International shipping: How does it change and how does it affect eCommerce?

Mariluz Sampalo

Mariluz Sampalo

Dec 27, 2021

International shipping with DHL or GLS could be the next step for your ecommerce

Inside this article

  • iconInternational shipping preparation
  • iconShipments and returns tracking
  • iconDuties, taxes and other logistic matters
  • iconCouriers for international shipping in Europe
  • iconDocumentation for international shipping in Europe
  • icon5 Tips for international shipping from Europe
  • iconWrapping up
  • International shipping is one of the required steps for the growth of any eCommerce business working in a digital and global market. If you make international shipments, you will have noticed the differences between domestic shipments, shipments within the EU and shipments to territories outside of the European Union.

    There are several aspects that influence the way an online shop manages these orders, from preparation (courier service research, generating customs documentation), to package tracking and returns or shipping costs.

    International shipping preparation

    The phase preceding the shipment itself is one of the most important if you want to deliver the international parcels promptly and without shipping issues. For this, you need to take into account two tasks that need to occur before the parcels are handed to the messenger: the selection of the international transport company and the creation of customs documents (commercial invoice, CN22, CN23, customs declaration, etc.). To find out all you need to know about courier selection and customs documents, keep reading.

    International shipping companies

    There are several international shipping companies available for different parts of Europe. The selection of one or another will be heavily dependent on the destination of the packages, on the shipping costs that the eCommerce business and the customers are willing to face and if fast deliveries are a priority for them.

    It can be also beneficial to do market research for your business on the shipping methods your customers prefer. This could include a preference for a specific company, as well as certain preferred delivery methods like PUDO (Pick Up, Drop Off locker system) or cash on delivery and the measurements, weight or goods allowed by every courier.

    Delivering goods can be done by multiple couriers with different shipping methods

    Another key aspect to consider before selecting your international shipping companies is to check whether they can provide reverse shipments or returns. If not, you will need to delegate this task to other operators with whom you may not have special rates and whose logistics system you are not familiar with.

    Lastly, you should consider the total cost of shipping to all the areas you currently offer your products. It might be more profitable to offer different shipping rates depending on the country and the distance from the origin of the shipment.

    Customs documentation

    Customs clearance is one of the processes that causes the most worry when it comes to international shipping. This is one of the phases when most shipping issues occur, causing delays or cost overruns for international orders.

    As an eCommerce company delivering goods to other markets, you could face unplanned duties and taxes or, even worse, your customers may need to pay additional costs that nobody informed them of.

    If you want to avoid this bitter pill that will surely ruin their purchase experience, the best strategy is to know exactly which documentation is needed for every international shipment.

    Irrespective of this, the customs office and couriers will generate some of the documents that are indispensable for the safe delivery of the parcels. As a general rule, eCommerce businesses don't generate these documents themselves. The documents that online shops, due to their role as an exporter, should arrange are specified in the section ‘Documentation for International Shipping’.

    Correctly filling in these documents is an essential step that will ensure the reviewing process in the customs offices is completed without additional taxes or duties for the exporter or importer.

    Shipments and returns tracking

    In relation to this, the first thing to ponder is what you offer to your domestic customers and what you offer to your international customers. If you clicked on this article, you are probably already making international shipments or considering it, but… do you offer returns to your international customers?

    If not, you may be in trouble. According to EU laws, it is mandatory to offer returns to all customers within the EU. This is not applicable for shipments outside the EU, but it is highly recommended.

    Offering fast and free returns is a practice becoming more and more popular. If you want to be the next eCommerce hit, make calculations to check if you can face these costs and provide the same service to domestic and international buyers. If this is not possible, you can always come to a middle ground and offer returns for reasonable shipping costs within a good time period.

    Once you are set on this decision and have created the returns policy for your online shop, the next step is to implement a tracking system for international shipments and returns to unify an international courier network within a single interface, even better if the tool allows you to customize the package tracking portal and the returns portal.

    All these functionalities are included in Outvio and will leave a feeling of relief and trust in the customers outside your borders.

    Duties, taxes and other logistic matters

    Another topic to become an expert on is the product classification system according to the tariff heading. There are various systems within which to classify products for customs clearance: (TARIC code, HS code, HTS code for the USA or the NMC system for countries from Mercosur).

    This code will determine the duties and taxes to be paid either by the exporter (online shops) or by importers (customers) to ship and deliver or receive the goods. This is why selecting and including the correct code for every article you ship internationally is so important. Otherwise, you could face the payment of taxes and duties generated by new documents or unplanned customs procedures. You could even face the withholding or destruction of the package if the required documentation is not presented before the deadline or if the affected party is not willing to pay the charges.

    The paperwork for international shipping is a tedious task for many online shops

    Furthermore, it is worth considering which Incoterms you use to sell and deliver parcels. Knowing the existence of Incoterms and what they imply is a fundamental step towards the internationalisation of your eCommerce business.

    If you plan to use an Incoterm that requires responsibilities or payment from your customers, you should inform them of these before the purchase. They should also be discussed with your couriers since not all couriers are compatible with every Incoterm.

    In addition to the tariff code and Incoterm you pick to deliver the goods, you need to get acquainted with the EORI number. This number registers and identifies economic operators inside the EU. In essence, this alphanumeric code acts as a representation for importers and exporters. The EORI code is included in the customs documents as basic in the commercial invoice or the CN22 and CN23 forms.

    Couriers for international shipping in Europe

    These international couriers are available for international shipments from various points in Europe:

    Parcelforce Worldwide

    Parcelforce Worldwide offers the following services:

    • Global express
    • Ireland express
    • Global priority
    • Global value
    • Global economy
    • HM Forces

    Royal Mail

    Ship internationally with Royal Mail using these shipping methods:

    • International Tracked & Signed
    • International Tracked
    • International Signed
    • International Business Standard Priority
    • International Business Standard Economy


    DHL has the following international services:

    • DHL Express Worldwide
    • DHL Express International service for businesses
    • DHL Parcel
    • DHL Global Mail Priority
    • DHL Global Mail Tracked
    • DHL Global Mail Plus


    Send your parcels internationally with these DPD services:

    • DPD Classic
    • DPD Express
    • Air Classic
    • DPD Direct
    • DPD Priority international mail
    • DPD Standard international mail


    FedEx is an international courier known for these services:

    • FedEx Europe First
    • FedEx International First
    • FedEx International Priority
    • FedEx International Priority Express
    • FedEx International Connect Plus
    • FedEx International Priority Freight
    • FedEx International Economy
    • FedEx International Economy Freight


    Ship your parcels internationally with these UPS shipping methods:

    • UPS Express Plus
    • UPS Express
    • UPS Express Saver
    • UPS Standard
    • UPS Expedited


    TNT offers some international services like:

    • Express 9:00
    • Express 10:00
    • Express 12:00
    • Express End of the business day

    Documentation for international shipping in Europe

    On this list you will find the most common customs documents you will face for the shipment of international parcels:

    • Commercial Invoice. This document contains information for the tariffication of products. The commercial invoice can be replaced by other invoices suited for the customs office.
    • Certificate of Origin. Also known as proof of origin or origin certificate, this document certifies the country of production of the goods. It is always required for operations between the EU and another customs territory.
    • CN22 and CN23 Forms. These documents are attached to the parcels with destinations outside of the EU. You should choose one or the other considering the weight and value of the goods.
    • CP71 Form. This document is normally generated together with the CN23 form. Recently, many companies opt for attaching two copies of the CN23 and not including the CP71, since the information provided on both documents is very similar.
    • Packing List. This document keeps a record of all of the packages you are shipping together, their contents and their weight.
    • H7 Document. For goods under €150, you can ask for an H7 to accelerate the customs clearance of the products.
    • ATA Carnet. This customs document is only needed for temporary exports. This is the case, for example, for events, fairs and other activities for which you will need a physical representation of the goods. The ATA carnet or ‘passport of goods’ is valid in over 70 countries.

    5 Tips for international shipping from Europe

    1. Sell only authorised goods

    For this, you will need to know which goods are banned in other countries, which products require special licenses or certifications and which can be exported without special customs documentation.

    Consulting the specific regulations of every country you sell to is the only way to ensure that you ship only authorised products. If you only sell within EU borders, this process will be faster and simpler. Legislation on domestic commerce inside the European Union is homogeneous. This is one of the reasons why if your online shop is in the EU, the first markets you should target are other countries within the EU.

    2. Inform customers about any possible additional charges

    Unless you want to surprise your customers with additional charges about which they were not informed or burden them with tasks they did not know they had to carry out, communication is your best friend.

    To make sure the package is delivered without surprises, share with customers the cost of  shipping, the delivery time, form of transportation used and company in charge of it, where it will be delivered to and what your return policy is for international sales.

    If you don’t, customers may decide to reject the packages, in which case, the eCommerce business, as the exporter, will need to pay the charges and the shipping costs for its return.

    If the online shop also chooses not to pay, customs will destroy the package and the eCommerce business will deal with the losses and dissatisfaction of the customers. If you sell and ship under DDP, calculating the costs of this for your business is a non-negotiable task.

    This Incoterm puts all costs and responsibilities on eCommerce businesses. For this reason, it is important to check your margins when making these shipments. Consider the production costs, packaging costs, shipping costs, duties and taxes, etc.

    3. Prepare the packages for a long journey

    The safe arrival of the products you are about to ship internationally is a key factor for customer’s satisfaction. According to most international transport companies, parcels must be able to resist a fall from 1.5m. Some general rules for the preparation of international shipments are including protective material for the products, reinforcing the corners of the box with tape, avoid using newspapers or advertising material inside or outside the package due to potential censorship and avoiding packaging (boxes, envelopes) that is too small. The chances of them getting lost or damaged are higher.

    4. Consider shipping insurance

    International shipments have a longer route with more agents than domestic shipments. Hiring insurance is a logical step if you sell products with a higher price point. Some of the things to consider before hiring insurance for parcels is which kind of guarantee you want to offer and with which couriers you work. Check the efficiency of the transportation companies and the number of shipping issues they cause. Opting for couriers with more expensive rates but who are more effective overall, can mean fewer incidents and, therefore, hiring insurance may not be needed. Besides this, you can do research to find out which couriers they partner with to deliver the goods to the final destination. Many local companies partner with international couriers or couriers that work in a specific geographical area. These couriers could be in charge of managing your international shipments once they have left national borders. Knowing who they are and how they work is just as important as knowing this information about the main couriers you work with.

    5. Check the shipping information

    Chech the shipping label, commercial invoice, etc. Even if it seems obvious, this is a fundamental step to ensure the safe and timely arrival of the parcels.

    Check all the documentation needed for every international shipment. These documents will change depending on the destination of the goods. In addition to the customs documents, we recommend using tools for fulfillment and shipping automation that generate and print these documents for certain destinations.

    Outvio generates commercial invoices and shipping labels automatically when it is needed (shipments to the UK, United States etc.). This way, the administrative tasks for these shipments will get done faster and your team will work in a more efficient way. To automate and optimize many processes related to post-sales, create a free account in Outvio and integrate your eCommerce platforms, couriers and third-party apps to streamline the order procedure of your online shop.

    Wrapping up

    If learning about international shipping and returns is important to you, you may want to know what international reverse logistics is and how you can optimize it. This will help you to reduce costs, resolve incidents and provide a better customer experience for your customers.