Dangerous goods aren’t limited to just needles, chemicals, and guns. In the shipping world, dangerous goods can be anything that, if not handled with care, could cause harm to those handling them in transit. Most dangerous goods are defined internationally by IATA, the international organization regulating air travel, although some couriers have slightly different rules. It may come as a surprise that goods such as liquids and lithium ion batteries belong on this list.
For modern eCommerce sellers, lithium ion batteries are the most common dangerous goods that are sent internationally and specific labeling procedures are required to ensure a safe shipment via international air freight. Also worth noting is that international airlines are increasingly having problems with fires caused on board due to lithium ion batteries.
The purpose of this guide is to help you better understand dangerous goods and share some best practices for shipping DG internationally, hassle-free. However, if you still have questions we highly recommend contacting your courier directly for the most updated information and tailored advice for your situation.
Identify the dangerous good
First, you need to correctly identify what type of dangerous good you are planning to send, as there are different restrictions on goods depending on its classification. Keep in mind there are many items which could be difficult to classify as “dangerous” as they may not be dangerous by themselves, but do contain a dangerous component.
Many dangerous goods can only travel by ground due to IATA regulations, which means express couriers will refuse to carry it. If that’s the case, these types of dangerous goods could be banned from certain countries, so you should definitely confirm that you can import what you are sending before you proceed. Although a country may accept these dangerous goods, there’s still a possibility that there are no couriers willing to ship the goods there.
There are a wide variety of goods which can be considered dangerous, the most common of these being batteries and liquids. Lithium ion batteries in laptop computers and mobile phones often count as dangerous goods, depending on their size. Liquids and imitation weapons are also items which senders often overlook as dangerous. Couriers usually provide a list of dangerous items including aerosols, weapons, and flammable materials which are often regulated by import countries and air freight providers, so make sure you know if your shipment contains any of these before you send it.
It might not be able to fly
Due to IATA’s dangerous goods list, many products can’t fly. These goods would then need to be shipped via surface freight. While this will be a much cheaper option for you, it will take a lot longer for the customer to receive their products. Certain batteries, such as standalone power packs and disconnected batteries, are a problem for many couriers. If you are shipping batteries, always research beforehand what the shipping limits are, as they change often, can put people at risk, and can also land your company large fines from national governments who are cracking down on undeclared dangerous goods shipments. Many large shippers such as Amazon have been subject to these fines for shipping large amounts of lithium ion batteries without declaring them. Though you might do this unintentionally, ignorance is not a good enough defense. Do make sure you are in compliance with the law when shipping these goods.
Pack your goods carefully
One of the main reasons dangerous goods are classified as “dangerous” is the risk they pose to those transporting the goods. Pack your orders carefully to ensure that no damage comes to the products during transit and that those handling the package are safe from harm. Whether it’s a laptop computer or liquids, make sure that your shipment is padded well. If your packaging is not adequate enough, it may cause delays to your shipment.
There may be a different rules for each courier concerning your dangerous goods, depending on the amount you are carrying. The general rules are 100ml max for liquid and 2 batteries per shipment, but please contact your courier directly to confirm as these rules are subject to change at anytime.
Splitting your shipment
If claiming your shipment as dangerous goods is something you want to avoid altogether, you could ask your courier if it is possible to split your shipment. If this is an option, it can save you a lot of time as you will not have to deal with dangerous goods documentation, and goods will not have to undergo special procedures in order to be shipped.
In some cases, sending multiple shipments as a normal goods shipment may be cheaper than one dangerous goods shipment. This is common in the case of mobile phones and notebook computers, where it is possible to make your shipment smaller than the threshold.
However, this option is not risk-free. In fact, it could end up being more troublesome and inefficient for you because couriers can impose limitations not only on the number of dangerous goods per shipment, but also on the number of dangerous goods shipments per consignee per day, meaning you would end up having to arrange multiple shipments over several days.
You may need to pay extra handling fees
Many couriers charge premium rates and an additional charge for dangerous goods due to the extra risks involved with handling and processing them. Insurance for dangerous goods is also much more expensive due to the added risk of shipment. Some couriers require you to take insurance on your shipment to cover both the courier's health and safety risk, and can even refuse to cover your shipment for any damage which may occur in transit.
Make sure your documentation is complete
Getting the documentation right when sending a dangerous goods shipment is important, and also the key to ensuring your shipment goes smoothly. When making a dangerous goods shipment, ensure that all dangerous items are declared in your air waybill and commercial invoice under “Item Description”. Additionally, most couriers will require you to complete an expanded international air waybill and include a 24-hour telephone number on your shipper's declarations. Any errors in this documentation can lead to massive delays at customs.
Most dangerous goods shipments need a hazard label identifying the risk coming from the package, and a UN-number identifying the type of dangerous good in the shipment. Potential hazards are usually identified in the Material Safety Data Sheet, or MSDS. If you are shipping aerosols, batteries, or a fragile container, your shipment will also require additional stickers and labels to show this on the box. All hazard labels should be clear and easy for anyone to see.
In conclusion, there are many things to be aware of when transporting dangerous goods. At Easyship, our shipping sherpas always contact the couriers directly to confirm that a dangerous goods shipment can go through, and we encourage you to do the same should you have any questions about your own shipment. As long as you do your research, have secure packaging, complete documentation, and correct labelling, you’re on your way to shipping those dangerous goods like a pro!
There are other things to consider when shipping internationally. Why not check out our guide?
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