Shipping Products Overseas? A Guide for 1st Timers!

Shipping Products Overseas

Electronic commerce (e-commerce) has paved the way for easier cross-border transactions and shipping products overseas, with customers having no qualms of ordering products located halfway across the globe. 

This is a good thing for businesses of all sizes, as this means small businesses could have a fighting chance against industry giants. Reliability, timeliness and value for money are some cards you can use to put your business above the rest. And for these things, international merchants need to know how to optimise global shipping processes. 

With that in mind, if your business is ready to expand, learn the basics of shipping products overseas with this guide for first-time exporters.

Why Engage In International Shipping? 

Global e-commerce continues to rise exponentially and is expected to reach up to almost USD$5 trillion in value this year. This is a good sign for would-be international traders, which means venturing into unexplored and traditional markets a single business wouldn’t be able to dominate.

A small business may get apprehensive about the costs and administrative tasks involved, particularly in getting customs clearances. Fortunately, most global shipping processes have become streamlined with digitisation. This means small businesses can expand their customer base and ship their items out easily to consumers in several parts of the world.

A Basic Guide For First-Time Global Shippers

There’s more to overseas order fulfilments than knowing about shipping container transport. Before venturing into overseas shipping, here are a few tips that every starting business needs to know:

1. Find Out The International Demand For Your Product    

As with any business move, determine whether the cost of shipping out your products can potentially increase your revenue. To analyse if this is something worth your effort and resources, market research should be your top priority. Check out e-commerce and business-to business (B2B) sites to find out the top products in your niche. Keep in touch with similar businesses or your professional links to learn how their products are doing overseas. Conduct surveys to your potential markets and so on.        

While it could be hard to determine how much you’re going to earn with international orders, you can get a rough idea once you’ve come up with the total estimated costs of shipping and other related fees to a specific destination.

2. How Does Your Target Country Regulate Your Product?     

In order to find out the best way to ship your item, consider getting expert advice from customs professionals. They can help you identify which add-on costs apply to your product and in which countries. Customs brokers could also help you when problems arise and provide you with useful suggestions on how to go about with your shipments.      

Similarly, you need to find out the laws applicable to the product you’re planning to ship to another country. For instance, instead of sending orders piece by piece, a better alternative could be setting up a warehouse in a specific regional centre and move your items from there. As much as possible, consider countries with less restrictive customs barriers or ones where your country has free trade agreements to make shipping seamless and less costly.

Remember that apart from shipping costs, you’ll also need to factor in expenses such as export taxes and other duties. These can also put a dent on your anticipated revenue. Consumers wouldn’t want to pay hefty costs for taxes, and so does your business.

When shipping goods internationally, designating an import of record (IOR) is essential. The IOR, typically a business entity, ensures compliance with customs, tariffs, and legal requirements of the destination country.

The choice of IOR depends on the origin, destination, and nature of the shipment. Customs clearance heavily relies on the IOR’s information, including eligibility, import history, and adherence to criteria.

3. Describe What You’re Shipping Appropriately

If it’s you’re first time shipping items overseas, you’ll probably be asked to submit several business documents. Only by completing these documentary requirements will the goods be legally allowed to leave your country’s shores.

Senders of all non-document shipments with international destinations are subjected to fill in standard forms, which could also include a commercial invoice. In this document, your business has to be very specific about the type, quantity and description of item, as well as the manufacturing country and total value.

A shipper needs to supply this information to categorise the items to be sent out appropriately and to facilitate easy entry of cargo in the destination country. Providing lacking and generalised information can lead to your products being held at customs. When this happens, your business will suffer from delayed order fulfilments and higher shipping, as well as storage fees.

If you’re unsure about any aspect of the shipping process or required documentation, seek advice from shipping experts, customs brokers, or trade consultants. They guide you in complying with regulations and smoothing the transit of your goods.

4. Be Specific With Your Recipient’s Details

Besides making sure that your description fits your products appropriately, also make sure to supply the complete, correct and updated address and contact details of your recipient. This ensures customs officers can contact the recipient of your shipment in case of questions or clarifications.

During or before the arrival of overseas cargo shipments, customs officers will have to fill in a bill of entry (BOE) as part of legal procedures. As such, questions about the shipment will be directed to the recipient. If they can’t reach out to your recipient, they’ll keep your goods on hold until your shipment is cleared.

As an overseas sender, you may be asked to identify who pays for insurance and taxes and other import duties. This should be made clear in the commercial invoice you’re supposed to fill out when shipping the item.

5. Look For The Best Freight Forwarder

One contributor to a smooth initial overseas shipping experience is choosing the best freight forwarder. You’ll need to know if the company has the capability of handling your goods from the warehouse to the end user.

The forwarder is responsible in inspecting, loading, and safe cargo handling at every logistical stage. Besides ensuring that the goods are loaded into the container, freight forwarders are also in charge of choosing the shipping company and the trucking company that’ll take the items from the ship and deliver them on to the truck, either for warehousing or delivery.

In that sense, it pays to choose a freight forwarder with the following qualities:


  • Years of experience in the business: A freight forwarder with years of experience is more likely to anticipate and address issues efficiently, ensuring smooth cargo handling and delivery.
  • Proven track record of reliable service: A reliable freight forwarder delivers shipments on time, handles cargo with care, and communicates effectively throughout the process. A track record of reliability instills confidence in their ability to meet your shipping needs consistently.
  • With proper licences and accreditations: Compliance with industry regulations and obtaining necessary licenses demonstrate a freight forwarder’s commitment to legal and ethical business practices. It ensures adherence to international trade laws, reducing the risk of customs-related issues or delays.
  • Has an extensive network: A freight forwarder with a vast network enables efficient routing, access to various transportation modes, and better negotiation of rates, benefiting your business with cost-effective and timely deliveries.
  • With a dedicated customer service and support: A dedicated customer support team fosters a positive working relationship, making the freight forwarding process more transparent and reliable.
  • Provides effective and advanced logistics services: Advanced logistics services, such as real-time tracking, supply chain optimization, and value-added services like consolidation or warehousing, enhance efficiency and flexibility in managing your shipments.

The mentioned attributes are essential in a freight forwarding company so they can provide you with peace of mind and help grow your business.    

Final Thoughts

Your first overseas shipment should give you a hassle-free experience, especially with the various tools that help estimate time and delivery costs as you fill in details about the goods up for shipment.

Whether you’re shipping by bulk or shipping individual items, working with a reliable company means you can minimise shipping costs and meet your clients’ expectations through proper handling and timely deliveries.   

And while freight forwarders and couriers play an important role, you as the sender will also have to exercise care to provide complete and appropriate information to facilitate the smooth exit and entry of your goods while shipping products overseas.  

Shipping products overseas article and permission to publish here provided by Claire Glassman. Originally written for Supply Chain Game Changer and published on September 17, 2021.