International shipping takes planning, patience, and going through a bit of red tape. Saving money when shipping internationally is far more complex than “using the cheapest option.” While finding discounted shipping rates is important, there are other factors to consider in order to keep costs low. A lot of them revolve around proper documentation and knowledge of your international customers’ home country laws.
How to reduce customs charges
Though the buyer is generally the party that pays customs and import taxes, properly filling out customs forms and having a working knowledge of your international markets is crucial for a smoother delivery process. Any disruptions when shipping can cause customs fees, etc. to stack up.
Improperly declaring or valuing items : When importing goods, duties & taxes are paid based on the specific commodity (depending on the harmonization code it is declared under). If a harmonization code is improperly assigned or if you fail to declare one, the shipment can be held until the declaration is resolved. This can cause delays in a shipment’s delivery, which can then cause the customer to deny or return the parcel and be returned to you. At this point, you may have to pay import taxes upon its return.
Be aware of each country’s unique import regulations : Anecdotally, each country has its own culture and customs, with its own rich and unique history that has shaped it into what it is today. This is also true of a country’s customs and VAT (value-added taxes). The items that certain countries don’t allow to be imported can be surprising. For instance, laser pointers are forbidden from being imported into Australia without first being granted permission. Unless you sell on a country-specific marketplace, it will be your responsibility as a seller to make sure that you are not importing banned goods into a country. Should these items be discarded or returned to sender, you will have to take the hit.
Have all of your forms prepared : International shipping requires far more paperwork and bureaucracy than domestic shipments. Not only do you need to have all of your forms, you also need to ensure that each form is included in the appropriate pouch/adhered to the outside of the parcel. Improperly filed or misplaced customs documents can lead to customs taking a longer processing time.
How to more affordably insure parcels internationally
International shipments can have more disruptions than domestic shipments. A lot can go wrong in the handover between couriers. Furthermore, frugality and optimism when dealing with unfamiliar international markets can lead to a higher risk of package theft. Saving money when shipping, particularly internationally, doesn’t only mean using the cheapest option. If your merchandise is costly, a lost or damaged package can set you back far more than the shipment’s courier fees.
In order for a package to be covered, a courier must receive verified acceptance of a package. Because of this, tracking that confirms an item’s delivery is required in order to file a claim for a lost parcel. This information is found on the shipping courier’s respective tracking websites. If a shipping label is printed but doesn’t indicate that it has been scanned by the courier as accepted, it is deemed as having never been mailed, and there is no coverage. The caveat here is that you can insure parcels going abroad and even if the parcel cannot be covered, they will still take the charges.
Additionally, it will benefit you to familiarize yourself with the insurance restrictions pertaining to specific countries. For example, if you purchase insurance for a parcel going to Russia, the package can be insured en route to Russia. As soon as the plane lands, however, it is no longer covered.
Courier Insurance vs Third-Party Insurance
A great way to pay less for insurance is to use a third-party insurance provider, such as Shipsurance (which is available to US and Canada-based shippers). When adding insurance to a shipment you pay the additional fees in increments of $100 insured value.
Typically, courier insurance and third-party insurances have similar rating structures: between $0.85-$1.00 per $100 value. The added bonus of something like Shipsurance is it doesn’t charge a minimum amount, which differs from USPS who charges a minimum of $3.50. If you need to insure a parcel that is under $300, but don’t want to rack up too many unnecessary charges, third-party insurance may be the best bet.
What is GlobalPost?
Stamps.com's GlobalPost services give US-based customers an economical way to ship international packages that weigh less than 4.4 pounds. Through streamlined service options, shipping costs are greatly-lowered. For more information, read the Stamps.com page about the benefits of using GlobalPost.
If you typically ship more than 10 international shipments per day, another option from GlobalPost to consider is their SmartSaver shipping options. This is a consolidation service where you place your day’s shipments (with their labels applied to each individual shipment) into a larger box that is then shipped to a GlobalPost hub, where the individual shipments are sorted and shipped out accordingly.
Best International Shipping Options from the US
For parcels weighing 4 lbs and under, Global Post and/or First Class Mail International will be the most economical way to ship internationally. Keep in mind, though, that these options are economical because they may take a very long time to get to their final destination. Tracking also may not be available for these options, so should a package become lost or get stolen while in transit, you as the shipper may be left holding the bill.
For parcels weighing 4 lbs and over, USPS Priority Mail International typically offers the best rates. This option offers insurance for parcels valued up to $200. Tracking is also available by default on this service. While this option is available for parcels weighing up to 70 lbs, parcels weighing over about 20 lbs may more economical with FedEx or UPS.
For quick delivery, USPS Priority Mail Express International will typically offer the best rates. Beyond that, FedEx may offer comparable rates and delivery timeframes with their Economy International service.
For express services, FedEx International Priority® usually offers slightly better rates over UPS Worldwide Express®. Because these couriers generally offer more expedited options than USPS, FedEx and UPS are the best options for time-sensitive shipments.
Shipping internationally gives you a chance to expand your business’s customer base. Finding economical ways to accommodate international customers without making it too expensive or delayed is important for growth. The first step towards localizing your business to new markets requires an understanding of the customer base. The more you know how customers receive parcels, what their common delivery exceptions are, and what can and cannot be imported, the stronger your relationships will be with couriers so you can negotiate deeper discounts on your shipping charges.