International Shipping for E-Commerce Stores

International shipping map

Selling goods worldwide is a great way to expand your online business. However, the complexity of international shipping and exporting scares a lot of sellers away from the prospect of selling outside of their own country. Between the increased postage costs and the uncertainty of each country’s import and duty laws, it’s easy to be discouraged from selling internationally. However, for many stores, the benefits of international shipping can far outweigh its cost and complexity as long as you take the right steps to protect your business.

Research import restrictions before shipping

If you live in the United States, you’re used to buying white eggs from your local grocery stores. That’s because most eggs in the US are cleaned with peroxide to eliminate Salmonella. Eggs that aren’t treated appropriately are prohibited from import. Meanwhile, it’s the exact opposite in countries like the United Kingdom, where chickens are vaccinated against Salmonella and cleaning processes of eggs for sale is against EU regulations. This means that eggs produced in the US can’t be shipped to the UK, and vice versa. Confused yet?

Research the import and export laws of countries you hope to do business in.

All 196 countries you might be shipping to will have their own import and export restrictions, and many of those laws may seem really bizarre to outsiders. For example, you can’t ship matching pairs of shoes to South Africa — this odd import regulation was put in place to protect their domestic shoe industry. An apparel store that isn’t aware of this law can be held liable for some hefty fines if they’re caught sending matching shoes in the same box, even though shipping each shoe separately would bypass the restriction completely.

To avoid getting your shipments held up in customs, or facing penalties for violating restrictions, you’ll want to research the import and export laws of countries you hope to do business in. Tools like UPS TradeAbility and DHL’s global trade map offer a quick overview of what can’t be shipped to countries that each respective service operates in. A minute or two spent looking up a country’s laws can be a lifesaver, especially if you were considering shipping wooden pencils to Mexico. Spoiler: You can’t do that. I’m not sure why.

Manage those higher postage costs

It should come to no surprise that shipping internationally is going to cost you money. What some sellers find out though, and sometimes a little too late, is that they drastically underestimate the cost to ship to some destinations. Due to its size and weight, and the distance to the destination, a product that might cost less than $10 to ship domestically might cost over $100 to ship internationally. That’s a tough pill to swallow at the last stage of making a sale.

Show international carriers and methods based on the shipping country entered by the purchaser.

To avoid these surprise charges, add a rate calculator on the checkout stage of your e-commerce store. You can usually set up the shipping rate options to show international carriers and methods based on the shipping country entered by the purchaser. This way, they’ll see (and pay for) an approximation of what you’ll pay to ship the order to them.

If real-time rate displays aren’t possible, or you’d prefer to keep your shipping rates simple, an alternative would be to tack an international surcharge to orders being shipped across the border. A good way to determine how much this surcharge should cost would be to average out what you’ve paid for international shipping in the past. Just make sure not to overdo this surcharge — while you want to charge enough to make your order profitable, you don’t want to scare off a prospective buyer with an unrealistic fee.

Set clear policy for tariffs and duties

As you are likely already aware, there are some extra steps to getting an international package to your customer’s doorstep. Before it leaves your home country, you’ll need to include some documentation for customs agents on both sides of the border. However, the recipient of the package may also be faced with some additional paperwork when they take delivery of the package, along with a fee for duties or special taxes.

It’s an industry standard for the recipient of the goods to be responsible for paying duties and tariffs.

These import tariffs and duties are tough to predict, as they vary wildly from state to state and depending on the contents of the shipment. Since it’s virtually impossible for you, an out-of-country shipper, to know exactly what fees will be attached to the delivery of a shipment, your best bet will be to have the buyer assume responsibility for these costs.

It’s an industry standard for the recipient of the goods to be responsible for paying duties and tariffs. However, you’ll want to outline this clearly in your shipping policy. Nobody likes surprises when it comes to fees and taxes, so you can expect people to complain or refuse packages if they weren’t expecting to cover these extra costs. Having a clearly documented shipping policy that clarifies who pays for what will prevent these customer service issues.


While the little details that go into international shipping may seem like daunting obstacles, don’t let them dissuade you. Saying no to international sales is like saying no to expanding your store’s market. All you have to do is do your research and take steps to protect your business in the process of shipping orders across the border. The more you do to integrate international shipping into your daily fulfillment workflow, the better the experience will be for you and your customers.