Guide to International Shipping for Small Business

Shipping can be a challenge for small business owners without access to larger competitors’ resources. This is evident at the local level, and it’s exasperating when companies try to expand their reach across the country and especially across the globe.

International shipping differs from domestic shipping because the landed cost (i.e. the total cost for a package to land at a customer’s door) is often higher. You may have to pay freight charges or other transportation costs, customs duties, insurance and other possible fees, depending on the destination of your goods.

Your best bet is to shop around and find a vendor that works best for your business. By finding and reaching out to a vendor through these sites, you may be able to discuss your needs and learn about discounts that aren’t mentioned elsewhere.

It’s definitely in your best interest to do a bit of research on your own before you make a decision. Let’s start with the most prominent names in the business.

U.S. Postal Service (USPS)

USPS offers bulk shipments at reduced rates for businesses. If your business qualifies, it can also receive the USPS Global Shipping Software for free, which boasts such benefits as mailing labels and customs-forms automation, postage calculation and many reporting features.

You can also get a general idea of what postage will cost you by using the Postage Price Calculator on the site.    


The FedEx International Shipping Center offers plenty of online tools that will guide you as you research, pack and send your shipments. You can also estimate taxes and customs duties, check regulatory updates and receive advice on how to package your shipments.

United Parcel Service (UPS) features step-by-step instructions for shipping internationally. The site offers an array of options, including guaranteed delivery times, and pickup and delivery notifications.


DHL offers many resources and tools, including information on what to do if you are shipping dangerous goods, fuel surcharges and customs support.

What About Insurance?

As with your home, car and other properties, purchasing shipping insurance is your best bet to protect both your products and your business. You generally have two different policy types to choose from:

1. Basic risk coverage typically covers any losses or damages caused by the following situations:

  • Truck, train, boat or plane accidents, including derailment, stranding, sinking, jettison and collision. 
  • Fire, sprinkler leaks or collapse of a dock.
  • Acts of nature, including lightning, cyclones, hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.

2. All-risk coverage covers any goods you ship and all physical losses or damage, either partial or total, during transit resulting from any external cause. Such insurance also covers damages or losses caused by war, riots, theft and non-delivery of items.

Tips for Smooth Shipping

Knowing the right shipping rates and insurance options is a start, but here are a few more tips to ensure that your international shipping goes smoothly.

Never Mark Your Package as a “Gift”

Some international customers will insist that you label your package as a gift to bypass any customs duties or tariffs that would normally be imposed on the parcel.

While it might seem like a nice gesture, labeling your parcel as a gift also artificially limits the value of the goods being shipped. Should you need to make a claim on a parcel worth a few hundred dollars that was labeled as a gift, you may find yourself unable to collect the parcel’s full worth.

Know a Little About Where You’re Shipping

It might seem onerous, but you should know if there are legal or practical obstacles to shipping to certain destinations. You should also make sure that your client isn’t on a list of parties of concern, which can land you in hot water.

And while it’s not directly related to shipping, you might want to review the U.S. State Department’s Consular Information Program, which can provide insight into infrastructural or political challenges that might hinder commerce.

Keep an Eye on Foreign Exchange Rates

The value of the U.S. dollar in relation to worldwide currencies is in constant flux. Because of this, there are days when the dollar buys more, and days when it buys less. Being aware of these fluctuations might save you some money when it comes to recurring shipments, especially on inbound parcels.


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