery speed.
Ideally, you want to ship items in the smallest packages possible. This is because couriers charge based on either package weight or dimensions, whichever is more expensive. Packing in an oversized container just incurs extra shipping costs.
Place your goods in an appropriate box, container or an envelope. Avoid adding extra packing materials, as this will add weight and perhaps raise the price. Seal the sides and top of the package with packing tape.
When dealing with delicate items, add some kind of cushioning or request a fragile sticker from the courier, if needed. It's important for your items to arrive in top condition or you risk upsetting your customers. Here's a full guide to packing and packaging shipments for successful delivery.
#7. Enable Package Tracking
Modern shoppers appreciate the ability to track their packages. With porch piracy on the rise, it's best to offer this desirable option at checkout. This helps customers shop with confidence, increasing conversions, but also easing worries after purchasing.
In certain global regions, package tracking is only available from certain couriers. Express couriers like FedEx and DHL are a safe bet if you need tracking, but you'll want to double-check. These value-added options increase the price of shipping, though. Be sure to notify shoppers ahead of time to avoid cart abandonment due to unexpected shipping costs.
Your Guide to International Shipping
International shipping is more complex than domestic shipping, but not by much. The main difference is customs, which requires you to pay duty and taxes, plus attach several customs documents.
Shipping rates internationally are also more expensive, since packages must cover greater distances, and often reach remote regions.
Easyship helps international merchants to find the cheapest way to ship internationally. We also help you generate all customs documents, and get full visibility of import duties and taxes before you ship.
To start shipping the easy way, create an account with Easyship. If you ship less than 100 packages per month, it's free!