Have you had experience shipping domestically, and are you now ready to join the global marketplace?
You’re not alone.
In 2018, the value of global trade was $19.48 trillion. More and more merchants are looking to book freight online to tap into this overseas growth opportunity.
But sending a package locally is drastically different from sending one overseas. More things need to be considered, including:
- Custom regulations
- Custom fees
- Shipping tariffs
- Medium of transportation
- Restricted items
Strict cross-border regulations mean that successfully importing and exporting goods globally requires care. With that said, there is a way to manage the complexities of international shipping to do it profitably.
Here’s what you need to know to streamline the international logistics process, complete with suggested action items.
1. Country restrictions
When exporting internationally, it’s important to know that specific country’s import and export regulations. Certain countries prohibit or control the export of certain goods and products. These regulations may mean your goods may be subject to special rules or conditions.
Canada, for example, has a quota agreement on goods like sugar and lumber. Brazil prohibits the exportation of electronic cigarettes. China restricts or prohibits items such as ivory, jewelry, and antiques from entering the country.
Use this guide to international shipping to determine what goods and products are subject to export licensing and restrictions depending on your country of origin and destination.
2. Customs, duties and tariffs
All goods or products shipped internationally must clear customs before they can be allowed into a country. The customs clearance process will require you to fill out certain documents so your products can clear customs.
Standard export documents you may need to fill out include:
- Commercial invoice
- Generic certificate of origin
- Shipper’s letter of instruction
- Packing list
- Proforma invoice
- Export licenses
- Import license
- Material Safety Data Sheet (if shipping products with potential hazards)
- Dangerous goods certificate (if products are classified as dangerous goods)
- Bill of lading (if shipping through ocean freight)
- Airway bill (if shipping through air freight)
It is in the shipper’s best interest that their exported goods are accompanied by the appropriate documents. Careful management of accurate and careful documentation will ensure no delays occur at customs.
Customs duties and shipping tariffs are the fees levied on your goods and products by a country’s customs department and shipping company, respectively. All country-specific duties and taxes should be correctly paid to avoid any trouble at the border.
3. Shipping companies
With the global online trade as expansive as it is, there are a plethora of choices when it comes to choosing an international freight shipping company. Identifying the right shipping partner for your needs will ensure you work with a shipping company that is reliable and reasonably priced.
When it comes to choosing a freight shipping partner, experience matters. A shipping company’s knowledge of the international landscape will come in handy when you’re trying to navigate the many factors of international shipping.
Other relevant information to consider should be:
- Company’s reputation
- Safety record
- Customer satisfaction
- Company’s relationships with carriers
- Shipping routes
- Modes of transportation
- Tracking ability
- Insurance protection
If you have connections with other businesses that ship internationally, ask for their recommendations. They can provide insightful advice on the best freight shipping company for your needs. But, as always, perform your due diligence when selecting a shipping partner.
4. Product packaging
As you may know from your domestic shipping experience, product packaging is critical in shipping your goods safely to its destination. Packaging is a reflection of your brand. The right packaging protects the contents of your shipment, keeps everything secure, and can directly influence the unboxing experience.
Certain packaging material can also determine the cost of your shipment.
Materials like glass might have greater perceived value, but is expensive to ship and is easily breakable. Plastic, on the other hand, is a budget-friendly option, but many consumers have environmental concerns regarding the use of plastic.
Your product packaging should strike the right balance between budget, transportation mode, sustainability, and product size. Your shipping partner can advise you on the right packaging for your product so your goods arrive safely, securely and on time.
5. Modes of transportation
When it comes to shipping internationally, there are two modes of transportation available – ocean freight and air freight. Air freight is faster and more reliable. But this speed comes at a cost. Ocean freight is much slower but is considerably cheaper and can carry more capacity and volume.
Air freight should be used for products that are time-sensitive such as holiday gifts, products with a limited shelf life, or products with a high value. Ocean freight services are better for shippers who ship large quantities of products or those with a flexible arrival date, saving on costs.
Determine which transportation mode is right for your shipping needs by conducting market research. Knowing what price point and transit time your customers are happy with will allow you to make an informed decision on which shipping mode to take.
To insure or not to insure? This is a question every shipper deals with when shipping goods internationally.
While you can securely package your products, there is always a certain degree of risk that some of your goods will be damaged, lost, or stolen during transit. If you ship high-value goods, insurance is necessary.
Even if you don’t ship high-value items, insurance can provide coverage if your goods get lost or damaged during transit.
Most carriers and shipping companies will include insurance coverage for goods up to a certain amount. Ask your shipping partner what their insurance limit is. If your product’s declared value is higher than the stated limit, you’ll need to purchase supplemental insurance.
7. Return policies
Returns are an inevitable aspect of international shipping.
As such, your international logistics process should consider international returns to make things easier for your customers. A difficult returns process can frustrate your customers, negatively impacting the future of your business.
A suggested action plan to make your returns policy as accessible to your customers as possible is to present your returns instructions in an easy-to-follow format. Highlight what goods can and cannot be returned and provide a clear return window from the date of purchase.
This information should be presented on your website, complete with packing slips or dedicated return forms. Your packages should also come with a prepaid label so your customers can easily post the item back.
Work with your shipping partner to streamline this process. Ensure that they have a returns solution in place and that their returns policy adheres to the country of origin’s regulations.
Shipping with confidence
International shipping is a key pillar to business growth. While shipping to international customers adds an extra layer of complexity to your delivery process, these short-lived bottlenecks are quickly outweighed by the potential profits your business can guide.
Follow the tips and strategies above to ensure your international shipments clear customs and reach your customers in a safe and timely manner.
Paul Rehmet is the Chief Product Officer for Shipa Freight. He is responsible for translating the company’s vision into an easy-to-use online freight platform for its customers. In his 25-year career, Paul has held various technology leadership positions with early-stage startups and Fortune 500 companies including Unisys, Destiny Web Solutions, and US Airways.