Getting Started with International Shipping

Published on November 9, 2023
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Filed under Shipping Basics
Read time 18 Minutes

International customers open your business up to many more customers. Whether you’re selling to customers in Canada, China, or anywhere in between, there are just a few things to be mindful of. Then you’ll be ready to take on the world. When your selling channels are able to take on international customers, you can scale your business’s growth with ShipStation thanks to discounted rates and simple, automated shipping. Additionally, you get discounted shipping rates of up to 89% off international rates. 

65% of merchants did not expand internationally last year, nor do they have plans to expand this year.  Of those who did expand or plan to, Canada was the top choice for expansion. This was followed by Europe. 

ShipStation’s Protect Your Business Growth 

Setting up International Ecommerce

Finding ways to sell to international customers is not as difficult as it may seem. Whether you can localize the shopping experience for them or you need to find new platforms that cater to shoppers in that country, growing your selling presence isn’t that complicated. 

Hosted Carts that Support International Payment

Many of the stores that businesses use to sell their products provide the tools you need to start selling to international customers. Popular shopping carts like Shopify, BigCommerce, and Wix  all cater to customers across the globe. 

“Be careful about data privacy laws —many of these are regionally based and have slight differences in what compliance requires and who they apply to. Make sure that you’re aware of any in your new countries of operation & have the onsite experience set up accordingly. Many of these laws have steep fines for non-compliance so it’s best to be cautious & prepared!”

— Kathryn Browning, Senior Marketing Manager at Justuno

Sell on International Marketplaces

Marketplaces frequently have country-specific or continent-specific marketplace options for ecommerce shoppers. Regardless of where your business is located, if you can meet their delivery requirements, you can sell to these global markets! Below are guidelines and tutorials for popular global marketplaces. 

How To Ship To An International Address

International shipments require all the same information as their domestic counterparts… just with a few more requirements. However, once you get set up for international ecommerce and shipping, you’ll be ready for more! Here’s what you need to ship outside of the US. 

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Double Check the Address

Foreign addresses aren’t always formatted like American ones. If you are unable to verify the shipping address with your shipping platform or carrier, services like Google Maps are a good way to see if the address provided is correct. It is always advisable, particularly with international customers, to reach out to a customer to verify that any address information you update is correct. 

Use the English Name or ISO code for Countries 

Regardless of whether the customer lives in Singapore, England, or Mali, a parcel first travels through the US. In order to properly sort and pass through customs to the destination country, you need to first make sure that your postal courier knows where to send it.

Use Standard Characters: Arabic Numerals and Roman Letters 

It may be tough work to translate from Mandarin or Cyrillic characters, but addresses must be in standard, western characters. Even if a carrier is able to create a label with an address written in foreign characters, it risks being returned to sender by the courier if they are unable to determine its destination. 

“If this is your first foray into international waters, finding a strong partner that understands the complexity and uncertainty of international selling is critical. This has massive legal, cost, and growth impacts on your business and shouldn’t be taken too lightly.”

— Darin Lynch, CEO at Irish Titan

Customs and Duties For International Shipping

International shipping has a lot more red tape than domestic shipping and a lot of this comes down to customs requirements. Whether you include Harmonized Systems Codes (HS Codes) or just write a customs description, the carrier printing the label and international customs officials will both require you to provide a description of each item you are shipping abroad. This is so the destination country understands which duties and taxes to apply to the shipment. 

“Shipping is something that can make or break a customer’s opinion of a brand, and global shipping comes with its own set of questions. Make it easy to find the answers to FAQS for international commerce like who pays for tariffs, how long shipping takes, etc.”

— Kathryn Browning, Senior Marketing Manager at Justuno

Customs Declarations

Customs declarations are what customs officials use to identify the goods being imported into their country. Their purpose is to determine that items are allowed, appropriately taxed, and cataloged properly. Customs declarations are either integrated with the label, printed separately, or transmitted electronically. 

Customs Duties

A customs duty is a tax charged to the end customer when receiving an imported item. Similar to how sales tax is applied to an item purchased domestically, customs duties are the taxes applied to any item received internationally.

Who Pays Customs Fees

Customs duties are paid by the end consumer, however, many carriers provide a Delivered Duty Paid (DDP) option for the sender of an item to prepay. With DDP, you can prepay the customs fees on behalf of your customers. This eliminates the risk of customers rejecting their order due to surprise fees and allows you to plan shipping fees more accurately.

Check Restrictions and Prohibited Items

Not only are some items more expensive to export, many countries have items that are not allowed in their country. It’s not just guns or drugs, either. Some food items, currency, nail polish, or types of wood can be forbidden from entering certain countries. You’ll want to check with the destination country’s prohibited items. 

Restricted Items by Carrier

International Shipping with USPS, UPS, FedEx, and More

Knowing which carriers and international shipping services to use to ship gives you the best rates and delivery options for you and your customers. With ShipStation you can get substantial shipping discounts on many popular carriers including UPS, USPS, DHL Express, GlobalPost, and more. 

“Selling internationally has become increasingly important and necessary in 2023 due to the interconnectedness of the global economy and the rise of ecommerce. Expanding into international markets increases a business’s customer base, revenue, and overall growth potential. Offering shipping options for customers in countries all over the world is critical to diversify revenue sources and keep customers happy.”

—  Taylor Smith, Strategic Partnerships at Zonos

UPS® International Shipping Options

UPS has a network of international hubs and a fleet of vehicles that makes international delivery quick and efficient. As a result, UPS makes international shipping more affordable and efficient. UPS on ShipStation can help you save even more by giving you discounts of up to 82% off international services*.

UPS® Standard: UPS’s 1–5 day shipping service for North American cross-border shipments headed to Canada or Mexico. If you are shipping to Canada, this is the most affordable UPS option. If you need a quicker service, the following UPS® WorldWide options are available. 

UPS Worldwide Expedited®: UPS’s day-definite delivery based on origin and destination with the following delivery timeframes:

  • Delivery in two business days to Canada
  • Next business day delivery to Canada and for documents to Mexico
  • Delivery in three or four days to Europe
  • Delivery in four or five days to Asia and Latin America 

UPS Worldwide Saver®: UPS’s global shipping option that will arrive by the end of the business day on the delivery date: 

  • Next business day delivery to Mexico and Canada for documents and packages. 
  • 2 business day delivery to Europe and Latin America for all packages. 
  • 2-3 business day delivery to Asia for all packages

UPS Worldwide Express®: This is UPS’s day-definite option to get parcels delivered by 10:30 am or 12:00 noon in the following timeframes to the following areas:

  • Delivery by the next business day to Canada and for documents to Mexico
  • Second business day delivery to Europe and Latin America
  • 2–3 business days to Asia

And when you ship UPS on ShipStation, you get access to UPS Paperless® Invoice, which is a service that allows UPS to send customs agencies the required information of your package without you having to print and attach documents to your package. This makes international shipping faster, simpler and safer!

*Discounts off UPS daily rates. Rates are limited to shipping from the U.S. only. Rates and any applicable discounts are subject to change at any time without notice.

USPS International Shipping Options

USPS offers a great range of international services. With ShipStation Carrier Services, you can save up to 89% on USPS International® shipping options. They cover a large range of options with just three services. With three international shipping services, they cover a wide range of international delivery. 

USPS First Class International®: First-Class Mail International® (FCMI) is an affordable international shipping method if you’re sending with smaller, lightweight parcels. First-Class Mail International stands out as the USPS’s most affordable way to send parcels weighing less than 4.4 lbs to more than 180 countries. It is worth noting, though, that First Class International doesn’t offer a delivery estimate. As a result, it can take several weeks for final delivery. While no coverage is included, you can buy insurance separately. However, coverage from USPS only goes up to $400. So anything higher in value would need to be shipped with another service.

USPS Priority Mail International®: USPS offers Priority Mail International (PMI) to over 180 countries and it generally takes 6–10 days to make final delivery. Parcels can weigh up to 70 lbs when shipping with Priority Mail. Maximum combined length and girth (girth is the distance around the thickest part) is 108″. USPS allows parcel coverage on PMI shipments of up to $5,000. And whether you’re shipping internationally and domestically, you can schedule USPS carrier pickups using ShipStation. 

USPS Priority Mail Express International®: Priority Mail Express International is the USPS’s quickest international shipping service. With a delivery timeframe of 3–5 days to over 180 countries, customers get a quicker delivery for the same size and weight restrictions as PMI.

GlobalPost International Shipping Options

GlobalPost offers a range of international shipping services and features through a network of international global postal couriers and last-mile carriers. GlobalPost is exclusively designed and built to utilize multiple carriers for the most affordable and quickest last-mile delivery to over 220 countries and territories around the globe.

GlobalPost Economy International: An affordable option for sending small parcels (up to 4.4 lbs) internationally. Delivery takes 6–10 days to make final delivery to addresses in supported destination countries. GlobalPost Economy International offers tracking into the destination country, or “Door to Country”, but not to the end recipient’s doorstep. 

GlobalPost Standard International: Delivery takes 6–10 days for parcels weighing up to 70 lbs. with the added advantage of “Door to Door” tracking.

GlobalPost Plus: This is GlobalPost’s Delivered Duty Paid (DDP) service available for parcels sent to Canada, Mexico and the U.K. You can prepay duties and taxes on behalf of your customers and eliminate surprise fees at delivery for the recipient. GlobalPost Plus includes advanced customs clearance, with goods typically clearing customs electronically prior to your parcel arriving in the destination country—expediting the delivery process.

DHL Express International Shipping Options 

DHL Express delivers to countries all over the world in a timely manner. This makes them one of the leaders of international logistics. Even better, ShipStation’s integration with DHL Express offers shipping discounts of up to 75% on DHL Express postage. 

DHL Express Worldwide: Express Worldwide is DHL’s next-day delivery service that delivers by end-of-day the next available business day. Additionally, you can take advantage of Express 9:00, 10:30, and 12:00 services—making final delivery on the next business day by these selected times. 

FedEx International Shipping Options

FedEx makes a name for itself with a global network of express international options. With services ranging from three-day to next-day services, FedEx has established itself as one of the premier carriers for global shipment. 

FedEx International Economy®: FedEx’s international service that takes 2–5 days to make final delivery in many major markets around the world. 

FedEx International Priority®: FedEx’s affordable service for shipping parcels internationally. Delivery that takes 1–3 business days to arrive at approved international addresses.

FedEx International First®: FedEx’s quickest day-definite service for international shipping. 

  • Final delivery is made in 2 days by 9:00 am to select cities in Europe
  • 10:00 am in Latin America
  • Third-day delivery by 10:00 am to select Asian and Australian metro areas

How ShipStation Helps with International Shipping

ShipStation Carrier Services

ShipStation Carrier Services allows merchants to save big on their international and domestic shipping costs. Drawing from a single postage balance, you can access discounts on UPS, USPS, DHL Express, GlobalPost, and Seiko LTL shipments. Many of these carriers and services are available upon signup. All you need to do is sign up for ShipStation! With ShipStation the cheapest international shipping rates are always at your fingertips. 

Autogenerated Customs Forms 

Another advantage of ShipStation is that you are able to generate customs forms automatically. If you have the item descriptions on an order, ShipStation is able to pull that information from the order and onto the customs form. We support the creation of many different customs forms that you need to get orders to your customers as quickly as possible! Learn more about ShipStation by reading What is ShipStation? 

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Written by

James Messer

James Messer is a copywriter specializing in shipping, logistics, and ecommerce.

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