Ecommerce International Shipping – A Guide to Delivering Worldwide

Image of international shipping small
Image of international shipping
There are 8 things an ecommerce business needs to take into account when shipping overseas:

  • Every product you ship must go through customs clearance and may be liable to taxes and duties.
  • Consider reducing the weight of your package in any way possible to save on international shipping costs.
  • International shipping takes time.
  • Different shipping companies have different prices.
  • Don't forget to declare the value of your items.
  • Choose the type of shipment that works best for you.
  • Follow the rules about restricted and perishable goods.
  • Get shipping insurance to cover losses and damage.

How does international shipping work?

How does overseas shipping work? There are many good reasons to expand your reach to foreign markets by developing a cost-effective international shipping strategy.

  1. First, international shipping has become the new norm, and lots of customers expect it from online stores.
  2. Second, there are about 2.14 billion shoppers online who regularly buy from digital stores - a significant increase compared to a few years ago. In other words, 27% of the world population are online buyers.
  3. After analyzing the data from 2,597 Shopify stores, Littledata found that the average domestic sale price is $89 while the average international order value is $147.

So, if you decide to offer international shipping, you can sell to a world-wide audience who is eager to buy. International shipping may seem like a hassle for an online store. And international shipping rates are not trivial. If you have tried it before and found it cumbersome, you might want to reconsider your international shipping strategy after learning exactly how it works. There are just a handful of steps to follow, and you are ready to sell products globally.

Here they are:

  1. Decide what you will ship and how much.
  2. Research international shipping companies and see which one offers the most competitive prices for your type of product.
  3. Get the right packaging supplies and materials.
  4. Use a shipping software to compare shipping costs and print shipping labels.
  5. Fill out customs forms.
  6. Drop off your international shipment.

How long does international shipping take?

Image of ship internationally
In general, international shipping takes longer than domestic because international packages have to go through customs and inspections.

When you develop your shipping strategy, remember that your parcel can take anywhere from 1 to 10 business days to arrive when shipping internationally with USPS, FedEx, or UPS. Typically, USPS Priority Mail ships internationally within 6-10 business days, and First Class anywhere between 1-4 weeks. FedEx ships Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico within 2-3 business days, and to other countries (215 destination countries and territories) within 2-5 business days. UPS delivers to worldwide destinations within 2-4 business days (usually by the end of the day). If you offer your international customers overnight delivery, DHL has an excellent overnight service that allows your products to reach your global customers super fast. DHL Express ships to 220 countries worldwide. When you partner with them, you not only get one of the most reliable international shipping services but also e-commerce and logistics experts who can advise you on new markets and new opportunities. Express delivery is the fastest shipping method. Your shipment will get to the customer anywhere between 24 to 72 hours. So, if you need to ship items fast go for express couriers. And last but not least, there are regional couriers that specialize in short-haul deliveries (up to 500 miles or less). These local carriers partner with e-commerce businesses and 3PLs and deliver international orders to zip codes within their range. Using regional carriers is one of the delivery methods that can help you reach your customers much cheaper and faster.
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How much does international shipping cost?

How much does international shipping cost? International shipping rates tend to be higher than domestic shipping. Postal carriers charge more for international shipping because there are many factors involved in delivering international shipments overseas, such as import taxes and duties (customs duties), multi-step logistics, fuel costs, etc.

However, USPS Priority Mail International - Flat Rate is typically the cheapest option in comparison to other carriers.

For example, shipping a 5-pound package (5x5x5 inches) from the US to the UK will cost:

  • With USPS Priority Mail International - $80.65 (ships within 6-10 business days);
  • With UPS Worldwide Expedited® - $241.50 (ships within 3-4 business days);
  • With FedEx International Economy - $241.32 (ships within 4-5 business days).

When shipping the same package from the US to Canada, UPS comes out cheaper.

  • UPS Standard® - $39.90 (ships within 1-5 business days);
  • USPS Priority Mail International - $53.35 (ships within 6-10 business days);
  • FedEx International Ground - $53.98 (ships within 2-6 business days).

When shipping a similar package to Europe, USPS still is the winner.

  • USPS Priority Mail International - $69.75 (ships within 6-10 business days);
  • UPS Worldwide Expedited® - $241.50 (ships within 3-4 business days);
  • FedEx International Economy - $241.32 (ships within 5-6 business days).

What you need to consider when shipping internationally

Image of air logistic
When you ship internationally, you import and export goods from one country to another through some mode of transportation.

International shipping involves a multi-step shipping process of meeting the requirements and regulations of the target country.
    • 1
      Check customs requirements and international shipping regulations before shipping
      The best way to do it is to check the customs website of the destination country. You will find all the information about which items are considered dangerous goods (for example, lithium batteries). You will also learn what items are restricted and what items are prohibited.
    • 2
      Reduce the weight of your package
      International shipping is not cheap. Use smaller corrugated boxes and lightweight packing materials to save on weight and size. Check out various packaging supplies available on the market to ensure the maximum safety of your products.
    • 3
      Find the courier that works best for you
      To compare prices, simply go to each courier's website and enter your package weight and size. You will see international shipping options, delivery times, and costs.

      Most ecommerce platforms have integrated shipping calculators that allow you to compare prices from different couriers.

      When you get an estimate of how much you will need to pay for shipping, you can display this information for your international buyers.
    • 4
      Fill out all the documents
      For international shipping, you need to attach a Commercial Invoice to your parcel to provide information about the sender, receiver, and the products shipped. This is where you declare the value of your product and country of origin.
    • 5
      Get shipping insurance
      When you ship overseas, you don't want your customers to receive a damaged product and be disappointed after having waited for a week or two.

      But life is life - if you want guarantees for yourself and your customers, get good insurance for your international delivery. It is not that expensive compared to the value of your goods.

      All major international couriers nowadays include automatic insurance up to $100. If you decide to offer the insurance option to your customers, state clearly how much they will need to pay in your product description.

    Duties and taxes

    When shipping internationally, there are so-called "extra costs" such as duties and taxes, fees and tariffs.

    • Taxes - certain international shipments are subject to an import tax;
    • Fees - flat rates for transportation, currency conversion, and parcel handling;
    • Duties - charged by the government.
    • Tariffs - certain foreign products are taxed to promote local produce and make it more attractive to customers.
    When researching your shipping options, explore and factor in any duties and taxes you may have to pay on your target international market. There are duty calculators that can help you estimate what you may need to pay in a given country. While taxes are charged based on a fixed percentage, duties are calculated based on the item value, the country of origin, and the type of product shipped. Clearly communicate to your buyer what additional fees they might have to pay. This will foster transparency, which is a key factor in establishing trust. Have a clear return policy on your website. Usually, your customer is the one to pay any taxes or duties on the shipment - before they can get the package. This is the so-called Delivered Duty Unpaid (DDU). In other words, once the package has reached the buyer's destination country, they will be responsible for any extra costs. However, you may choose to pay these fees if you want to pleasantly surprise your customers. This type of arrangement is called Delivered Duty Paid (DDP). So, you need to buy a shipping label (DDU or DDP) and attach the appropriate customs documentation to your shipment. Typically, there are only documents to include: a commercial invoice and an export packing list (which itemizes the contents of the package). Customs documentation for international shipments can vary by country.

    Country-specific restrictions

    Carriers are not allowed to ship prohibited or restricted items to their customers.

    You can check global country or territory-specific lists to see if your product is prohibited or restricted. When shipping items with regulatory, hazard, safety, or other concerns you may need to get approval from Regulatory Compliance, Risk Management, and Legal departments. Also, special permits or licenses may be required for certain items. Check the official customs website to see if the item you want to ship is on the restricted items list for the country where you live. Then check the same for your destination country. If your item is on the restricted items list, it will not be cleared by customs, and it won't be able to leave or enter the country. The rule of thumb is - if an item is not allowed to ship in the U.S., you won't be able to ship it to most countries. But even if your item is allowed to ship in the U.S., it may still be forbidden in other countries.

    Required documentation

    In most cases, only two documents are required from an online store to ship internationally, but in other cases, the following documents might also be necessary.
      • 1
        Bill of Lading
        The Bill of Lading (BOL) is an agreement between you and the transportation service provider.

        The BOL specified the origin, final destination, shipping date, and shipping instructions as well as piece count, weight, and size of the item.

        What is the purpose of the Bill of Lading?

        The BOL is evidence that the goods have been received and the contract of carriage has been signed. In other words, the BOL proves that the courier has received the items in good order.

        The flip side of the BOL contains terms and conditions stating the applicable laws and the rights and obligations of the international shipping company.
      • 2
        Certificate of Origin
        The Certificate of Origin certifies that items have been manufactured in a particular country.
        Depending on the destination, the Certificate of Origin defines what duties will need to be paid for the international shipment.

      International shipping companies for eCommerce businesses

      If your online store decides to ship internationally, there are multiple couriers out there to suit your needs. You can literally pick and choose which company provides a better service for your ecommerce business. The best international shipping companies that provide quality shipping are USPS, UPS, DHL, DPD, FedEx, Australia Post, Royal Mail, Canada Post (Canada Post delivers to the U.S. and more than 190 countries worldwide), and DB Schenker. Try to strike a balance between the speed of delivery and shipping costs. Some companies offer exceptional delivery speeds, but the faster the delivery the more you pay. On the other hand, cheaper international shipping couriers offer slower speeds of delivery.

      For example, DHL express offers three service levels:

      • Expedited Max: 2-3 postal days
      • Expedited: 2-5 average postal days
      • Ground: 3-8 average postal days

      Tips for international shipping for an eCommerce business

      An eCommerce store needs to follow certain simple rules when sending international shipments.
          • 1
            Send only authorized goods
            Authorized goods are products or items that are not prohibited for international shipping.
          • 2
            Inform your customers about any possible additional charges
            Such charges may include fuel surcharges and handling-related fees. Let your buyers know ahead of time what they might have to pay. A little transparency goes a long way in establishing trust.

            The main additional fee they might have to face with express carriers is fuel surcharges - a percentage of the shipping costs.

            Handling-related charges have to do with the type of product you ship - the type of container used, weight, and dimensions.

            As a rule, shipping companies prefer to deal with standard-size and easy-to-handle packages. If it's not the case, you may have to pay additional charges.
          • 3
            Prepare the packages for a long journey
            When you ship products internationally, the process is very similar to packing domestic shipments:

            • Use smaller and lightweight (corrugated) boxes or envelopes.
            • Pack carefully and as tightly as possible to pay less for shipping. Use lightweight packing materials like packing paper, bubble wrap, foam, air pillows, or wadding rolls.
            • Seal well.
            • Don't forget to include any commercial invoices, packing lists, and other shipping documents.
          • 4
            Consider shipping insurance
            The cost of insurance is not that high compared to the value of your products, especially when you ship internationally.

            Most carriers insure your items automatically providing both you and your customers with peace of mind. However, if the value of your item is high, consider getting additional insurance.
          • 5
            Check the shipping information
            When you ship internationally, it's essential to check the following before dropping off your international package:

            • The full name of your international customer.
            • Their full international address.
            • Check if you have included all the customs documents.

          eCommerce international shipping solutions

          When looking for eCommerce international shipping solutions, there are lots of important nuances to keep track of. Companies that offer international shipping abound. You can choose Shopify, WooCommerce, or Magento, and they will make your international shipping process easy. However, if you are looking for an integrated shipping solution that keeps your international shipping costs low while giving you a wide range of international shipping options, check out Calcurates. Calcurates is multi-carrier shipping software that offers a host of advanced shipping features including International Shipping services from major carriers, Landed Costs feature, Estimated Delivery Dates, Smart Packaging, and many more. With Calcurates, you will get the best shipping rates from the major carriers and will be able to configure the right shipping options for your customers. In addition to real-time rates from multiple shipping companies, you will get custom shipping options (Flat Rate, Free Shipping, Table Rates, and in-Store Pickup). Calcurates allows you to take 100% control of your shipping at checkout so you keep your shipping rates as low as possible while keeping your international customers happy.


          International shipping involves importing and exporting items from one country to another via ocean, air, or road.
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