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Although international shipping seems like a modern concept stemming from the rise of ecommerce, selling items across borders has been around for thousands of years, dating back to the spice trade among historical civilizations in Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Just 20 years ago, only the largest of corporations were able to participate in international trade. Shipping goods all over the world is more present today than ever before.
While product discovery, speedy transactions, and security have made it easier to get items from all around the world, the logistics of getting products across borders remains expensive, complex, and even overwhelming.
Whether you’re shipping a package to friends or family on the other side of the globe, or you’re trying to grow your business internationally, learn how overseas shipping options works and the cheapest ways to ship internationally.
Why international shipping is important for ecommerce
International ecommerce shipping is important because of globalization. Getting in front of a larger audience presents a huge opportunity for any business. The stats don’t lie:
- 70% of online shoppers purchase internationally.
- 62% of merchants already have a cross-border ecommerce business.
- Cross-border purchases will comprise 20% of all worldwide ecommerce by 2022.
- The AOV of an international sale is 17% higher than a domestic sale.
- Ecommerce merchants that offer international shipping grow 60% times faster than those that don’t.
As ecommerce continues to go increasingly global, it becomes more important to consider international shipping as part of your overall ecommerce fulfillment strategy. However, what works for one business might not make sense for another.
“We want to continue to spread our brand internationally and are glad that more of our customer base can get better shipping rates and delivery times. We’re still a small operation, but with ShipBob we can be a more global company.”
Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC
When your order volume increases, you may want to think beyond local channels. Review things like:
- Where are your site visitors from?
- Are there language barriers that would require making changes to your product(s) and/or customer service?
- Are there similar products that are hot sellers in that market?
- Do you get requests from shoppers to ship internationally?
How to ship packages internationally: 6 things to consider
International shipping is one of many challenging pieces of the order fulfillment process. Here are some tips to reduce the chance of errors, overpaying, and delays.
“Through our crowdfunding campaign, we ended up shipping to 55 different countries and all 50 states. There’s a pair of Ombraz on every continent, so international shipping is very important to us — not only in terms of costs but also the customer experience.”
Nikolai Paloni, Co-Founder of Ombraz Sunglasses
1. Measure, weigh, and pack correctly
Check the dimensions of your different order sizes. Dimensional weight may apply to your shipment and cause the shipping cost to change, so entering weight and dimensions helps ensure accuracy of the amount charged. It’s a best practice to round up on weights at the pound or ounce level.
Ensure fragile items are packed well as international orders can travel via truck, plane, and/or boat. Rough, long trips through different climates can damage items easily. Some items will also need certain packaging requirements to go overseas.
2. Think with an international mindset
With so many country-specific rules and regulations, be sure you know how each country you ship to is different when it comes to tariffs, quotas, and duties.
For example, as BAKblade expanded their online presence into Canada, they knew they needed a trusted retail fulfillment partner with a physical presence in Canada.
“We have seen that Canadian customers order more when they know the order ships from within Canada and they do not need to worry about additional taxes if the order comes from the US. From our history through the years with ShipBob, it was a no-brainer to expand into other markets with them knowing that they have done their due diligence to meet the ShipBob standard.”
Marc Fontanetta, Director of Operations at BAKblade
3. Calculate costs and charge customers appropriately
Using the international shipping rate calculators above, you can calculate shipping costs. Generally, a slower delivery time can save you more money, while expedited international delivery services are more expensive.
Ecommerce businesses can take it a step further and calculate the total shipping and handling costs to account for operational costs of getting products out the door. To do this, make a list of your total monthly costs (see example charges below):
- Shipping costs (including brokerage, duties, and taxes)
- Staff labor
- Warehouse equipment
- Warehouse management software
- Packing supplies and materials
If your total monthly costs from above come to $20,000 and you ship 1,000 orders per month, your per-order shipping and handling cost is $20.
“Our greatest barrier was how expensive it was to ship to the United States from Canada, costing about 50% of our average order value. We spent anywhere from $18 to $25 for a one-pound shipment, and it would take a minimum of 7-10 business days to reach the destination.”
Greg MacDonald, CEO & Founder of Bathorium
How much you choose to charge customers for international shipping will depend on your average order value, the rates you get, and the total shipping and handling costs.
Offering free shipping across borders isn’t always feasible. At the same time, you don’t want to try and turn a profit on international shipping as you will likely face a high cart abandonment rate due to high shipping costs.
Be transparent on your website about the countries you can ship to, how much delivery will cost, and if there will be any duties paid upon delivery for which the customer is responsible.
4. Estimate international shipping times
Where you are located or shipping from and where you ship to will impact delivery timelines. While some customers will be fine waiting a while for their package to arrive, others will need it as soon as possible.
Providing both standard and express international delivery options can help cater to different people. Exact delivery times will vary across carriers and services and can be calculated using the rate calculators above. Just be sure to communicate that to shoppers so they choose the right delivery option at checkout.
5. Insure packages (optional)
Depending on the goods you are shipping internationally, you may want to opt for shipping insurance if it’s not included or if it covers an amount much lower than the value of the contents you are shipping. You can always risk it and go without insurance, but if you’re worried about losses or shipping damages, insuring a package can be added easily by the carrier.
6. Opt for tracking
Losing an international shipment is not fun given the changing of carriers’ hands, modes of transportation, and governments. Sharing delivery tracking information with the recipient is important for them especially if the destination country requires pickup and signature from a specific place.
However, international shipping doesn’t always have the most insightful chain of custody, but certain carriers and services are better than others. Private carriers (think UPS, DHL, FedEx, etc.) are known for having more reliable order tracking and support because each company maintains possession of the shipment throughout the entire delivery process.
On the other hand, government carriers (like USPS, Canada Post, Royal Mail, Canada Post, Australia Post, etc.) start with one federal carrier in the country of origin and end with another in the destination country.
Make sure you know if tracking is included for your international shipments. Otherwise, be prepared for a lot of customers to ask about their delivery status and what’s taking so long.
International shipping times: how long does it take?
Calculating delivery times for international shipping can be difficult especially for those that don’t use guaranteed expedited shipping services. In general, the less you pay, the longer the transit time (think weeks). It is possible for packages to ship internationally the same-day or next-day — just know you’re going to pay for it.
“We had a distribution point in the UK in London, but anticipated that cross-border shipping issues would become more prevalent with Brexit pending, as we realized a good chunk of our customer base in the EU wouldn’t be able to as easily receive shipments from the UK, as it may be more expensive with longer shipping times.
We reached out to ShipBob, as we became more concerned with Brexit and wanted a fulfillment center in the European Union. Beyond taking care of all of our European orders, we quickly became very impressed by ShipBob’s transparency, simplicity, and intuitive dashboard.”
Harley Abrams, Operations Manager of SuperSpeed Golf, LLC
Cheapest international shipping companies
The cost of shipping to send a package internationally will depend on the destination country you are shipping to. Besides shipping itself, other common international shipping costs include tariffs, taxes, and other fees. To calculate international shipping rates and discover the cheapest way to ship internationally, play around with the rate calculators below using different order weights, destination countries, and more.
“When I first started looking at ShipBob, it sounded too good to be true with their international locations that could cover all my bases (eventually even getting into the United States and Canada). We just got started in ShipBob’s EU fulfillment center, and will next expand into their London facility to continue building momentum in the UK.
When I was shipping orders myself, what I paid per order is the same price now to pick, pack, and ship orders through ShipBob. It’s even much cheaper to ship to certain countries, which used to take ages and often got lost with localized post here. Now, I have very transparent pricing, and I can easily run and plan my business.”
Leonie Lynch, Founder & CEO of Juspy
USPS international shipping rates
USPS International Shipping Rates: The USPS International Price Calculator lets you calculate expected shipping costs for international shipments. International Priority Mail International prices are based on weight and destination country (with the exception of Priority Mail International Flat Rate pricing).
UPS international shipping rates
UPS International Shipping Cost Calculator: UPS lets you provide information about your shipment including destination, origin, shipment date, and weight to display different international package shipping rates for each available service.
FedEx international shipping rates
FedEx International Shipping Cost Calculator: Use this FedEx tool to obtain a rate quote and determine the expected delivery date and time for your shipment.
DHL international shipping rates
Export Services – International Express Delivery: DHL’s international delivery options vary from emergency same-day shipping, through guaranteed time-critical next day, to less urgent day-specific options. Not all services are available in every country. Request pricing through the link.
4 things to consider when shipping packages internationally
Before you attempt to ship internationally, you’ll need to make sure it’s legal to ship your goods, and also find out if there will be any hidden fees required upon arrival. Here are a few questions to ask upfront.
1. What items are you shipping?
There are certain types of products you can’t ship internationally. This includes prohibited items (e.g., those that are considered HAZMAT or dangerous goods), packages over a certain weight, and other restrictions at the country-level. When in doubt, Google “Can you ship ___ to ___?”
2. Where are you shipping your items to/from?
To determine the countries you’ll ship to, make sure you understand where there is demand for your product and if those countries make financial sense for your business. The more research and demand forecasting you do, the more countries you may find could harm your business.
3. What are the regulations?
Different countries have different regulated items, tariffs, taxes, and requirements for incoming shipments, so it’s important to navigate international shipping carefully. Once you know there are no restrictions on each item (including its ingredients or pieces), you’ll need to make sure you have the proper documentation for the package to be received locally such as a commercial invoice.
4. How much potential profit are you missing out on abroad?
International ecommerce can be a huge money maker for businesses. Just like offering 2-day shipping and other value-adds that customers have come to expect, you can get left behind if you don’t provide international shipping, so long as the potential revenue outweighs the logistics costs.
Why most self-fulfilled stores won’t ship internationally
When sales are low, you don’t always have the volume, resources, and know-how to effectively provide international shipping capabilities. Here are a few common barriers to international shipping for self-fulfillment.
Unknown fees abroad
There is a lack of consistency or standards across the globe for international shipping. Every country is different and can require you or your customers to pay a hefty import fee. Import duties, which are sometimes paid upon delivery, can prevent customers from ever getting their package if they refuse to pay even more.
“We realized we needed a global fulfillment provider as our customers in the UK/EU were tired of paying for international shipping. People often bought two boxes of needles at $30 each and then paid $60 for shipping on top of that.”
Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC
You also risk issues across borders when a shipment arrives without a certificate of origin or commercial invoice filled out accurately or in its entirety. It’s important to take the entire cost into consideration and over-communicate with your customers if it impacts them.
Shipping across the world can take as long as a matter of weeks or even over a month. Is that slow of a speed okay with your customers? If you make a mistake or forget a detail, this timeline will be extended even more.
If you include the wrong amount of postage, you could have your package shipped right back to you after it arrives in the country of delivery. Underpayment may lead to extra charges for the recipient and/or a delayed delivery. When you handle shipping internationally yourself, be sure you use the correct mail class and a shipping that matches the packaging.
How to ship internationally with a 3PL like ShipBob in 3 easy steps
If your ecommerce business is shipping internationally and it’s costing you a lot of money, or you’ve never been able to access affordable international shipping rates, you may want to consider working with an international fulfillment company like ShipBob that has fulfillment centers all over the United States as well as facilities internationally, and can ship to every country in the world. Here’s how it works.
Step 1. Integrate your ecommerce shop and send ShipBob inventory
ShipBob has pre-built integrations with the top ecommerce platforms and marketplaces to easily connect ShipBob’s technology to all the places you sell online. Once synced and ready to go, your store automatically sends each new order to ShipBob, where your inventory is stored in their fulfillment centers across different regions of the United States and/or in different countries.
Step 2. Get international shipping discounts
By fulfilling orders for thousands of ecommerce brands, ShipBob gets the best bulk shipping discounts for both international shipping and domestic deliveries. These savings are passed directly onto ShipBob customers. With a variety of shipping speeds and services, each brand chooses which delivery options to offer on their store.
Step 3. Let ShipBob fulfill orders!
Each order that comes through your store is routed to the ShipBob fulfillment center that can get the order delivered to your customer in the quickest and cheapest way to help you reduce shipping costs.
ShipBob customers: international shipping success stories
Whether you’re based in the United States and looking to expand globally or located elsewhere and want to enter the US market, ShipBob can help your brand grow with international shipping through our global network of fulfillment centers. Hear from several ShipBob customers who have taken advantage of ShipBob’s international shipping.
The Adventure Challenge
25% of The Adventure Challenge’s sales are international, and they wanted a fulfillment partner that could keep up with their international expansion plans. With consistent demand for the brand’s activity and experience books abroad, they found that ShipBob’s global fulfillment center network enabled them to capture that demand much more cost-effectively.
“Currently, we have stock in ShipBob’s fulfillment centers in the UK, Canada, and Australia. We’ve also just begun moving into ShipBob’s fulfillment center in Poland, as we have customers in Germany as well! With new locations being added all the time, ShipBob will help us service customers in more and more countries around the world over time.”
Aaron Patterson, COO of The Adventure Challenge
Black Claw LLC
Initially, the tattoo supply brand Black Claw was working with 3 different 3PLs in 3 different countries, with separate ecommerce websites to accommodate each provider. After consolidating their operations through ShipBob’s international fulfillment network, the brand finally achieved the convenient, holistic global model they had wanted all along.
“I always wanted a truly global fulfillment partner — I had been trying to find this solution for years. ShipBob has multiple fulfillment centers in the US, one in Canada, one in the EU, and one in the UK, and all locations filter back into one centralized warehouse management system. By distributing our inventory across these countries and regions, all of our customers are able to get their orders much faster while paying reasonable domestic shipping rates.”
Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC
With a pair of their sunglasses on every continent, international shipping was a must for Ombraz. ShipBob’s global network of fulfillment centers enabled them to expand their geographic footprint while also reducing taxes, tariffs, and other barriers to purchase.
“We want everyone to get their Ombraz in a few days or less with no duties at delivery. Our goal is to remove the barriers to purchase. Now, a customer can get their package without spending an extra 25 euros or Canadian dollars on duties and taxes after purchasing a pair of sunglasses. Although we’re just starting out in Europe and Canada, there is still a lot to learn, but ShipBob has helped us extensively throughout the process and we look forward to accelerating our growth outside of North America.”
Nikolai Paloni, Co-Founder of Ombraz Sunglasses
Running an online store and having an international strategy go hand in hand. But selling across borders can be challenging and costly for many businesses. When shipping internationally, you’re going to deal with customs, duties, and additional taxes that all vary across countries. To ensure a smooth delivery, make sure you have a complete understanding of how it all works.
If you run an ecommerce business and want better international shipping capabilities but can’t quite do it yourself, ShipBob might be your best way to ship internationally through its geographic footprint and great international shipping rates.
International shipping FAQs
Here are the answers to the most popular questions about international shipping.
What is the cheapest way to ship internationally?
The cost of shipping a package internationally depends on a few factors, including the destination country. The best way to find the lowest price is to play around with the shipping calculators listed in this post.
What is needed for international shipping?
There are a few documents required to ship a package internationally. The specific documents will vary on a package by package basis, but generally speaking, you’ll need a purchase order, a commercial invoice, and a certificate of origin.
What shipping company is the best for international shipping?
All shipping companies have their pros and cons, and there isn’t a clear winner here. The best company to ship a package internationally will largely depend on what you are shipping and where, as the associated costs and time can vary. We compare the costs and services of USPS, UPS, and FedEx in our blog post which you can read here.