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7 Things Every International Shipper Needs to Know

Are you ready to grow your business beyond your own borders? As shoppers increasingly go online, the world is within your reach—but you’ll need to learn the fundamentals of international shipping and develop the right strategy for your unique business.

You may need to consider many ways to move your goods from point A to point B: intermodal, freight forwarding, cross-border over the road, NVOCC, etc. It’s also important that your freight is secure and safe in transit. Some types of freight have special concerns: pharmaceuticals and food may need refrigerated transport; other items may be fragile or even hazardous.

In this post, you’ll learn about the major considerations in international shipping and how to find the best international shipper for your unique needs.

1. Documentation

All international shipping requires some standard paperwork. These include the proforma invoice, commercial invoice, packing list, paper or electronic Certificate of Origin (eCO), Shipper’s Letter of Instruction (SLI), Bills of Lading (inland, ocean, and air waybill), and a bank draft.

If you are shipping between the U.S., Canada, or Mexico, you may need a country-specific Certificate of Origin as required by the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

If you are shipping electronics valued at over $2,500, you’ll need the Electronics Export Information (EEI) form. If your products are considered dangerous by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) or the International Maritime Organization (IMO), you will need to include the appropriate dangerous goods forms.

2. Custom regulations and fees

All international shipments need to clear customs at your product’s destination. Each country has its own regulations, so consult their customs website. Fill out paperwork with as much precision and detail as possible and make sure that your shipping company or third-party logistics firm is experienced in this mandatory paperwork.

Each country also decides how much to charge for custom fees. The higher your product’s value, the more you will need to pay in custom fees. Check the prices on your destination country’s customs website.

3. Transportation methods, packaging, and transit time

How will you transport your product? That depends on the nature of your product, how fast you need to deliver it, and how much you are willing to pay your shipper. Consult your destination country’s protocol regarding how to package and label your products.

Shipping products internationally involves more factors than delivering domestically, and there is much more potential for delays. To have your product arrive on a specific date, plan ahead to take into account possible delays such as a lack of overnight delivery or long customs clearances (24 to 48 hours).

If you want your product to arrive quickly, air transport is the best choice but the most expensive. Ocean shipping takes longer but is more affordable. Once your products arrive at the destination country by air or sea, they may require various transportation methods to the final destination by truck or train. Learn about each shipping company’s fees and what freight taxes they may apply to particular products.

It’s essential that your goods remain in peak condition during transit. If your product is delicate, fragile, perishable, or temperature-sensitive, it may not survive intact if you transport it by ship in a cargo container. Pharmaceuticals and food may require a specific temperature range and specialized packaging. Hazardous materials require proper containers, labeling, and handling during shipping.

Make sure that your choice of shipping company has a proven track record and verifiable experience transporting the type of goods you are shipping.

4. Restricted, banned, or undeliverable items

The items that are restricted or banned from import vary widely around the world. Check your destination country’s restricted list to avoid your goods being seized or destroyed by customs.

Prohibited items may include anything from used clothing (Mexico) to sending more than two lithium batteries or four lithium cells at a time (and they must be installed in the device they power). Transportation companies have lists of currently restricted products. Check with them before shipping your goods.

Your products could also be undeliverable due to weather, politics, or other circumstances beyond your control. Check for any shipping restrictions or suspensions before you send your goods.

5. Shipping perishables

There are specific rules for perishable items, depending on which transportation method you use.

If you ship by plane, you will be required to comply with the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) perishable cargo rules. They have a manual with rules, listings, and suggestions. If you ship by sea, you’ll need to follow the International Maritime Association regulations.

If you ship by truck or train in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) sanitation and transportation document explains how to reduce damage and contamination. Freight carriers such as FedEx and UPS also have specific regulations.

6. Insurance

There is a very high risk of your goods getting damaged during international shipping. It’s wise to purchase insurance against breakage and accidents, especially if your products are very expensive.

7. Choosing a shipping expert

If you are shipping large amounts of product or your shipping needs are quite complicated, you may want to delegate the shipping responsibilities to a logistics company, freight forwarder, or NVOCC.

A logistics company owns intermodal fleets of trucks, boats, or planes and coordinates a supply chain. A freight forwarder is an individual or company that provides international transportation through partner logistics companies. A non-vessel operating common carrier (NVOCC) offers logistics for ocean-based international container shipping.

When you select a shipping expert, make sure they are connected to a network of reliable international partners. Do they understand the specific supply chain needs for your products? Are they committed to providing the best logistical solutions as you expand globally? Choose a reputable company with a successful service tailored to your business.

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