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International Shipping: Everything You Need to Know in 2021

International shipping is a fact of life in ecommerce. Store owners have access to a market that is more or less the size of planet Earth.

Which begs the question: How can you get products from Point A, which could be just about anywhere, to Point B, which could also be just about anywhere?

This is extra important for dropshippers. After all, the whole beauty of dropshipping is that you can sell products from suppliers all over the world.

That solves one challenge – getting products – but introduces plenty of others, like controlling international shipping costs

This guide introduces you to the ins and outs of worldwide shipping and arms you with seven useful tips to help ecommerce store owners, and especially dropshippers, navigate the maze that is international shipping.

We’ll cover

  • The basics of international shipping rates
  • The cheapest way to ship globally
  • The different international shipping companies
  • How long it takes to ship internationally

If you make it to the end of this post, you’ll have a better idea of how international ecommerce shipping works and have a handful of cross-border shipping tricks to implement in your store.

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How to Ship Internationally: What You Need to Know

Starting an ecommerce business can be exciting. But logistics can be one of the most frustrating yet important aspects that need to be sorted out.

Before you get down to planning how you’re going to get your product from Point A to Point B, one of the first things you need to consider is where your suppliers are and where you’re shipping to.

Once you have this sorted out, you can begin checking out the different international shipping companies and their services.

International Shipping Companies

The international shipping company you select will likely depend on where they ship to and the different rates they offer.

Both DHL and UPS, for example, offer extensive information on importing and exporting regulations on their websites.

Cheapest International Shipping Companies

Depending on your ecommerce platform, you may have access to discounted rates negotiated with international shipping companies.

Shopify, for example, offers users in the United States and Canada specially negotiated rates with shipping companies including USPS, UPS, DHL Express, and Canada Post. Some of these companies also provide the option to schedule a discounted or free pickup.

When you buy international shipping labels via Shopify, the correct documentation and customs forms are generated for you. If you use DHL Express to ship things from the US, these documents are electronically forwarded to customs without requiring extra paperwork.

Get Shopify Shipping rates today.

International shipping rates

As an ecommerce business, understanding how international shipping rates work is important.

If you’re offering free shipping, this will help to determine how you should be pricing your product. You don’t want to be overcharging your customers but neither should you be absorbing this cost.

And if you’re charging shipping costs separately, understanding shipping rates allows you to better gauge your product’s fully landed cost.

In this section, we’ll touch on the different factors determining international shipping rates.

How Much Does It Cost to Ship Internationally?

International shipping rates vary greatly depending on a variety of factors such as

  • The origin and destination of your parcel. As a general rule of thumb, the farther you’re shipping, the higher the international parcel delivery cost. However, as we’ll see in an example later, that’s not always the case.
  • Whether you ship with postal carriers or express carriers. Because of the better services express carriers provide, these tend to be more expensive.
  • The type of product. Different countries apply different rates of taxes and duties on different products, which will, in turn, affect your overall international shipping costs.

How to determine international shipping costs?

Using a rate calculator for the carriers you choose can help you find the costs of shipping worldwide. Here’s a list of shipping calculators for commonly used carriers.

Shopify store owners based in the US can see how much shipping to other countries will cost in this shipping calculator.

shopify shipping

What Is the Cheapest International Shipping Method?

Using multiple carriers is one of the cheapest ways to ship things internationally. Because each carrier sets its own rates, one way to take advantage of this would be to check through their rates and make a list to get an idea which company offers the lowest rate based on destination and package type.

For example, the USPS is the cheapest carrier to ship small parcels. You can ship the USPS Priority Mail 3-Day Flat Rate Box for $7.90. This box can weigh up to 70 lbs, so you can ship multiple clothing items or accessories in one go. If your order size is small, you might be able to ship things for even less with USPS’s small package pricing. Based on the shape and weight of your item, the expense could be as little as $4.00. For larger items, the best way to ship internationally is to use DHL Worldwide Express

Cutting down on product packaging can also reduce the costs of international shipping. Bulk down on packaging to lighten the weight and consequently, shipping costs. Also, consider sourcing free packaging material from shipping companies. USPS, for example, does offer free boxes and materials.

Another way to lower the costs of an international delivery would be to avoid shipping express. This would mean a longer shipping time, but for those customers who are willing to wait, this will certainly be an attractive option.

How Long Does International Shipping Take

Typically, express international shipping takes 2-3 business days for delivery, while standard shipping takes anywhere from 1-4 weeks. In cases where customs clearance is slow, orders can take up to 6 weeks to arrive.

Distance and shipment mode (whether you select express) can affect shipping times. But there are other factors such as customs, duties, and taxes that have the potential to draw out shipping times.

Each country has its own rules and regulations when it comes to customs, taxes, and duties.

It’s important to get the paperwork sorted out properly to avoid holdups at customs. Local postal service can often help with the documents required. While these can vary from country to country, the commercial invoice and an export packing list are almost always required.

Likewise, taxes and duties should also be paid on time to avoid any customs hold, which could unnecessarily prolong the international shipping process.

Update: The global pandemic has adversely affected international shipping operations. Many carriers have suspended international delivery routes and are saying there could be delays on several operational routes. A lot of them recommend businesses to use express mail if they want to avoid delays.

How to Ship Worldwide: 7 Tips for Ecommerce Businesses

Now that we’ve equipped you with the basics of international shipping, let’s move into some tricks of the trade. More specifically, we’ll deal with

  • How to find reliable suppliers
  • How to create customized shipping zones
  • How to sync your marketing strategies with shipping realities
  • How to present shipping information on your website

1. Use Shipping Filters to See International Shipping Rates

If you use Oberlo dropshipping, then you should be able to use filters to find the cost of international shipping.

Inside Oberlo, for example, the “Shipping filter on a product’s page lets you see the rates for sending items to specific countries. So if you want to ship items to the US, you can type the country’s name to get an idea of shipping rates.

oberlo shipping rates

2. Work With the Best Suppliers

There are a few ways to gauge the reliability of potential suppliers. Our favorite method is to order product samples for yourself. Put yourself in your shoppers’ shoes, and see what international shipping looks like from their perspective. This will give you a chance to scope out the product’s packaging, see how long delivery takes, and maybe even contact the supplier with a question.

Consider Free on Board (FOB) shipping if you think you can find more cost-efficient delivery services from your supplier to your warehouse.

3. Explore More Markets

The US, UK, Australia, and Canada are powerhouse markets for Oberlo users.

But there are plenty more markets that facilitate fast shipping – especially if you have a good understanding of how international deliveries work.

For example, Malaysia and the Philippines both account for more dropshipping sales than their populations would suggest. There could be lots of reasons for that. Both countries have large English-speaking populations and high Facebook penetration, so they speak ecommerce’s biggest language and are tech savvy.

What’s more, both countries are a stone’s throw from China, at least compared to some of the other big markets. This reduces barriers to international shipping on lots of dropshipping merchandise.

Other sneaky-good markets for dropshippers can be found in Scandinavia and Western Europe. In addition to disposable income, these markets have rock-solid options for international shipping.

4. Be Methodical With Your Shipping Zones

Your ecommerce platform should let you create customized shipping zones. These can be a huge energy-saver for merchants trying to optimize international shipping.

Here’s how it looks inside Shopify, where you’ll find shipping zones inside of your shop’s “Settings” page.

One approach that we recommend is setting up a free shipping zone comprised of countries that you can ship to cheaply.

For example, if the price of shipping to the US, Sweden, and the Netherlands is the same, you can simply create one zone with free shipping. This zone can cover all of your key international shipping markets.

We’re in Germany, so the “Domestic” zone will be Germany by default. And until we customize our international shipping options, everything else falls into the “Rest of the World” bucket.

Let’s suppose we’re working with suppliers that have good international shipping options for Europe, Australia, Canada, and the US. Maybe it costs $1.50 per purchase to ship to each country. Instead of charging that $1.50 at checkout, which might hurt conversion, you can simply charge an extra $1.50 for the product, and then offer free shipping to cover those costs.

So what we’ll do is add those four countries, along with all of Europe – there is a “Europe” checkbox, so you can add them all in one click – and then set the price to free.

Of course, there are still lots of countries out there. And you might not want to bother with them, even if international shipping is available. They might be expensive, there might be language barriers, there might be import taxes – there are all sorts of reasons.

Any countries that fall into this “I don’t want to ship there” bucket will be listed as “Rest of world.” A good international shipping hack is to simply delete the countries in this group, thereby making it impossible for people there to place orders.

5. Match Your Facebook Targeting to Your Shipping Priorities

Once you know which markets you want to target and have your international shipping groups sorted out, make sure that your advertising efforts are consistent with where you want to ship.

In our previous example, we only had international shipping options available for the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe. Therefore, that’s exactly where we should focus our advertising efforts:

We don’t want to throw money away advertising in countries where our products are literally unavailable.

This geographical restriction will also apply to any “lookalike audiences” that we use.

6. Ship Products to Yourself First

Shipping products to yourself and then personally sending them on to your customers – basically “intercepting” the package – is a great way to offset some of the challenges that come with international shipping.

We’ve heard from a handful of ecommerce businesses, including those utilizing the dropshipping method, that use this strategy, and it comes with a few key benefits.

First off, it gives you a chance to repackage the product before it gets to your customer. If you find suppliers with nice packaging, then this isn’t a big deal. But sometimes dropshipping suppliers send items in packaging that is, well, less than inspiring. If you send it to yourself first, you can spruce it up, slap your own label or stamp on it, and then ship it to your customer.

This approach also gives you a chance to do a quick quality check on the products before they go to your customer, enabling you to ensure the sustained quality of your suppliers – both the products themselves and the timeliness of the shipments.

Now, there are drawbacks to this approach. For example, if someone from Malaysia orders a product that is being sourced from China, and you live in the US, shipping it to the US and then to Malaysia doesn’t make a lot of sense.

But if you’re in the US and targeting American customers, then this strategy gives you a chance to cultivate a brand. Even if you’re just slapping a sticker on the package, you’re increasing the odds that people will remember your brand and come back for more.

7. Provide Transparent Shipping Details at Your Store

And finally: Make sure your customers are informed.

Detailed information is a must when it comes to international shipping. Most ecommerce stores, especially dropshipping stores, have the built-in challenge of having longer delivery times than, say, Amazon.

This is unavoidable. What is avoidable, though, is uncertainty for your customers.

It’s vital to display information about all things shipping – be it on a shipping information page, or on each product. Information should include which countries you ship to, how long it will take, if customers will be able to track their orders, and so on.

This will save you time in two ways – you don’t have to answer these questions over and over, plus you won’t have to handle refund requests from people who don’t understand where their package is.

Here are a few examples of how Shopify-powered stores handle shipping information.

How Much to Charge for International Shipping?

There are various factors for deciding how much to charge for international shipping. The main ones include:

Packaging

Packaging is an expense, so make sure to work the cost of packaging into your overall product cost. Based on the quality and size, this should be around $1.50 to $6.00 each. The cost may vary based on how many boxes you’ll need to accommodate different sized orders. Packaging supplies like bubble wrap and stuffing may also affect your packaging and product costs.

Handling Charges

What’s the minimum hourly wage in your country? Based on the figure, you might want to add a “handling charge” into your product pricing. See how long it takes you (on average), to prepare an order for shipment, then use the minimum wage benchmark to determine your handling charge.

For instance, if it takes you 15 minutes to prepare an order for international shipping, and the hourly wage is $12, you could add a $3 handling charge to cover your effort. Since international customers are usually willing to pay more for safe, quality shipping, there should be no problems here (a big part of quality shipments is how they’re packaged and handled).

Taxes and Duties

You can use duty calculators to determine the taxes and duties for your destination countries, then factor them into your product pricing. Alternatively, you can pass on the responsibility of paying taxes or duties to your customers. This is called Delivered At Place (DAP) and requires the customer to pay charges before they can receive their order.

If you want to deliver a surprise-free shopping experience, it’s best to pay the fees yourself and send items as Delivered Duty Paid (DDP). In this case, you should request customers to cover these fees in advance.

Regardless of your approach, make sure to be transparent with the customer about additional fees that may apply.

Conclusions on International Shipping

It might seem like a hassle to study suppliers’ warehouse locations or research shipping options in places like Malaysia.

But it’s important to remember that these are luxury problems. You can sell products from hundreds of different suppliers! You can ship stuff to Malaysia!

Sure, international shipping can be tricky. There is lots to remember.

But this extra work is the direct result of extra opportunity. Every challenge you overcome makes your potential customer base that much bigger.

Summary: 7 International Shipping Tips for 2021

  1. Use Oberlo filters to determine international shipping rates
  2. Work with the best product suppliers.
  3. Explore more markets to facilitate fast shipping.
  4. Be smart with your shipping zones.
  5. Match your Facebook targeting to your shipping destinations.
  6. Ship products to yourself first.
  7. Display transparent shipping details on your store.

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