International Shipping: Global eCommerce Rates And Shipping Carriers

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There’s a whole world of business opportunities out there. I mean that literally. The entire planet is available to buy your products and services, and if you’re only selling domestically, you’re only tapping into a very small portion of it.

Perhaps you’re feeling the need to make a change. Maybe a few customers have reached out to you, asking if you could send your products internationally. Or perhaps you’re just looking for a new way to expand your business.

The global marketplace is awesome, but for eCommerce sellers, there is one major drawback: international shipping can be incredibly complex.

As an online seller, you already know that fulfilling orders within the States is hard enough. Now you have to deal with all the complexities of shipping, plus the added challenges of customs, duties, and international taxes.

In this brief guide, we will present a few of the initial steps you should take to start shipping internationally. We’ll go over the basics of shipping costs, shipping rates, and the shipping carriers you should consider. Keep reading to step into the world of international shipping.

How To Ship Internationally (From The United States)

This is why you’re here: to learn the basics steps of international shipping. Let’s get started.

Select Your Destination Country/Countries

As much as you’d like to ship your products across the entire world, for many merchants, major global expansion is not an immediate possibility. The best advice when it comes to international selling is to start small and gradually build.

As you choose your destination countries, you’ll need to keep in a mind a few factors. First, consider your current customer base. Who is buying your products now, and who has asked to buy your products from elsewhere? You should also factor in site translation and payment processing options. After all, international customers will need to read and understand your site and submit payment information for this all to work.

Evaluate Shipping Regulations

Next, you’ll need to decide which products to make eligible for shipping. Some of this may be based on logistics (it may, for example, be more trouble than it’s worth to ship a sofa to Guatemala), but some of it will also be based on product restrictions.

Each country has its own list of regulations regarding what can and cannot be imported and exported. Some of these restrictions may be surprising to you (for example, you are not allowed to send smoked salmon to Australia or playing cards to the Philippines).

Take a look at which products cannot be exported from the US on MyUs.com and USPS.com. Then, head over to this useful tool from the UPS to check the import regulations for your destination countries.

Learn To Manage Customs Forms

Filling out customs forms will soon become a part of your everyday life if you dive into international shipping, and you want to do it well. Take a look at general customs information from the US government, and then learn from Stamps.com’s advice for filling out a customs form.

Something to consider: Many shipping software solutions (like Shippo and ShippingEasy) include features for auto-filling these customs forms. If you aren’t using shipping software already, we absolutely recommend you take a look at a few of our favorite.

Decide On A Shipping Carrier

For many merchants, this step is the hardest. International shipping rates are complex, and what’s right for one shipment may not be right for another.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for shipping (domestic or international), and your shipping strategy will need to be flexible in order to be cost-effective.

We’ll discuss shipping carriers more a bit later, but first, let’s take a look at the costs you can expect as you enter international shipping.

International Shipping Costs To Consider

Shipping internationally inevitably comes with a bit of sticker shock. You may be used to the cost of shipping domestically, but all the extra expenses of international shipping can be overwhelming.

In order to ease some of that shock, we’re doing a quick breakdown of the added expenses you can expect. One key thing to keep in mind: Many of these expenses will be the customer’s responsibility.

  • Duties: Also known as tariffs, duties are customs charges on incoming shipments. Duties vary in price, depending upon the sending and receiving countries and the contents of the package. Paid by the customer.
  • Tax: Additional value added tax (VAT) or general sales tax (GST) charged by the destination government. Paid by the customer.
  • Fees: Some countries charge additional fees for processing packages through customs. These fees are in addition to duties. Paid by the customer.
  • Higher Shipping Rates: Shipping across longer distances comes with, of course, higher shipping rates. And not only are you shipping further, but also you’ll be shipping by air, and airmail comes with its own expenses. If you’re currently using UPS or FedEx, you’re already paying fuel surcharges for your ground shipments. International air shipments can come with slightly higher fuel surcharges. Take a look a UPS’s fuel surcharge rates (updated weekly) and FedEx’s info on fuel surcharges.

Make sure you clearly communicate these additional expenses to your customers. If customers refuse to pay the necessary fees, you may lose your product or have to pay to return it. Write a clear international shipping policy, and display it prominently on your checkout page.

Beyond the monetary costs of international shipping, another expense to consider is the time and effort required to make it all work. Make things a little easier with this pricing calculator from MyUS.com and Shipping Easy’s international seller’s shipping guide.

International Shipping Rates By Carrier

As we’ve said before, international shipping rates vary widely depending upon the product, the package dimensions, the destination country, and the shipping carrier. So, it’s impossible to summarize shipping rates, but I can provide you with a few helpful resources to calculate those rates for yourself.

Here’s a summary of the most popular shipping carriers, along with links to resources for each one:

Public Carriers: USPS & International Carriers

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is a public carrier, which means that some shipping expenses are subsidized by the government.

Many merchants find the USPS to be the cheapest way to ship domestically, and some say it’s the cheapest way to ship internationally.

When you ship this way, the USPS will deliver your package to the public carrier in the destination country. The public carrier in your destination country (such as the Canada Post or Royal Mail) will then deliver your package to your customer’s doorstep. Beware, this exchange can slow the shipping process a bit.

To calculate estimated shipping rates, take a look at USPS’s resources.

Private Carriers

While the USPS passes shipments onto the next public carrier, private carriers handle a shipment from start to finish. Because one carrier manages the entire shipping process, there tends to be more security in the process. The private carrier is responsible for your package, and you’ll have just one service to contact if something goes wrong.

Here are the three most popular private shipping carriers:

FedEx

FedEx ships to 220+ countries and territories, and they offer freight shipment options as well as international package delivery options. Look into your potential expenses with FedEx using this rates calculator or by taking a look at FedEx’s overview of rates for international shipments.

UPS

UPS is another reliable international carrier. UPS manages a huge shipment volume, shipping 3.1 million packages and documents internationally each day! With UPS, you can ship to 220+ countries and territories, including every address in North America and Europe. Check into UPS’s brief guide, How to Ship Internationally, as well as their landed cost estimator, which includes price estimates for factors such as duties and taxes.

DHL

DHL is a private carrier that specializes in international logistics. They employ over 350,000 individuals in over 220 countries and territories. And beyond their regular international shipment options, DHL offers a special service for online sellers: DHL eCommerce. This service is intended for high volume shippers (those who send over 50 packages internationally each day), so it may not be the service you use initially. However, DHL eCommerce is a good logistics solution for those who meet the requirements. To learn more, take a look at our blog post on DHL eCommerce and visit DHL’s webpage.

A Great Alternative: FBA Export

If you’re an Amazon seller, you have another option available to you. Instead of choosing from the carriers I listed above, you can let Amazon handle international fulfillment on your behalf.

FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) is Amazon’s in-house warehousing and fulfillment program. For a fee, you can send your products to Amazon’s many warehouses and have Amazon’s employees and robots pick, pack, and ship products for you. And with FBA Export, you can start sending those products to over 100 countries.

In order to use FBA Export, all you have to do is enable export functionality on your FBA account. There are no additional fees for merchants who are using FBA Export to ship their Amazon orders internationally. However, merchants who want to use FBA Export to ship products from their own online site will have to pay some additional fees. This type of warehousing plan is called Multi-Channel Fulfillment or MCF.

The great thing about FBA Export is that Amazon will handle all of the complexities related to international shipping. They will identify which of your products are eligible for export and fulfill your international orders. They also manage import duties and customs clearance for you.  Your customers will pay the shipping costs and customs duties, and all you have to do is determine which products you’d like to exclude from the program.

If you’re already selling on Amazon and using FBA for your fulfillment, FBA Export is an easy solution for your international shipping.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve been considering international shipping, now is your time to act. You now have all the resources you need to assess your shipping options and decide what’s right for your business.

So, dive deep into your store’s analytics. Find out which products you should start selling internationally and which countries might want access to those products. Pick out a shipping carrier (or two), check into customs, and get shipping!

Liz Hull

Liz Hull

Liz is software review writer living in Oregon. As of late, she can often be found haunting eCommerce forums and waiting on hold with customer service representatives. When she's free, Liz loves to rock climb, watch Spanish dramas, and read poorly-written young adult novels.
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