How Does International Shipping Work?
If you’re new to eCommerce, international shipping may seem daunting. However, offering prompt, affordable worldwide shipping is one of the best ways to grow your customer base. But how does international shipping work? What are the considerations you should make before offering global shipping to your customer? Check out our guide on everything international to learn how to get started.
The International Shipping Process
While there are a few added steps, the international shipping process isn’t all that different from shipping domestically. While the process will differ depending on your fulfillment and shipping providers, the basic steps of international shipping remain the same:
- Order Placement: A customer places a domestic or international order on your website.
- Order Fulfillment: You or your 3PL partner fulfill and pack the order with a shipping label. International shipping labels will require a completed customs form at this step.
- Order Shipment: Your orders will be taken to a post office or shipment center. Domestic and international orders will likely be separated at this point.
- Order Export: Your orders are sorted by destination country and make their way to the country by air, land, or sea. The shipping method will depend on how much you’re willing to pay and how quickly you want your shipments to arrive.
- Order Import: Your shipments arrive at customs in their destination countries. Customs officials will scan your packages upon arrival. Depending on their monetary values and contents, they will calculate the duties, taxes, or fees that the recipients now owe.
- Order Notification: Your recipients are notified that they have a package ready for delivery or pick-up, pending their payment of the calculated fees. Some shipping providers will pre-pay these fees to expedite the customs process, but the packages will not be delivered until the customer re-pays what they owe.
- Order Delivery or Return: The package is delivered through the standard process of the destination country. The recipient will pay the customs fee upon receipt. If they do not pay the customs fee, their package will be held at the post office or shipping center for a set period of time. After that time period, the package will be returned to you if the fees are not paid by the recipient.
Offering International Shipping
While offering international shipping can offer opportunities for your business, you may not be fully aware of the risks it brings as well. If you’re still wondering “how does international shipping work?”, you may want to consider these factors before taking the next step.
The Cost of International Shipping
Getting a package to the other side of the world isn’t cheap. Depending on your audience and price point, customers may not be willing to pay for prompt shipping to their country. You should be prepared to cover part of the shipping costs with profits from your products until you find the sweet spot of your international shipping rates.
Timing is Everything
In the age of one-day shipping, you may struggle to keep up internationally without global warehousing. You’ll have to keep a careful eye on how long it takes your packages to get to each country and how much waiting your customers are willing to do.
Getting to Know Your International Market
If you’re new to international business, you may be surprised by your audience in other countries. Due to cultural, economic, and demographic differences, they may not behave the way you expect.
International customers might be interested in different products than your domestic market, or they might not be interested in your product at all. Market research can help you know where to expand first to keep you in the black.
Dealing with Customs
One of the biggest differences between domestic and international shipping is that you’ll need to comply with customs regulations. These regulations impose taxes, duties, and fees for items shipped from another country.
Customs Forms for International Shipping
When printing shipping labels for international packages, you’ll need to fill out a few additional fields about the contents of your shipment. These fields may include:
- The total number of items enclosed
- Short descriptions of all items
- Weights of all items
- Declared values for all items
- Tariff numbers
It’s important to note that the value declared for each item can be equal to or less than the actual price the customer paid. The information you fill out will be used by that country’s customs workers to decide if the recipient will need to pay additional fees or taxes.
Customs & Customer Service
Because declaring customs often charges your customers extra, it can be a point of contention for your overall customer service. Warning international customers early and often can help mitigate frustration and avoid unretrieved packages and wasted shipping costs.
You may want to remind customers of additional charges (or even provide an estimating tool) on product pages, in the cart, in the checkout process, and in their order confirmation email. By letting your customers know what to expect before they order, you can avoid wasting time and money only to have packages returned.
The biggest pain points of international shipping are time and money. You’ll likely have to experiment a bit to find the sweet spot of how long customers are willing to wait, and how much they’re willing to pay.
How to Lower Your International Shipping Rates
Lowering your shipping rates without increasing the time it takes for your packages to arrive can be tricky. One of the best ways to lower international shipping rates for your company is to have your third-party logistics partner negotiate your rates for you. They work with shipping providers every day and have a better sense of how to haggle them down to a more reasonable rate.
How Long Does International Shipping Take?
Unfortunately, when it comes to shipping worldwide, time is money, and quick shipping won’t come cheap. However, there are a few small changes you can make to help customers receive their packages faster.
When filling out customs for your shipping labels, you may have the option of including a tariff number. Tariff numbers or “HS codes” are standardized numbers that reference existing products you might be shipping. You can look up your package contents here to see if they fall under existing tariff numbers, allowing them to be pre-sorted so that they can arrive at their destinations sooner.