Looking Into International Shipping? 5 Things You Should Know

As your retail business expands, perhaps you’ve decided it’s time to ship your goods across the border. You may even be considering international options beyond North America.

Even if your business is ready to make the leap from domestic shipping to international shipping, you can still benefit from a few common-sense reminders. Read about 5 ways you can evaluate exporting potential, choose the right shipping container, and get help with customs. We’ll also tell you how to secure your freight, and what other important storage and shipping considerations you need to make.

1. Consider Your Product Line

Before you can expand internationally, you need to realistically evaluate your products’ potential. Just because your inventory does well in the States doesn’t mean it will do well abroad.

Ask yourself the following questions as you consider your product line:

  • What are the shipping demands for each product?
  • Is the potential worth the extra costs and legal hassles (customs, taxes, security, and so on)?
  • Do the products require any modification for international customers?
  • What’s the right price for each product (and country)?
  • How many company resources should you allocate to the export plan?
  • What import controls are already in place—and which do you still need to explore further?

Once you have some concrete answers to the above questions, more questions will emerge. This is normal, so be patient. Investigate every angle you can think of, and be sure to base all your information on current export/import laws.

If you’re expanding to Mexican or Canadian markets, your products may benefit from NAFTA, especially if your company is in the energy or automotive sector.

2. Get the Right Shipping Container for Your Products

Shipping goods can be complex enough domestically. But when you factor international laws, tariffs, and customs into the mix, you’ll have a lot to think about before you pack your containers.

For these reasons, it pays to choose the right container for your inventory. You also need to assess whether your containers will switch trucks along the route, and—if so—where. This is particularly true if you end up with LTL shipping (less than a full shipping load). The process is different for cross-ocean shipping.

If you’ve been careful in product selection, you’ll know what products are legal to ship. You’ll also know about other variables that impact your choice of container and carrier. It makes a lot of sense to rent or buy containers that meet your specifications. This protects both you and your products. If you’re trying to save on costs, look into used containers. Just inspect them well first.

3. Learn About the Customs Process

If you don’t know about commercial invoicing yet, you soon will. Your business invoice acts as a clear record for both exporters and importers. This is the document all customs officials look at first. It contains the following information:

  • Contents of shipment
  • Value of contents
  • Details that determine duty and other international controls

You’ll also need a certificate of origin for every shipment. If you’re shipping to a NAFTA destination, e.g., Canada or Mexico, you’ll use the same form. In this case, the importer will need a copy of this in hand. It may not accompany the actual shipment, but you’ll want to be sure it’s available as your goods cross the border.

If your shipment value is lower than $1,000, you don’t need this certificate. You will, however, need to include more information on your commercial invoice. Ask your shipper for more information. Also, if you have the right shipping software, it will generate the right customs forms so you don’t have to guess.

4. Keep Your Freight Safe

Wrapping your pallets is just one way to secure your goods before the long haul begins. You don’t want your products to sustain damage before they arrive at their destination. If you wrap the pallet’s base securely and pull it tightly around each corner, you’re off to a good start. The tighter the wrap, the more secure your pallet.

For international shipping, there’s more to security than meets the eye. Physical damage is one thing; tampering or theft is quite another concern.

To keep your products safe from start to finish, you’ll need to have reliable tracking protocols in place. If you want to check on your products mid-trip, check with your shipping provider. A reliable provider—particularly one with a good, cross-border track record—will improve your shipment’s security. Reputable shippers often offer insurance and verification along the way.

5. Talk to Other Retailers

When you’re just beginning to expand outside the continental U.S., don’t be shy about asking other business owners for tips. Not only will you gain a greater understanding of the entire process, from container rental to final shipment, but you’ll also learn from others’ mistakes.

Also, it pays to be realistic. By starting off modestly and shipping a proven product line, you’ll stay ahead of the game even while learning the rules. Stay optimistic but practical, and before you know it, your inventory will be on its way to a new market and new opportunities.