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International shipping from the UKAs an ambitious online merchant you will have already got to grips with shipping throughout the UK. But if you want to grow your business, attract more customers and increase customer loyalty you’ll want to start with international shipping. For both new and established businesses this can be daunting. You may worry about costs. Or having the resources to manage the processes. If you are unfamiliar with customs and export documentation, who can you turn to for guidance? With this in mind, we have put together a simple, straightforward guide to help you get started. 

Sendcloud’s guide to international shipping from the UK covers all your responsibilities as an e-commerce retailer. This includes customs documents, commercial invoices and insurance. We’ll offer guidance on international shipping to EU countries pre and post-Brexit. We’ll talk you through the kinds of international shipping available from the UK. Plus which options might be best for your business. We’ll also reveal ways to save money on international shipping from the UK. In addition, we’ll offer an overview of costs to Europe, US and Canada and China. We also give away our international shipping guide for free here… You’ll find 10 useful tips for hassle-free international shipments!

Read on to discover how to make international shipping from the UK a success for your business. The article will answer the following questions:

Important things to consider

ship abroad

It has never been easier to sell and ship your products across the globe. This presents considerable opportunities for online merchants. But also a number of challenges. Here are some of the main things to consider when shipping internationally from the UK. 

  1. Higher costs: Naturally, sending your parcels further afield will incur greater costs. 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. 

Getting started with international shipping 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. 

International shipping: customs Declaration CN22 or CN23 

Customs declarations  are required forms on all international shipments. The form you need will depend on the value or weight of the shipment. The forms include details of the goods that are being shipped. They also include their values. Make sure you fill in the form clearly, in block capitals. The documents are scanned electronically using optical character recognition. If letters or numbers aren’t clear it could result in errors. It could also result in returns or delays. Include as much relevant information as possible about the goods. This helps to avoid delays or the need for customs officials to open the item. 

international shipping documents

Commercial invoice

A commercial invoice is required for shipping packages outside the EU. Currently, you do not need a commercial invoice for packages within the EU. Filling in your commercial invoice correctly means a greater chance of your packages arriving on time. Need some help getting it right? Of course, 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, you are not alone. The aims of both forms are pretty much the same. To give customs authorities the information they need to decide if a package can enter a country. They also help ascertain who is responsible for import duties and taxes. The main differences are that the CN22 or CN23 document requires a bit more information than the commercial invoice. Also, a commercial invoice is always required for e-commerce shipments. Only parcels sent via postal services need the additional CN22 or CN23 document. To avoid delays, we recommend that you always add both documents. 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). They provide a standardised naming system to describe the goods being shipped. This helps streamline shipping processes. It also helps to ensure that shipments get from A to B on time. Customs officers are obliged to use HS codes to clear every package that crosses international borders. 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 delivery terms. They help different countries interpret transport arrangements. This includes responsibilities for costs, customs clearance, liability and transportation. Incoterms are updated every ten years. New incoterms were introduced in 2020. The previous ones are still valid but it is best practice to use the new 2020 incoterms. 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 method, or methods you choose for international shipping depends on a few things. How quickly you need the parcel to arrive. And how much money you want to spend. Your decision could also be affected by the value and size of the shipment. Here are the main methods of international shipping available from the UK. 

  • Courier services: Courier services are familiar to most e-commerce retailers. Courier companies are great for shipping in smaller quantities. They deliver door-to-door and usually offer a variety of options for speed and price.
  • Air freight: Air freight is a reliable method of transporting goods worldwide. The service is faster than sea freight. This means it usually costs more.
  • Sea freight: Sea freight is a low-cost method of shipping internationally from the UK. It generally takes longer than air freight. Sea freight is great for larger shipments that are not time sensitive or require an exact arrival date. 

What kinds of international shipping are best for online merchants and why?

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. Courier services usually suit smaller packages, such as gifts. Air freight is highly reliable though may not always be accurate with arrival times. Air freight 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 shipped, how quickly you need deliveries to get there and more. It’s important to think about your shipping requirements now and into the future. 

International shipping: how to save money?

Naturally, you will want to keep your costs as low as possible when shipping internationally from the UK. But not at the expense of service quality.  Here are some key ways to save money when sending parcels across the globe. 

  1. Choose the right shipping provider: We mentioned the importance of choosing the right provider above. When you’ve come up with your shortlist, take some time to negotiate with the delivery companies. Merchants don’t always realise that this is possible. Often delivery companies will offer deals for merchants with particular requirements. This could include large volumes or regular shipments to a particular country or countries. As with all negotiation, don’t hesitate to let them know that you’re talking to a few of their competitors, too. 
  2. Try to cut down on packaging: The smaller your parcel, the less you’re likely to spend on shipping. If the package does not require a box, consider sending it in an envelope. You could also opt for letterbox packaging. This might benefit the recipient who won’t need to be at home when it arrives. You could also reuse boxes and packaging. This saves money and helps protect the environment. Remember to always keep the durability of the packaging in mind.  We will discuss how to properly package your products later on in the article.
  3. Buy packaging in bulk: This approach is much cheaper per unit. And it cuts down on admin time, too. 
  4. Offer different delivery options: Your customers don’t always need their packages quickly. So, why not offer a variety of delivery options? They’ll appreciate the choice and the chance to save money. And you’ll benefit too. 
  5. 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. 
  6. Ship to service points: This can save you money and your customers will benefit from more delivery options, too. 

International shipping to EU countries pre and post Brexit

post brexit shipping

A zero tariff, zero quota trade deal 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.

However, things will NOT continue the same as before Brexit, and shipping to Europe after Brexit will be different. New trading conditions have begun with Brexit’s arrival on the 1st January 2021. These include the introduction of customs declarations and additional checks on food and livestock. You will also need to take note of the rules of origin also included in the terms of the deal.

International shipping: exporting goods from the UK post-Brexit

From 1st January 2021 the process for exporting goods from the UK will change. Negotiations are currently underway to secure trade deals between the UK and EU. There will be either a no-deal or withdrawal agreement. Importing and exporting requirements will change whichever path Brexit takes. In the event of no-deal the UK is likely to have to follow the World Trade Organisation’s MFN (Most Favoured Nation) tariffs when exporting goods. There is still a lot of uncertainty about outcomes. But it is vital that businesses prepare themselves for the impact of no-deal on exporting goods. Here are the steps you need to take to prepare.  

Apply for an EORI number

In the event of no-deal, an Economic Operator Registration and Identification Number (EORI number) is essential for most e-commerce businesses. 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. Your EORI will enable you to continue exporting goods from the UK. It will help avoid delays and control costs associated with exporting goods. The EORI number is 12 digits long. It starts with the letters GB.  

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 documentation

When exporting goods by posts you will 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 license 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 some businesses, managing export processes is too resource-intensive. Or they are wary of error and prefer to employ a customs agent to help. This support could include the following: 

  • Freight forwarders who will assist with moving goods and customs clearance. 
  • Fast parcel operators who can deliver shipment in specific time frames. Providing 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 license to export goods

Some goods may need a specific export license. 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 license

Check your VAT process

In the event of no-deal, the UK ceases to be part of the EU VAT and customs union immediately. This means the UK will be treated as a ‘third country’ for VAT and customs purposes. This will require different paperwork. Exports are likely to still be zero-rated for VAT. However, they will now be termed as exports. The EU business you’re supplying will probably need to account for VAT. They may also need to manage customs on the goods. We strongly advise talking to your EU suppliers ASAP to make sure you are both prepared. 

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. There are no set timings. Depending on the service you choose, timings can also be approximate. To give you a general idea we have used some of the market-leading international shipping companies as an example. You may find better rates or another service that suits you better. 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. Prices displayed include 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. 

  • Extra small package £12.49
  • Small package £13.49
  • Medium package £14.49
  • Large package £15.49

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

  • Extra small package £15.49
  • Small package £16.49
  • Medium package £17.49
  • Large package £18.49

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.

  • Extra small package £18.99
  • Small package £21.99
  • Medium package £25.99
  • Large package £29.99

UPS offers a wide variety of delivery options to suit all e-commerce retailers. 

With Brexit changing the requirements for shipping to Europe, it’s likely customs documents will be required. UPS also offers the opportunity to digitise your customs information with UPS Paperless Trade.

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

shipping to the usa

Here we will use DPD as an example. DPD offers both express and economy shipping to the USA. DPD delivery from the UK to the USA usually takes 2-4 working days. Prices start from just £24.09. This is for a door-to-door service. DPD offers a variety of delivery options. Find out more about DPD’s costs with the Sendcloud shipping price calculator

International shipping: ship from the UK to China?

shipping to china

Here we will use DHL as an example. DHL can deliver from the UK to China in 2 days. This is a door-to-door service. DHL offers a variety of delivery options. 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. For both your own service standards and customer satisfaction. Most reputable shipping companies provide different levels of tracking for international packages. The tracking service may depend on the mail class. Both the tracking system and the projection for when the package will arrive should be very accurate. 

Processes for tracking can be done on the carrier’s website. They may also be accessed via an app. You will need your tracking number or your reference number to do this. Many carriers will let you see exactly where your delivery vehicle is on the map. With packages that have a specific delivery window, you can often track to within minutes of arrival. 

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

A number of goods are considered dangerous or hazardous to ship internationally from the UK. It is important to check if your goods come under this category. Examples of hazardous or dangerous goods are: 

  • Flammable liquids
  • Corrosive substances
  • Explosive substances or articles
  • Organic peroxides
  • Toxic gases (for example chlorine, phosgene)

Please note, this is 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 usually need to insure goods when shipping internationally from the UK. The chances of a small package being lost in transit is 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 increased risk of damage. If your items are high value or you are shipping large volumes, it might be advisable to get insurance. If your package is lost your customer will not be happy. Insuring your shipment means 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: Using substandard packaging means risking damage to your goods. It could also result in delays at customs. Or failure to clear customs altogether. Use sturdy materials and good packaging tape. Reusing boxes helps you save costs. It also helps protect the environment. Don’t be tempted to reuse boxes that are damaged or flimsy. This can result in breakages. It could also mean delays at customs or delivery failures. 
  2. Protect the items: Allow ample room for materials to keep your goods safe. This could include bubble wrap, packing peanuts or foam pads. Never use newspapers or other print media publications as this could be subject to censorship laws and your package will not clear customs. Firstly, place the padded item in the box. Then fill the spaces with padding material from the bottom upwards. Make sure you use at least 5cm of foam or padding for standard items. Use at least 8cm of padding for fragile items. Always pack fragile items individually. If you are sending electronic items use anti-static materials. 
  3. Check the weight of the shipment: Most shipping boxes will show the maximum weight they can carry. This is usually printed on the bottom flap. Never exceed the recommended weight. Doing so could mean damage or failed delivery. 
  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. Remember, there are plenty of resources out there to help you. Our free whitepaper on rules for international shipping for one. Your shipping provider can also support you. They can help solve any problems you have. And answer any questions. They can also make sure you get the best deal for you and your business. 

Take your time to do your research. Make sure you understand your responsibilities and the different options that are available to you. Think about the needs of your business and your customers – now and into the future. Once you have your plan in place and your chosen international shipping provider on board, you’ll be 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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