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 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.
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 long does international shipping 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.
International shipping companies (and cheapest options)
The cost to send a package internationally will depend on the destination country you are shipping to along with the possibility of additional 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.
USPS international shipping rates
USPS International Shipping Rates: The USPS International Price Calculator lets you calculate expected shipping costs for international shipments. 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 certain 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.
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 label that matches the packaging.
How to ship packages internationally
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
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.
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 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, Logistics Manager at BAKblade
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 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.
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.
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 damages, insuring a package can be added easily by the carrier.
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.
How to ship internationally with ShipBob
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 in Canada and the European Union, and can ship to every country in the world. Here’s how it works.
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 the EU and Canada.
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.
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.
Bathorium, a bath brand based in Canada, partnered with ShipBob to scale up operations in the United States. With customers today expecting free shipping and a fast turnaround, they knew they had to reduce their transit times.
They found that in comparing shipping products to the United States from Canada, which can be extremely variable in cost, fulfillment by ShipBob is much easier to estimate because they know the true fulfillment cost. This also makes it a lot easier to spend marketing dollars when they know exactly what shipping costs are going to be.
“We’ve seen a reduction of 70% on shipping costs in the US, which helps keep conversions high. When we joined ShipBob, only 20% of our customers were in the US. By the end of the year, that number will be around 40%.”
Greg MacDonald, CEO & Founder of Bathorium
Australian-based brand Baja Bae wanted a third-party logistics (3PL) provider that could ship their beauty products to their customers around the world while simplifying their ecommerce shipping process and getting time back to focus on their brand.
“With customers located all over the world, a business based in Australia, and products produced in Florida, we have found a truly global solution in ShipBob. They are able to create a seamless customer experience from start to finish.”
Tamarin Oblowitz, Co-founder, Baja Bae
Athletic brand FLEO Shorts partnered with ShipBob to grow internationally, manage what became unmanageable, and have experts who specialize in shipping and fulfillment logistics by their side.
“As our customer base grows, so does our global reach. Having orders shipping internationally, ShipBob’s affordable rates solved our need for international fulfillment capabilities.”
Carl Protsch, Co-Founder of FLEO Shorts
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.