The desire to explore or capitalize on untapped foreign markets is driving many companies today to ship equipment, products and materials overseas. Often, the person asked to coordinate these shipments has little or no experience in international or ocean freight shipping. This can be a problem, as the items being transported are frequently large, expensive or fragile, and just “winging it” and hoping for the best can result in goods being damaged, lost or stuck in customs for an extended time period.
Fortunately, with a little bit of insight upfront and the assistance of a professional crating, packaging and shipping logistics company, the potential pitfalls can be avoided, ensuring that items make it to their destination on time, on budget and undamaged.
International Shipping: Commonly Transported Assets
One of the great things for companies looking to capitalize on international shipping today is that advances in crating, packaging and logistics in recent years mean that virtually anything can be transported to any destination around the globe. Some of the most commonly shipped items include:
- Industrial equipment and machinery
- Medical and lab equipment
- Computer servers, server racks and other IT equipment
- Aerospace equipment
- Office equipment and furniture
- Tradeshow and exhibition materials (booths, promotional items, etc.)
- High-end home furnishings
- Artwork and antiques
When properly prepared and handled by experts, these kinds of high-value, sensitive, and hard-to-move items are no more difficult to transport than any other goods.
International Shipping: Where to Start?
If you’re new to international freight shipping or haven’t coordinated shipments for some time, you may have questions about the process:
- Should international shipments be packaged in custom crates?
- Can large, heavy or oddly shaped items be shipped?
- Can sensitive or fragile devices be shipped?
- What transportation modes are available?
- What do I need to know about ground, ocean and air shipping?
- What type of paperwork is required?
- What import/export regulations do I need to be aware of?
- What fees, taxes and tariffs should we expect to pay?
- How easy or difficult is it to get shipments through customs?
- What does international shipping cost?
- Should I plan for storage fees before and/or after customs clearance?
- What are the steps in an international shipment?
It’s not uncommon to be unsure about these and other elements of international freight shipping. Afterall, it’s easy to understand how a shipment gets from Seattle to Chicago. It’s simply loaded onto a truck and a few days later it arrives. The trip from LA to Paris is a whole different animal, with multiple forms of transportation, handoffs between carriers, customs clearance and other complicating factors.
Perhaps most crucial in preparing for an international shipment is defining what are referred to as the “incoterms.” Short for International Commercial Terms, these “terms of sale” cover the responsibilities, costs and risks associated with international shipping, and are critically important. They define who is liable for which transport services in the transaction. If the incoterms are not clearly documented, it leaves cost liability open to interpretation and makes it difficult for the transport provider to produce an accurate quote.
International Shipping: Typical Steps for Overseas Transport
No two international shipments are the same, of course. Variables like the commodity being shipped, the origin and destination, and other factors all have to be taken into account. However, after the incoterms have been addressed, as noted above, the following seven steps tend to be used in most projects:
- You call the overseas crating, packaging and shipping logistics company and give them detailed information on the project. This includes explaining what it is you’re shipping, the size and weight of the item(s), their value, the pickup and dropoff points, etc.
- The company puts together a quote that includes all costs and considers factors like your budget, time constraints, insurance requirements, and so forth.
- Once you approve the quote, the company picks up the items.
- The items are prepared for transport according to a packaging engineer’s cushioning and crating strategy. In some instances, this work is done at the pickup location.
- The company uses information you provide to complete export/import documentation for any countries involved.
- The items are given to a carrier and your logistics company performs international shipping tracking throughout their journey. Typically, their precise location can be determined through GPS technology.
- The shipment is delivered according to the chosen approach and any special protocols (delivery to secured area, special handling during a pandemic or other crisis, etc.). For example, items might be picked up at your location and delivered to a port in the destination country, where they are retrieved by your team or a third party.
International Shipping: Paperwork, “Phytosanitary” Requirements and More
A significant challenge with international shipments is the “red tape” that has to be dealt with. While your global shipping logistics provider can help you cut through it quickly, it’s helpful for you to have at least a high-level understanding of the paperwork and rules/restrictions involved.
Some of the documents required with international shipments include:
- Commercial invoice. This document describes, in general terms, what’s being shipped and the cost.
- Packing list. This document gets into the specifics of the items being shipped—their descriptions and their HTS (Harmonized Tariff Schedule) codes, for example.
- Shipper’s Letter of Instruction (SLI). This document provides important information on the ultimate consignee (i.e., the entity that is financially responsible for receipt of the shipment), intermediate consignee, forwarding agent, port of export, exporting carrier and more.
Another important consideration for international shipments is what’s referred to as ISPM 15. Officially “International Standards For Phytosanitary Measures No. 15,” this is a set of rules designed to prevent the spread of insects and disease that could adversely affect local ecosystems.
ISPM 15 specifies the need to heat treat or fumigate wood transported from one country to another to ensure it isn’t carrying pests. Certified wood crates are stamped or branded with what’s commonly called the “bug stamp” to show compliance. Adhering to ISPM regulations is critical. If you fail to do so, your shipment may be delayed or destroyed by customs officials.
Capitalizing on Your International Shipping Provider’s Expertise
The information above is just an overview of the international shipping process. There are many other details that must be addressed when you’re ready to plan your shipment. However, a full-service domestic and international shipping logistics company can leverage its experience and worldwide network of contacts and business partners to streamline the process for you, allowing you to stay focused on your work.
Keep in mind that experience and a robust global network are key. Some “shipping logistics providers” are just one-person operations in which the provider simply makes transportation arrangements with carriers and hopes that everything goes smoothly. Be sure to thoroughly research any packaging, crating and international shipping logistics company you’re considering doing business with.
Are you being asked to manage a shipment and looking for a domestic and international shipping logistics partner to assist you? We’re happy to talk with you about your project and explain our services. Please contact the Craters & Freighters location near you.