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Export Shipping Basics
Consider how to best ship your goods to international customers efficiently, securely, and legally.

Shipping Options

Export Shipping Basics 



Once you have identified your new foreign buyers, consider how to best ship your goods to international customers efficiently, securely, and legally. Start by checking with a few different international shipping companies to compare costs and available services. Along with their expertise in shipping documentation, many freight forwarders specialize in certain types of shipments. Also, be sure to familiarize yourself with INCOTERMS, a set of internationally accepted terms spelling out which parties are responsible for various costs and details throughout the shipping process such as freight, insurance, duties and taxes, customs clearance, and documentation. Your local U.S. Commercial Service office is also available to assist. Learn more by viewing the Shipping Basics video. 

Tips on International Shipping from U.S. 

Now that you’ve made the export sale, you still have to get the goods to the buyer, who is often located thousands of miles away and where different rules may apply. When shipping overseas, be aware of INCOTERMS, packing, labeling, documentation, and insurance requirements and regulations. Make sure that the merchandise: 

  • Is packed correctly so it arrives in good condition. 
  • Is labeled correctly to ensure that the goods are handled properly and arrive on time at the right place. 
  • Has correct export documentation for U.S. and foreign-government requirements. 
  • Has insurance to cover any damage, loss, pilferage, or delay. 

Because of the many considerations involved in physically exporting goods, exporters often receive assistance from their air/ocean carrier or freight forwarder to provide services for these issues and more.  

Working with Freight Forwarders 

  • The simplest definition of a freight forwarder is that of a “travel agent for freight.” International freight forwarders are agents that ship cargo to foreign destinations. These agents should be familiar with the import rules and regulations of foreign countries, U.S. export regulations, different shipping methods and necessary documents. Freight forwarders are licensed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to handle air freight and by the Federal Maritime Commission to handle ocean freight.                        
  • Freight forwarders may be able to assist exporters in preparing price quotations by advising on freight costs, port charges, consular fees, costs of special documentation, insurance costs and the freight forwarders’ own handling fees. They may recommend packing methods that will protect the merchandise during transit or can arrange to have the merchandise packed at the port or put in containers. Freight forwarders may also reserve the necessary space on a vessel, aircraft, train or truck. The cost for their services is a factor that should be included in the price charged to the customer. 
  • Once the goods are ready for transit, freight forwarders should review all export shipping documents to ensure that everything is in order. This review is of particular importance with letter-of-credit payment terms. Freight forwarders may also prepare the bill of lading and any special required documentation, including electronic filing in the Automated Export System (AES). Freight forwarders can also route the documents to the seller, the buyer, or a paying bank. Freight forwarders can also make arrangements with customs brokers overseas to ensure that the goods comply with foreign import documentation-regulations.  
  • A customs broker is an individual or company that is licensed to transact customs business on behalf of others. Customs business is limited to those activities involving transactions related to the entry and admissibility of merchandise; its classification and valuation; the payment of duties, taxes or other charges assessed or collected; and the refund, rebate, or drawback of those charges.