The 5-Step Guide to International Shipping

June 21, 2019

At some point, every small and medium-sized business will face the same question: What more can you do to keep the company growing?

For many companies, the answer lies in international shipping.

Shipping your products to overseas consumers can be a very profitable way to expand and diversify. And the economics of exporting are certainly enticing. But many e-commerce companies are yet to branch out into cross-border trade, even though 70% of the world’s purchasing power is located outside of the United States.

It’s normal to feel a level of apprehension when thinking about shipping internationally, particularly when it comes to concerns about issues related to costs and customs.

But the options for overseas shipping have come a long way in recent years, and selling to international consumers is a lot easier than many companies may think. With the explosion of tools and resources to help companies ship products overseas, it’s never been easier to venture into the realm of global shipping.

Here are five easy steps you can use to get started with international shipping.

#1: Decide where you want to ship

The first thing you’ll need to determine is where you want to ship products. Many businesses ease into international shipping with Canada and Mexico, which tend to be relatively easy options thanks to their proximity.

However, while our neighbors to the north and the south make for great trading partners, there are many more opportunities beyond North America. One method we recommend here at UPS is to start by identifying countries that have free trade agreements in place with the United States, since this often translates to lower duty rates and simpler customs clearance.

Even when a package does not qualify for lower tariff levels, those free trade agreements definitely make it much easier to move goods between countries.

#2: Explain what you’re shipping

All non-document shipments that cross borders require a customs form known as the commercial invoice. When completing this document, it’s important to be as specific as possible. That means you need to know exactly what it is that you’re shipping, so you can communicate those details to officials.

Describe very clearly not just the product itself, but other details as well: the number of units, the total value of your shipment and so on — right down to details on where the product is manufactured, which may differ from where shipping takes place.

All of this information is critical for the customs officials who need to apply the correct classification to each shipment for a smooth path of entry into your international market. For example, if your commercial invoice only lists “computer parts” with little description beyond that, it’s far more likely to cause a hold at customs. This can lead to delays and increased shipping costs.

Instead, be highly specific each time you ship a package internationally. Wherever possible, use the Harmonized System code to classify your products for customs purposes.

#3: Specify who is receiving the shipment

Another important rule for completing the commercial invoice: Include complete and updated contact information for the receiver of your shipment. That way, if customs has questions for your recipient, the process will still move along instead of coming to a halt.

Be sure to estimate your total cost of shipping, or landed cost, and determine who will be paying for insurance, duties and taxes in addition to shipping costs themselves. Will your business cover all of these expenses, or will your buyer share some of the load? These terms must be made and agreed upon in advance of international shipping, and should be included in your commercial invoice.

Shipping direct to a consumer can be a little different than shipping to a business, which may allow you to defer import tax or value-added tax. When in doubt, use an international shipping solution like i-parcel to guarantee your landed costs when sending packages overseas.

#4: Determine when your shipment should arrive

This step will directly impact your shipping costs and related expenses. As a general rule, the faster you need to have a package delivered, the higher the shipping costs will be.

At UPS, we offer a wide range of options for shipping a package internationally. For instance, if you’re looking to ship into Canada or Mexico and don’t require same-day or next-day delivery, UPS® Standard ground service can be very cost-effective. Other options for shipping inside North America range from ground shipment all the way up to next flight out. And when you’re ready to expand your reach across oceans, there’s an equally robust selection of international shipping options to choose from depending on your budget and your consumers’ expectations.

Our advice? Decide how long of a lead time you can bake into your listings and go from there.

#5: Lean on an experienced provider

There’s no need to struggle through your first international shipments. These days, there are simply too many online tools to help you with the heavy lifting. At UPS, our shipping wizard has been designed to walk sellers through the process of getting an international package ready to ship, quickly and easily. You can complete the commercial invoice and choose from a range of available delivery options, complete with pricing that updates as you input delivery details.

Is it time for your company to embrace international shipping? UPS offers a wide array of resources that make it easier than ever to deliver your goods to overseas customers. There’s truly never been a better time to go global.

This guest blog post was provided by UPS. An original version of the article appeared on the UPS site and was republished with permission.

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