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International shipping from the UKIf you’re a UK e-commerce merchant looking to grow your business by shipping internationally, we’ve got your back. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about shipping overseas from the UK. From understanding customs processes and documents to top tips on saving money on shipping costs, we’ve got it covered.

Expanding your business to new countries can be daunting and does present challenges. However, it’s also a brilliant opportunity to attract a new audience and get your products in front of more happy customers.

We’ve created this guide with the millions of questions you’re bound to have in mind. Every process, tick box, jargon explanation, inside info you need, it’s all here. So, grab that pad and pen and a revitalising beverage and prepare to discover the most important facts and top tips about international shipping for small businesses.

The article will answer the following questions:

Things you need to consider before you start shipping internationally

ship abroad

Congrats! Business is going well and you’re looking to scale. You’re in luck. Shipping internationally is becoming more simple and less costly. Meaning there’s never been a better time to start. As we mentioned above, this presents both challenges and opportunities for online merchants. It’s all about being prepared.

Here are some of the main things to consider when shipping overseas from the UK.

  1. Higher costs: Naturally, sending your parcels further afield will incur greater costs. However, with clever planning and by selecting the right provider you should be able to ensure a good return on investment.
  2. Increase in resources needed: This could include allocating extra time for admin. It could also mean physical resources. For example packaging or software.
  3. Management of customs documents: This can take some time to get to grips with. Luckily, we have a section covering this later as well as more in-depth guides to each document that you can find on our blog.
  4. Mitigating the higher risk of loss or failure to deliver: There are always risks associated with shipping. Both nationally and internationally. Understanding the processes and choosing a reputable partner will help you mitigate these risks.
  5. Choosing the right carrier: Finding the right carrier is vital. We’re here to help you find the perfect international shipping provider to suit you and your business. Read on to find out more.

How do you ship internationally from the UK?

As we mentioned, this can be daunting. Providing you take the time to read up on the necessary processes and fill out all forms with care, you should be fine.

Let’s start with the admin

Very few people enjoy admin. It takes up valuable time you could use to grow your business, talk to satisfied customers, and read more insightful blogs by Sendcloud 😁. Though when you are branching out into international shipping there are a number of admin-related tasks you’ll need to get your head around. There’s researching the right couriers, understanding your legal obligations, and so on and so forth.

The good news is that taking the time to find the best couriers will almost certainly save you money and boost customer satisfaction. Also, getting to grips with customs and duties will mean your goods get to your customer on time and in great condition. Happy days.

Here’s a breakdown of admin tasks needed to start shipping internationally from the UK

UK International Shipping: customs Declaration CN22 or CN23 

Although they sound a bit like robots from Star Wars, these customs declaration forms are required for all international shipping from the UK that is sent with a postal courier (like Royal Mail). Both forms give customs officers important information about the goods that are being shipped, including their values. The form you need will depend on the value or weight of the shipment.

Naturally, you want to avoid delays or the need for customs officials to open the item so make sure you include plenty of relevant information about the goods.

international shipping documents

Commercial invoice

Commercial invoices help customs authorities understand what can and can’t be brought into or taken out of a country. It is an important document and required for shipping any international packages outside the EU that are sent with an international carrier, like DHL Express or UPS.. Filling in your commercial invoice correctly means a greater chance of your packages arriving on time. Need some help getting it right? We have a complete guide on our blog, including full instructions on how to fill in a commercial invoice.

commercial invoice template

What’s the difference between CN22/CN23 and a commercial invoice?

If you’re confused about the difference between the CN22/CN23 and a commercial invoice when shipping overseas from the UK, you are not alone. The main differences are that the CN22 and CN23 documents require a bit more information than the commercial invoice. Also, a commercial invoice is always required for e-commerce shipments outside of the EU. Only parcels sent via postal services need the additional CN22 or CN23 document.

You can find our full guide to CN22 and CN23 documents, including instructions on how to fill them out correctly, on our blog.

Documents to ship internationallyInternational shipping: HS Codes

Harmonised Systems codes (or HS codes) were introduced by the WCO (World Customs Organisation) to streamline international shipping processes. Customs processes are a rather complex beast. This handy system helps customs authorities understand what is being shipped at a glance and ensures goods get from A to B on time.

Customs officers are obliged to use HS codes to clear every package that crosses international borders so it’s vital they’re submitted with all the parcels you ship internationally.

Need a bit more information? You can find our full guide to HS Codes, including how to identify the correct ones for your products on our blog.

Incoterms to ship internationally

Incoterms, or International Commercial Terms, are standardised international shipping delivery terms. In a nutshell, they help different countries get to grips with who is responsible for shipping costs, customs clearance, liability and transportation. Incoterms are updated every ten years. New incoterms were introduced in 2020 so refer to these when shipping internationally.

For more details take a look at our blog to find our complete guide to Incoterms, detailing the full list of the 2020 Incoterms. These can be tricky to figure out, so we also include a free cheat sheet.

What kinds of international shipping are available from the UK?

The courier method or methods you choose for your e-commerce international shipping solutions depends on a few things. How quickly do you need the parcel to arrive? And how much money do you want to spend? Your decision could also be affected by the value and size of the shipment.

The best international shipping services for small businesses are those that are simple, reliable and cost-effective. Couriers tick all these boxes and more. Couriers are great for the smaller packages that e-commerce merchants generally require but can also handle larger shipments. Most couriers deliver door-to-door and offer a variety of options for speed and price. If you’re already sending packages nationally with a reputable courier and you’re happy with their service, check to see if they offer international shipping services too.

international shipping

If you need your shipment to arrive on a specific date or time, courier services are best. You will probably pay more but your customers will thank you for a reliable, speedy service. Airfreight is highly reliable though may not always be accurate with arrival times but is likely to be cheaper than courier services. If you have larger shipments that are not time-sensitive, sea freight is a good, cost-effective option.

Choosing the right international shipping provider from the UK can be a challenge. There are many things to consider such as budget, types of goods you need to be shipped, how quickly you need deliveries to get there and your budget. This brings us neatly to our next point.

International shipping: how to save money?

Keeping international shipping costs low is always a priority. When you’re growing your business and trying out new markets, it’s even more important. You’re bound to feel nervous about the cost/return ratio of starting to ship internationally. But with the right approach, you can mitigate risk and control costs, all while enjoying the excitement and opportunities that opening up to new audiences brings.

Here are some key ways to save money when sending parcels across the globe. In fact, we even have some tips on ways you can save money before you even send your first parcel!

  1. Choose the right shipping provider: Take some time to negotiate with the delivery companies. Many merchants don’t realise that this is possible but often delivery companies will offer deals for retailers with particular requirements such as regular shipments to a particular country. As with all negotiations, don’t hesitate to let them know that you’re talking to a few of their competitors, too.
  2. Take your time to choose the right market(s) and go at your own pace. Starting to ship internationally from the UK isn’t a race. Start by creating an analysis of the profit margins for each region and drip into each new country rather than starting in multiple new countries in one go.
  3. Buy packaging in bulk: This approach is much cheaper per unit. Plus it cuts down on admin time which is always a good thing.
  4. But also try to cut down on packaging: The smaller your parcel, the less you’re likely to spend on shipping. Reuse boxes and packaging to save money and protect the environment. Plus, remember to always keep the durability of the packaging in mind when purchasing.
  5. Offer different delivery options: Your customers don’t always need their packages quickly so why not offer a variety of delivery options like standard or freight shipping rather than the more expensive express services? They’ll appreciate the choice and the chance to save money and you’ll benefit too.
  6. For example, ship to service points: This can save you money and your customers will benefit from more delivery options, too.
  7. Partner with another merchant: If you are open to the idea of including advertising in packages you could partner with a merchant to share costs. A simple leaflet inclusion alongside your product shouldn’t upset your customers. Though be honest about your approach on your website.

International shipping from the UK to EU countries

post brexit shipping

A number of new trading conditions for international shipping are in place since the UK’s exit from the EU. Here is a rundown of the current rules on shipping from the UK to the EU. 

Rules of origin: understanding the requirements when shipping overseas

The rules of origin refer to a zero tariff, zero quota trade deal that was approved on Christmas Eve 2020 by the UK and the European Union. The Trade and Cooperation agreement will provide zero tariffs and zero quotas on all goods that comply with the appropriate rules of origin.

In order to benefit from the ‘zero tariff’ agreement (0% customs duty)’, you must provide evidence of the country of origin. Here’s how you do it.

  • Check if your products comply with the agreed Rules of Origin Chapter 2 of the Agreement, along with product specific Rules of Origin in the Annex. The Agreement can be found here.
  • When you ship a parcel and want to qualify for zero-tariff at the time of import/export, you must include a proof of origin statement on the Commercial or Proforma invoice.

International shipping: what are the rules when exporting goods from the UK?

From 1st January 2021 the process for exporting goods and shipping internationally from the UK changed. Here are some of the new responsibilities for e-commerce merchants. 

Apply for an EORI number (but before, research if you actually need one)

An Economic Operator Registration and Identification Number, or EORI number, is essential for most e-commerce businesses exporting from the UK. Having an EORI avoids delays and can save you money. Note: you may not need an EORI number if your business is service-based, or if you are moving goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Find out about simplified declaration processes

Simplified declaration processes allow goods to be released directly at borders to a specified customs procedure. If you export regularly, it’s worth finding out if simplified declarations could help streamline your export processes.

Ensure you understand the required international shipping documentation

When exporting goods by post you need to submit a CN22 and CN23. We have included information about this in an earlier section. If you are exporting items that require a licence you need to submit a commercial invoice and a C and E83A ‘Exported by post under HMRC Control’ sticky label.

Consider hiring a customs agent for overseas shipping

For some businesses, managing export processes when shipping internationally is too much of a strain on resources. There’s also the worry of making errors on customs forms.

Support from a customs agent could include the following:

  • Freight forwarders who will assist with moving goods and customs clearance.
  • Fast parcel operators who can deliver shipments in specific time frames. Provided you give them written instructions, they can also help with customs clearance.
  • Brokers who can help with customs clearance.

Check the rules and find out if you need a licence to export goods

Some goods may need a specific export licence. These include some animal products and medical equipment. These aren’t products that e-commerce vendors normally sell. However, it is important to check if you need a licence.

Check your VAT process

The UK is now treated as a ‘third country’ for VAT and customs purposes and therefore requires different paperwork. Exports are still zero-rated for VAT unless they are sent from Northern Ireland to the EU. However, import VAT and any customs duties are payable when the goods enter the EU.

Commodity codes and incoterms for your international shipping

We covered incoterms in an earlier section. Alongside incoterms, it’s important to get to grips with commodity codes. Your customers will need to pay taxes and duty on your products. Using the right terminology will help prevent delays or losses.

Shipping times and costs to key international destinations for e-commerce merchants

The next few sections will talk you through some of the shipping costs and times to key international destinations. We haven’t gone into too much detail as costs particularly are subject to change and, depending on the service you choose, timings can also be approximate.

Naturally, you’ll want to choose the top companies to work with so we’ve used some of the market-leading international shipping companies as examples. You may find better rates or another service that suits you better so always have a good shop around before making a decision – and don’t forget to negotiate prices with the courier.

The prices listed here are sample prices and are subject to change. Please use this as a general guide and check with the shipping supplier for exact details.

If you want to find out specific costs take a look at our free price calculator. Access the Sendcloud shipping price calculator.

International shipping: ship from the UK to Europe

shipping to europe

Here we will take UPS as an example shipping carrier. The prices we mention are for Door-To-Door delivery and are VAT exclusive. 

UPS divides shipments to Europe into three groups. We will cover a few of the common parcel sizes for e-commerce retailers.

EU countries Group 1: Includes Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Ireland.

For extra small packages such as a modestly sized gift, you’ll pay around £12.49 but it’s just 3 pounds more for a large package so you could factor that into your sales strategy. As a deal on bundled goods, perhaps?

EU countries Group 2: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Sweden, Spain.

These are the same as the prices for group one – it’s a small world after all…

Rest of Europe: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Moldova, Monaco, Norway, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, Vatican City.

Heading a little further afield the prices increase with an extra small being around the same price as an extra-large in groups 1 and 2. Large packages in group 3 can cost nearly £30.

International shipping: ship from the UK to USA + Canada?

shipping to the usa

Prices for shipping internationally from the UK to the USA and Canada are naturally going to be more expensive, starting at £24.09 for DPDs standard service. But if you consider the scope of the US e-commerce market and their long-standing love of British culture, it could be worth exploring. DPD delivery from the UK to the USA usually takes just 2-4 working days so your chances of winning loyal customers are pretty darn good.

Find out more about DPD’s costs with the Sendcloud shipping price calculator.

International shipping: ship from the UK to China?

shipping to china

It isn’t just high-end brands like Jaguar that successfully export to China. Many e-commerce retailers have had great success in this lucrative market. If you think your products might appeal to Chinese consumers you could do far worse than choosing DHL which can deliver door-to-door from the UK to China in 2 days. Find out more about DHL’s costs with the Sendcloud shipping price calculator.

How do I track international shipping from the UK?

Effective tracking of international shipping from the UK is vital. With longer delivery times, customs processes and so forth, being able to keep tabs on your shipments’ progress and report to your patiently-waiting customers is the key to loyalty and retention.

Most reputable shipping companies provide different levels of tracking for international packages, which may depend on the mail class. Naturally, both the tracking system and the projection for when the package will arrive should be very accurate but you should also make sure that the tracking system looks professional and trustworthy. Notifications should arrive with your customers on a template clearly displaying the carrier’s details. You might even have the option of branding the notifications with your own logo and colours for extra trust-building points (you can with Sendcloud, for example).

What goods are considered hazardous or dangerous for shipping overseas from the UK?

Every e-commerce business wants to avoid fines and confiscated goods when shipping internationally. Rules are subject to change so make sure you keep on top of what is considered hazardous goods when shipping overseas.

Hazardous goods could include:

  • Flammable liquids like certain alcohols or liquid biofuels.
  • Corrosive substances like hydrogen peroxide.
  • Explosive substances or articles like fireworks.
  • Organic peroxides like ethyl hydroperoxide.
  • Toxic gases such as chlorine and phosgene.

Please note that these are just a few of the items considered dangerous or hazardous. For more information take a look at our free whitepaper on rules for international shipping.

Do I need insurance for international shipping and what are the charges?

You don’t need to insure goods when shipping internationally from the UK but to protect against losses and damage it could be worth looking into insurance cover, especially if you sell high-value goods. The chances of a small package being lost in transit are relatively small, but the risk is higher than when you ship domestically. Of course, your package also travels and is handled through various locations and situations, so there is also an increased risk of damage.

Insuring your shipment is an expense and that is not always welcome when you are branching out into new territories. But it does mean you should get compensation for any losses. Most international shipping companies offer a raft of insurance cover, but beware that processing claims can take a long time. We advise you to contact your supplier for more details. Or learn more about the Sendcloud insurance you can add automatically on our platform.

How do I package goods for international shipping from the UK?

international shipping packaging

Packaging your goods well helps ensure they will arrive on time and undamaged. It will also help make sure they clear customs. Here are some top tips for packaging your goods for shipping internationally from the UK.

  1. Use good quality packing materials: Spongy boxes held together with substandard tape won’t impress your customers. It could also result in delays at customs or failure to clear customs altogether. Always go for sturdy materials and good packaging tape and if you want to save some pennies, reuse your old packaging, providing it’s in good condition, of course.
  2. Protect the items: Allow ample room for materials to keep your goods safe and pad them well with bubble wrap, packing peanuts or foam pads. 5cm for standard items and 8cm for fragile goods should be enough. Never use newspapers or other print media publications as this could be subject to censorship laws and your package will not clear customs.
  3. Check the weight of the shipment: Most shipping boxes will show the maximum weight they can carry which is usually printed on the bottom flap. Never exceed the recommended weight. Doing so could mean damage or failed delivery. Not the way to impress those newly-found customers.
  4. Check how secure your package is: When you have finished packing your box, give it a very gentle shake. If you can hear any movement, add extra padding or reposition your goods to make them more secure.
  5. Seal the box well: Always use good quality plastic tape to seal your box. When in doubt, use more than you need.
  6. Label the package well: Always write the address clearly in capital letters. Use the recipient’s language for the address. You can use English for the city, province and country. Remove or cover any old labels.

Learn more of our packaging tips in our free international shipping whitepaper.


We hope this guide to international shipping from the UK has helped you get started on your journey to growing your business globally. There is certainly a lot to think about and it can seem like a challenge at the beginning. It’s OK to feel nervous – those kinds of emotions just mean you are more likely to pay attention to the details.

Speaking of detail, we’ve got it all covered in our free whitepaper on rules for international shipping. We’ll give you the complete lowdown on the technical info that will result in smoother shipping processes. Plus the full lowdown on the services offered by the different carriers so you can make the right decision on which courier will provide the best support for your business.

We’ll help you understand what your responsibilities are and how to mitigate risk as you explore these exciting new markets. In short, it’s everything you need to get started on your international shipping journey.

So, why not download the whitepaper today and get your international shipping plan in place. Then get ready to take the global markets by storm!


  • Bernardina Santos says:

    I would like to start my business from UK to Guinea-Bissau, sending all kind of stuff, and from Guinea-Bissau to UK, I would like to bring Guinea Bissau food. Can you give me more information?
    I would like to send some stuff in a faster ways like.
    Can you give me more information?

    • Stephanie Butcher says:

      Hi Bernardina,

      What exciting news that you’re starting a new business venture! This sounds really interesting, and we’d love to help. The first key to shipping products internationally in a fast and efficient way is to make sure your customs process for both your imports and exports are all in order. This means you shouldn’t face any delays or issues.

      But for more tailored information on your shipping process, then I’d suggest getting directly in touch with our product experts. They can help you identify how you can start an efficient international shipping process that won’t let any time be wasted.

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