Shipping Overseas? Here’s What You Need to Know

Shipping overseas is an increasingly important part of global commerce. More small businesses across the U.S. are either already engaged in shipping their products overseas or are actively planning to expand in this area in the near future.

For newcomers, there’s a lot of information to absorb, from making sure you’re compliant with foreign rules and regulations to learning how to ship your products overseas in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

Here’s a quick guide to overseas shipping to help you get started.

Become Familiar With Shipping Tariffs, Duties and Taxes

Every foreign market is different, so it’s essential that you familiarize yourself with country-specific shipping taxes, duties, tariffs and declaration forms. Many of these costs are calculated based on factors such as product quantity and value, comprehensive shipping expenses and any related insurance.

When shipping products to European Union countries, for example, you may be obligated to pay a custom duty and an import Value Added Tax (VAT), which is a “broadly based consumption tax assessed on the value added to goods and services.” You can research specific requirements for the country you plan to conduct business in, but it may be worthwhile to enlist the support and knowledge of a qualified shipping provider. That may be the most effective way to secure beneficial international shipping rates for your goods.

Generally speaking, duties are categorized as delivery duty paid (DDP) or delivery duty unpaid (DDU). As the seller, you’re responsible for DDP — the payment of any taxes and fees involved with your shipment. Often, but not exclusively, a shipping carrier will cover these costs upfront and then send you the bill.

With DDU, your customer pays the relevant shipment taxes and fees. Always indicate on your website’s product checkout page when these fees are the customer’s responsibility, so there are no unpleasant surprises on their end.

Know What’s Allowed and What’s Prohibited

Again, different countries impose strict (or not-so-strict) rules on which goods and products are permitted for import and which are prohibited. UPS offers a resource for locating country or territory-specific facts and regulations that can influence your shipping practices.

Understand Documentation Related to International Shipping

Paperwork related to international shipping typically includes a commercial invoice, certificate of origin, electronic export information, shipping labels and bills of lading. Other paperwork may be necessary, depending on type of product, quantity and value. As with other regulations, requirements for documentation vary from country to country. Don’t try the “one-size-fits-all” approach to shipping your products to overseas countries.

Research Specific Country Payment Methods

Most local governments accept payment for products via credit card — but not all. Some prefer bank transfers or the use of international online payment platforms. Find out before you embark on the shipping process!

Packaging and Labeling

With overseas shipments, packaging and labeling encompass a wide range of considerations, from a product’s size to the number of units packed in each container. Also, in some countries, it’s necessary to include a country-of-origin label. All of these details should be researched and addressed thoroughly before shipping anything of significant value to your foreign market.

Manage Your Foreign Customers’ Expectations

Typically, shipping packages abroad will involve longer delivery times than local shipping. It’s a good idea to highlight delivery estimates prominently on your site so customers understand the amount of shipping and delivery time they can expect.

Consider the Fulfillment Option

A qualified fulfillment center or global shipping service may be your best international shipping resource. Fulfillment centers often store a company’s goods prior to shipment, while a respected shipping service can address all aspects of international shipping and delivery, including:

  • Package handling
  • Customs and excise paperwork
  • Shipping calculators

A fulfillment center or global shipping service may be the most authoritative, time-efficient option for your small business.

Clearly Outline Your Return Policies

First off, you can minimize unwanted product returns by providing clear, accurate images and descriptions of your products online. If your business handles fulfillment, check (and double-check) that customer orders are properly entered. Outline situations where a product can be returned for a refund (and where it can’t) while ensuring that your return policies align with appropriate, country-specific regulations.

As you probably already know, shipping overseas can be a complex process. Fortunately, there are many resources you can call upon to help with the process. Here are just a few:

Be sure to do your homework to figure out the finer logistics, then it’s time to begin sharing your products with the big, wide world.

Lee Polevoi
Lee Polevoi
Lee Polevoi is a veteran freelance business writer specializing in exploring the opportunities and challenges facing small businesses in the U.S. today. A former senior writer for Vistage International (a global membership organization of CEOs), Lee regularly produces articles, white papers, blog posts and more for the diverse small business audience.

See all posts by Lee Polevoi
  • All views expressed on the published articles at are those of each of the authors, and do not in any way represent the opinions of Mastercard International Incorporated or any of its affiliates (“Mastercard”). Mastercard is not responsible of the information contained in these articles.