Ecommerce international shipping: A beginner’s guide

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Venturing into the world of ecommerce international shipping? 

From understanding the basics and selecting the right shipping partners, to the what, why, and how of crossing borders with your products, it can all seem a little bit daunting. But international shipping could be the key to unlocking your business’s global footprint. 

In this guide, we’ll unearth the essentials of sending your products worldwide and learn how Linnworks can make this journey even smoother for you.

Ready to take your business international? Let’s explore how.

What is international shipping?

International shipping is the backbone of global ecommerce, enabling businesses to send their products to customers across borders and oceans. It involves the transportation of goods from one country to another, adhering to various regulatory requirements and logistical challenges along the way. 

Whether you’re shipping small parcels or large freight, when done right, international shipping can significantly expand your market reach and customer base. However, it’s important to note that international shipping does have its nuances. 

You need to understand complex customs protocols while also choosing the right shipping solutions that align with your delivery times and budget. But with the right strategy in place, international shipping opens your business up to brand new opportunities, allowing you to tap into markets that were previously beyond reach.

Should my business offer international shipping?

Deciding whether to offer international shipping is a big decision for any business. 

So, what’s in it for you?

  1. Expanded market reach: International shipping allows you to access customers around the world, dramatically increasing your potential market, and that market is increasing daily. Reports show that over the next four years, cross-border ecommerce transactions will rise by a staggering 107%
  1. Increased sales opportunities: With more consumers shopping online from international sellers, businesses that offer international shipping can capitalize on increased demand. According to a recent report, retailers offering international shipping experience a 10-15% increase in sales on average.
  1. Enhanced brand recognition: Serving international markets means you elevate your brand’s visibility and appeal, on a global scale. This global presence can enhance your brand’s prestige and draw in a broader customer base.
  1. Competitive advantage: Many small and medium businesses hesitate to venture into international markets – costs, risk and time all play into this. But offering international shipping means you can stand out from competitors who may only serve domestic markets.
  1. Meet customer expectations: Modern consumers shop globally, and they expect international shipping options as a result. Providing these options can significantly improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.

What is the cheapest way to ship internationally?

Cost is one of the biggest factors when it comes to businesses choosing whether to ship internationally or not.

That’s why identifying the most cost-effective way to ship internationally is key, but just how cheap you can ship depends largely on several factors, including package weight, size, destination, and how quickly you need it to arrive. 

Here’s a quick rundown of how you can minimize your costs while ensuring your shipments are effective and efficient:

  • Compare carrier rates: Different carriers like USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL offer varying rates for international shipping. Services like USPS International Priority Mail may be cost-effective for lighter packages, whereas FedEx and UPS may offer competitive pricing for heavier, larger packages or faster delivery times.
  • Use postal consolidators: These services combine shipments from multiple shippers into one international shipment, which can significantly lower costs as it allows small and medium businesses to benefit from bulk shipping rates.
  • Choose the right packaging: Minimize the package dimensions and weight, without compromising on safety, to keep costs down. Note that many carriers base their pricing on volumetric weight.
  • Opt for economy shipping services: Most carriers offer an economy option for international shipping, which usually takes longer but can save a substantial amount on costs if delivery speed isn’t a priority.
  • Consider Delivery Duty Unpaid (DDU) vs. Delivery Duty Paid (DDP): With DDU, the recipient is responsible for paying the import duties at the time of delivery. This option can often result in lower upfront costs for the sender but could potentially cause delays if the recipient does not expect these costs.

Always consider the balance between cost, speed, and reliability to ensure customer satisfaction while maintaining your brand’s reputation.

What is the best company to use for international shipping?

Choosing the right shipping company for international deliveries can greatly impact both your operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. 

Let’s look at five top carriers known for their robust international shipping services, each with its unique advantages:

DHL Express

Renowned for its fast international delivery services, with an extensive global network that covers more than 220 countries.

FedEx International

Offers reliable international shipping options with detailed tracking, and boasts exceptional handling of heavy shipments.

UPS Worldwide

Widely respected for its timely deliveries and excellent logistics, and also offers a range of time-specific international options.

USPS International

A cost-effective option for smaller packages, also provides simplicity and reasonable delivery times with Priority Mail International.


Specializes in shipping to and within the Middle East and developing countries, and also offers competitive rates and customized logistics solutions.

Getting started with international shipping

Now that you know some of the basics, let’s look at how you can get started today with international shipping.

1. Where you’ll ship

Deciding where you’ll ship internationally is the first crucial step, and it’s more than just picking spots on a map.

You need to strategically select markets where your business can thrive. 

The first step is understanding the demand for your products. Use market research tools and data analytics to identify countries where interest in your products is high. Websites like Google Trends can provide insights into where your products or similar items are popular.

Next, consider the logistics of shipping to these countries. 

Analyze factors like shipping costs, average delivery times, and the reliability of local carriers. High shipping costs can deter potential customers or erode profit margins, making some markets less viable.

You also need to evaluate the economic stability and ecommerce maturity of the target markets you’re looking at. Well-established markets with a robust ecommerce infrastructure can offer smoother operations and a better customer experience. Conversely, emerging markets might present growth opportunities but could pose more significant challenges in logistics and payment processes.

It’s also crucial to consider the competitive landscape. 

Entering markets with fewer competitors can offer a strategic advantage, but ensure there’s sufficient demand for your product. On the other hand, highly competitive markets might require more aggressive marketing and competitive pricing strategies.

Lastly, cultural factors can also significantly impact market success. Understanding local customs, shopping habits, and preferences is vital. For instance, product colours, sizes, and designs that sell well in one region might not resonate in another. You’ll need to tailor your approach to fit the cultural context of each market to help gain customer trust and increase sales.

2. What you’ll ship

Now it’s time to look at what you’re going to ship internationally. 

This involves more than just selecting your top sellers. You need to gain a strategic understanding of how your offerings align with international markets and regulatory requirements.

First, consider the demand and cultural fit. 

Some products might have universal appeal, while others are better suited to specific regions due to cultural preferences or needs. Research and insights into local trends and consumer behaviors are crucial here. Tools like market analysis reports and consumer feedback can guide which products are likely to succeed in which markets.

Product compliance is another critical factor. 

Each country has its own set of regulations regarding what can and can’t be imported and how items must be labeled. For example, electronics must meet specific safety standards, while beauty products might need to comply with local health regulations. Ensuring compliance can prevent costly holds at customs and legal issues further down the line. 

Also, think about the logistics of shipping specific items. Bulky or fragile items might pose significant challenges and costs in packaging and transportation. In contrast, small, durable goods might be easier and more cost-effective to ship long distances.

Finally, assess the profitability of shipping each item. 

Consider product weight, dimensions, and value to ensure that shipping costs do not erode your margins. A strategic approach to product selection can significantly impact the success of your international expansion efforts.

3. Country-specific rules and regulations

This is often the step most businesses dread – navigating the maze of country-specific rules and regulations. But it’s crucial for successful international shipping. 

Each destination comes with its own set of import laws, tax rates, prohibited items, and packaging requirements. To ensure compliance and avoid delays or penalties, you need to familiarize yourself with these regulations before shipping.

For comprehensive information on regulations by country, tools like the UPS Country Regulations tool are invaluable. This golden resource provides detailed guidance on required documentation, customs information, and any specific shipping restrictions or rules you need to know. 

When preparing for international shipping, consider:

  • Customs documentation: Ensure you have the correct paperwork, including customs declarations and necessary permits or licenses.
  • Prohibited items: Check for any restrictions on shipping certain types of goods to your target countries.
  • Tax and duty requirements: Understand the tax obligations and whether you should opt for Delivery Duty Paid (DDP) or Delivery Duty Unpaid (DDU) terms.
  • Packaging standards: Some countries have specific packaging and labelling requirements for imports.

By staying proactive and informed, you can streamline your international shipments and minimize the risk of unexpected issues that could impact your customer satisfaction and bottom line.

4. Be upfront about shipping costs

Being transparent about international shipping costs is just good business practice, and it’s also a cornerstone of customer trust and satisfaction. 

Let’s break down how you can be 100% granular and upfront about these costs to avoid surprises and ensure a smooth customer experience.

Clear communication: From the get-go, provide your customers with detailed information about the shipping costs they can expect. Include a breakdown of what these costs cover, such as freight, insurance, and any potential handling fees.

Duty and tax disclosure: Often overlooked, duties and taxes can significantly affect the overall cost of shipping internationally. Offer a calculator or estimates during the checkout process to help customers understand what additional charges might apply.

Shipping options: Give your customers choices. Some may prefer faster delivery with higher costs, while others might opt for slower, more economical options. Clear options allow customers to make informed decisions that best fit their needs and budgets.

Total cost display: Before finalizing the purchase, ensure that the total cost, including all shipping fees, duties, and taxes, is visible. This transparency helps prevent cart abandonment and improves the likelihood of a positive shopping experience.

Integrating these strategies into your shipping policy can enhance customer trust while also reducing the frequency of complaints and returns related to unexpected costs. 

Keeping your customers informed every step of the way helps to build a loyal customer base and expand your brand’s reach across borders.

How do I decide what to charge?

Choosing what to charge for international shipping hinges on a few key factors, each playing a critical role in shaping your pricing strategy.

Product size and weight

The size and weight of your products are the starting points for calculating shipping costs. 

Heavier and larger items typically cost more to ship due to the space they occupy and the effort required to transport them. Use a shipping calculator to get precise estimates based on these dimensions, and consider if adjustments in your product design or packaging could reduce costs without compromising quality.


Efficient packaging does more than protect your products, it also optimizes your shipping costs. 

Choose packaging that fits your products snugly without adding unnecessary weight or bulk. Invest in quality materials that keep your products safe during transit, as damaged goods result in returns, which can be more costly in the long run. Consider eco-friendly options that appeal to environmentally conscious consumers and can potentially reduce tariffs in certain markets.

Duties, taxes and fees

These costs can vary significantly between countries and can affect the overall price your customers pay. 

Provide clear information on whether duties, taxes and fees are covered in the shipping costs or if the customer will need to pay them upon receipt. Tools like the UPS Tradeability Service can help calculate these expenses accurately.

If you carefully consider these aspects, you can develop a pricing strategy that covers your costs while also staying competitive and transparent with your customers. This not only ensures that your international shipping operations are financially viable but also helps to build trust with your customers by avoiding unexpected charges.

Ship internationally with Linnworks’ partners

Linnworks’ partners can simplify and enhance your global shipping processes. What’s more, the platform seamlessly integrates with a diverse range of shipping and fulfillment partners, ensuring that regardless of where your business is located or where you’re shipping to, you have a reliable and efficient solution. 

Here are a few of the key integrations that can help you manage international shipments more effectively:

  • Global carriers: Partnering with major global carriers like DHL, FedEx, and UPS, Linnworks allows you to automate shipping processes and gain access to competitive shipping rates and services worldwide.
  • Specialized services: Integrations with specialists in international logistics, like Easyship, Global-e, and ShipStation, provide tailored solutions that address specific regional challenges, ensuring compliance and efficient handling of customs and duties.
  • Fulfillment networks: Extend your reach by connecting to international 3PL providers such as fulfillment by Amazon through Linnworks, enabling quicker and cost-effective delivery to overseas customers.
  • Ecommerce platforms: Smooth integration with platforms like Shopify, Amazon, and eBay simplifies multi-channel selling and fulfillment, making international shipping a hassle-free part of your business operations.

These partnerships not only support robust shipping strategies but also provide valuable insights and tools to optimize your shipping routes, manage costs, and enhance customer satisfaction on a global scale. 

Explore more of Linnworks’ shipping and fulfilment integrations to find the perfect match for your shipping needs.

Ecommerce international shipping FAQs

Why is international shipping so expensive?

International shipping involves multiple processes including customs clearance, international duties, and varied carrier rates, which all contribute to the cost. Handling these complexities across different countries increases logistical expenses, making international shipping pricier than domestic alternatives.

Is DHL or USPS cheaper for international shipping?

Choosing between DHL and USPS for cost-effectiveness depends on the package size, destination, and delivery speed. USPS is generally more economical for lighter packages, while DHL can be more cost-efficient for heavier, urgent shipments due to its extensive international network.

What are the best international shipping services in 2024?

In 2024, the leading international shipping services include DHL for its rapid delivery times, FedEx for reliable heavy shipments, and UPS for extensive global coverage. Each offers unique benefits suited to different shipping needs, from express services to economical options.

Unlock global success with Linnworks

Ready to conquer the global shipping market?

Do it with confidence by using Linnworks’ comprehensive suite for international shipping. Streamline your processes, reduce complexities, and enhance customer satisfaction, all in one platform.

Elevate your ecommerce business and book a demo with Linnworks today to unlock your international potential.

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Claire Rhodes


Enthusiastic tech translator. Ecommerce storyteller. Claire has worked in the B2B SaaS and tech space for the last 6+ years. With a love for words, grammar and tech, she prides herself on her product know-how and the inner workings of the complex solutions her clients offer. When not crafting B2B tech content, Claire spends her time traveling around the world, freediving, scuba diving, and making friends with the local critters.