International Trade and Global Business

Shipping Out without Slipping Up

September 06, 2011 9:08 AM

The good news is that shipping options have never been better, and the service you select depends on the size of the shipment and how quickly it needs to get to its destination. 

In many cases your buyer will handle the details.  If this is the case, the shipping firm contracted by the buyer will contact you with the details and will handle all of the arrangements including the paperwork and customs clearances.

If you do the shipping and the shipment is small, say, less than 70 pounds, consider your national postal service.  In the U.S, for example, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has several shipping products suited to smaller items and documents.  Their fastest service, with guaranteed delivery within three days to many countries, USPS uses FedEx to transport and deliver the goods. USPS offers package tracking to most of the world’s larger markets.  The disadvantage of the postal services is that they generally don’t pre-pay duties and taxes for the importer in order to directly deliver the goods to the buyer without a stop at the nearest postal facility.

The Website is  On this site you can print off customs declaration forms, labels, calculate and pay for postage, and arrange a pickup.  What you can’t do at the moment, but we are told this service is coming, is to calculate the duties and taxes, which are imposed on goods by the destination country.  For now, in the U.S., you can watch this video to learn how to use a tool called Customs Info LLC.

Additional help is available by calling toll free in the U.S. 1-800-USA-TRAD(E).

Other sources of help are from the titans of global shipping and supply chain management.  Let’s take them one at a time and see what they have available online.  Unlike the postal services, these folks will pre-pay duties and taxes and bill the account of either the shipper or the recipient.

Like its rivals, UPS has acquired airfreight and freight forwarding operations in order to offer customers the closest thing to one-stop shopping.  In doing so, they have opened the world for commerce, especially for the smaller firm.  TradeAbility is the English language variant of the collection of shipping tools available online at  Versions of the tool are available in other languages. You can find the harmonized code number for the product you are sending.  If shipping from the U.S., it detects from the harmonized code number whether you may need an export license. 

What we like. 
We liked the video overviews of the products and processes, the whole section on import compliance, and the shipping documents that you can fill in online including certificates of origin.

What needs improvement. 
Some users say that they encounter difficulties getting the system to spit out tariffs and taxes on their item going to country X or Y.  Others in the U.S. say that the system asks for an export license number to comply with U.S. export regulations.  If the product doesn’t need a license, you put in EAR-99 NLR (No License Required).  But the directions for this block are hard to find and you may have to call customer service to get by it.  Also, UPS owns a bank, UPS Capital, that’s heavy into trade finance.  It would be good if this connection was made on Tradeability.

Owned by the German postal service, DHL has a long history in the freight business and has also grown through acquisition.  In 2008, its U.S. business was restructured to focus more on international services.   It partners with USPS to deliver to U.S. remote locations or about 1 percent of its total addresses.  The website is

Trade Automation Services is the name of the DHL toolbox, which includes shipping documents, a landed cost calculator and more.

What we like. 
A cool feature is the pull down menu of countries served by DHL, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and the section that includes contact information for offices and drop off points in major cities.

What needs improvement. 
The navigation is generally awkward, making it difficult to find the goodies.

The FedEx international site is  The FedEx international toolbox is called Global Trade Manager and includes the ability to estimate tariffs and taxes, find harmonized codes, and print shipping documents and forms.

What we like. 
What are cool are the country profiles describing import and export prohibitions.  You can customize shipping documents with your letterhead, and there are extensive links to government resources for exporters.

What needs improvement.
Like some of the other sites described here, the calculation of landed costs function seems to baffle some customers.  Calls to customer service more often than not get you referred to a U.S. government office, which then comes to the rescue.

All of these service providers are constantly innovating and improving, mainly because competition is fierce and also because import/export is the source of future growth.

Last but not least are customs brokers for inbound and freight forwarders for outbound.  They provide the same services as the titans but don’t own the ships or planes.  They can also help with letters of credit, have extensive worldwide networks, and can offer personalized service that some importers and exporters swear by. 

With all of this expert assistance, there’s one less excuse not to increase your international transactions in the months ahead.

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