While sending your products overseas can drive revenue growth for your business, it can also become a big headache if you don't have an efficient shipping plan in place. So how do you make the most of your international shipping options? And how do you ensure that shipping internationally doesn't become more of a problem than it's worth?
1. Contact the Carriers
Even if you have experience with a carrier in a domestic capacity, contact multiple carriers. Whether it’s UPS, FedEx, DHL Express or the United States Postal Service, you should explore your options and evaluate what each does (or doesn't) offer. Keep in mind, however, that some carriers require you to sign an agreement for shipping internationally.
2. Pack All of Your Orders Together
Once you know your carrier, it's time to look inward at your own warehouse management operation, and how it will function most effectively. For starters, shipping your multipackage order together as a single shipment is crucial from an efficiency standpoint. This allows you to send the entire order as one shipment instead of multiple shipments.
That's because virtually all carriers charge a total shipment rate rather than individual box rates. Thus, you’ll save money if you ship this way.
3. Understand the Necessary Documents
International shipping comes with its own paperwork, including export documents, such as commercial invoices, Canada Customs Invoices, certificates of origin and Shipper's Letter of Instructions - and if your shipment is going to a NAFTA country like Mexico or Canada, you'll need a NAFTA certificate of origin.
In addition, you may need a country-specific invoice instead of a standard commercial invoice – for example, an invoice that is in both English and French for a shipment entering Canada. The good news is that you can take advantage of third-party shipping software, such as InfoShip, to print the documents you need.
This software can also set up carriers to generate electronic export documents for countries that accept them, which help you automate processes, save on printing costs and reduce the paperwork packers/shipping clerks must handle. You need to print only shipping labels since the other information is sent electronically to the carrier and then to Customs for clearance.
However, if a country doesn't accept electronic trade documents, a commercial invoice or other documents can be printed instead.
4. Consider Consolidation
Contact your carrier to inquire about an international shipment consolidation program if you ship large volumes of exports. It'll improve your shipping process workflow because it allows all of your shipments to clear customs as one large shipment rather than several individual ones. (It's similar to the bundling we suggested earlier, but at a macro level.) Your consolidated shipments will then be broken down at the carrier's international hubs for local delivery.
UPS World Ease and FedEx International Priority DirectDistribution (IPD) offer these services. You can use shipping software that works with these carriers and prints out the consolidated invoices. Carriers can then transport the consolidated shipments out to the borders for customs clearance as one large shipment to save time.
5. Provide All the Necessary Information
No matter what shipping software you use, you will need to provide the right information regarding the shipment and its exact contents. This may include, but is not limited to:
- Product's item number (SKU)
- Product description
- Product's country of manufacture
- Schedule B code or harmonized tariff code
- Item values
This information is important because it must be printed on the commercial invoice or provided in the electronic international trade documents for distribution.
6. Be Aware of Required Filing Procedures
Stock keeping units (SKUs) and parts or item numbers can share the same Schedule B number. However, if the total value of a a Schedule B number in the shipment exceeds $2,500, then it must be filed with the automated commercial environment or ACE (formerly AES Direct) via the U.S. Census Bureau.
You will be assigned an internal transaction number or ITN for the shipment, which is what the U.S. Census Bureau uses for clearing customs. Your shipping software can then print this value onto shipping labels to expedite customs clearance.
Finally, Think About Automation
Again, as we said at the start, international shipping can present a lot of opportunity for businesses looking to boost their bottom line. However, you may want to think about implementing automation in your international shipping process for agility and improved efficiency. Using third-party software and keeping up-to-date with required procedures will help streamline your operations.