How to Avoid the Most Common International Shipping Mistakes


If you run an ecommerce business and are considering expanding internationally it is critically important that you understand all of the factors that go into shipping around the globe. If you don’t, it can be all too easy to make international shipping mistakes that can lead to an increase in expenses, shipping delays, and unhappy customers. If these mistakes aren’t handled promptly and efficiently they can result in more long term problems that can cost you additional expenses as well as customers. To help you avoid the more common issues in cross-border shipping, this guide provides tips on how to avoid them.

International Shipping Times

When you ship a package overseas, it’s important to consider how quickly you would like it to arrive. International shipping times vary depending on how far your package needs to travel, so if it’s a long haul destination, make sure you allow sufficient shipping time. If you’re shipping internationally to a neighboring country, for example the USA to Canada, delivery could be as quick as next business day. Major destinations such as Europe are well networked with vast transport links so you can expect quick transit times compared to shipping to more remote areas of the world. You’ll need to decide these rates so that you can offer specific options to your customers. No one likes to be surprised by a two-week wait if they were expecting something else!

International Shipping Rates

As an ecommerce business, understanding how international shipping rates work is important. Generally, a slower delivery time can save you more money, while expedited international delivery services are more expensive. 

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

How much you choose to charge customers for international shipping will depend on your average order value, the rates you get, and the total shipping and handling costs. Don’t surprise your customers with an unexpected total cost at checkout. Be transparent on your website about the countries you can ship to, how much delivery will cost, and if there will be any duties paid upon delivery for which the customer is responsible

Don’t Always Choose the Cheapest Shipping Option

It seems obvious that you should look for the most cost effective way to ship your products internationally. But it is important that you take the extra steps to look beyond just the cost when choosing a company to handle your freight. Some 3PLs will offer low freight rates, but their international shipping service might leave you wishing that you had done some additional research into their business practices. When you do some additional digging into a 3PLs background you should check the following:

  • Look into the company’s reputation and identify any red flags
  • Figure out how responsive the company’s customer service is
  • Read genuine reviews left by previous customers
  • Ask for recommendations

“DCL has supported the exponential growth of our North American retail and global eCommerce business. They are a flexible, reliable, scalable partner and an important component in GoPro’s success.”

Scot Briggs Director of WW Distribution and Logistics, GoPro

Always Insure Goods

International shipping comes with some inherent risks. Stolen goods, damaged cargo ships, accidents, even piracy can occur when you expand to other countries. These unforeseen events can all lead to problems with your shipments, causing delays, rising costs and customer service issues that reflect poorly on your business. To avoid some of these you need to make sure that all of your shipments are properly insured. In order to avoid some of these issues, it is important that you take the following steps:

  • Understand your insurance options
  • Understand the type of cargo you are importing or exporting
  • Understand what your potential insurance policies cover, and what they don’t
  • Find out if there are special provisions in your chosen options that might mean your goods aren’t insured

Utilize Tracking

Losing an international shipment is not a pleasant experience for you or your customers. Given how many touchpoints there are along the route (carriers, modes of transportation, governments) it’s a real headache to track down where the package went missing and the cause. Providing accurate delivery tracking information is imperative. Not only will the recipient have a real-time view of when they can expect their item, but you can also have more transparency into where your product is at any given time. International shipping does not always have the best reputation for being able to track shipments, but certain carriers are better than others. Make sure you know if tracking is included for your international shipments. If you opt for a shipping method that does not include tracking, be prepared for your customers to ask about their delivery status and what’s taking so long.

Understand all Rules and Regulations

Once you decide to expand internationally, you will quickly learn that every country has its own rules, regulations, and standards for cross-border delivery. If you don’t have a clear understanding of these, you could stand to lose a lot of time and money dealing with the aftermath if your goods do not clear customs, are returned, or are potentially seized. In order to avoid this you need to ensure that your packages meet the requirements for entering the destination country, as well as having all of the necessary international documents filled out. It can be helpful to reach out to an international trade consultant that can help you understand the various rules of the countries that you are planning to ship to.

Package Products Correctly

No customer will be happy to receive damaged goods, especially if it’s due to incorrect packaging. If products are not packaged properly for international shipping, it could lead to your products being significantly damaged en route to your customers.

In order to fix this, you should do the following:

  • Use appropriately sized boxes for your products
  • Make sure boxes are filled with adequate materials to cushion the effects of transport
  • Use sturdy packaging for heavier items
  • Understand regulations on certain packaging materials, including wood

Partner with a 3PL for International Shipping

If you are shipping internationally, strong relationships with a global network is key to an efficiently coordinated delivery strategy and the ability to enter new markets. This is why you might want to consider partnering with a 3PL (third-party logistics provider) for your international shipments. A 3PL with international experience will have many strong relationships to coordinate your shipments, as well as industry knowledge of the always-changing trade compliance. A good 3PL provider will take care of your shipping and logistics requirements with more dexterity, giving you not just a great service but peace of mind as well.

“As we push into more channels and push into more global distribution, increasing our volume across many fronts, I am confident that’s not the first time DCL has done that with their partners. We have sought out experts in our partners. I want partners who have seen these movies before so that they aren’t stuck figuring it out, that they aren’t just one google search ahead of us on how to do logistics in various parts of the world.”

Cara Delzer CEO, Moxxly

Bottom Line

International shipping can be an extremely complicated undertaking and mistakes are easy to make if you are new to the country your products are going to. Not understanding customs regulations, picking the wrong shipping option, partnering with the wrong 3PL, failing to insure your goods or not packing them correctly can all result in heavy losses for your business. Take the time to make sure you understand everything about the new market you are entering, or find a reputable 3PL to help ensure that your goods arrive on time and in the most cost efficient manner possible.  

If you are seeking logistics support we’d love to hear from you. You can read DCL’s list of services to learn more, or check out the many companies we work with to ensure great logistics support. Send us a note to connect about how we can help your company grow.