International mailing and shipping strategies can seem daunting to tackle. Fear of potential duties and taxes or uncertainty about mail and parcels being held or returned cause the most anxiety. In addition, customs authorities in many destination countries are not able to collect duties/taxes from the initial sender, which means that recipients often receive the bill for the shipment after delivery. However, with a little bit of research and support, mailers and shippers can expand their businesses to reach lucrative markets while managing costs and boosting revenues.
Most businesses incorrectly presume that international mail and shipping services must be completed with commercial shippers – the big name brands with their brown trucks and cargo plane fleets and global reputations come quickly to mind because of their ubiquity. So many business owners are surprised to learn that, in many cases, the postal service can be the most cost-effective shipping option.
For that reason alone, businesses should incorporate the postal service alternative into their international shipping mix to keep costs low and to offer end-customers a secure experience free of post-delivery billing surprises.
Savvy businesses must consider three strategic factors to help reduce their international shipping costs:
Leverage countries with a high de minimis value
Understand detailed regulations and nuanced restrictions
Know reliable support resources
Deduct with De Minimis
International postal shipping is best facilitated in countries that carry a high de minimis value, which is the threshold amount at which mailers can import an item into a country without having to pay a duty or tax. Countries with a high de minimis value are Australia (approximately $1,000 U.S.), New Zealand (approximately $330) and Honduras (approximately $500). Knowing de minimis countries will save shippers time and money.
However, there are exceptions to this rule on certain items. In general, these categories tend to fall outside the de minimis:
Textiles, especially in countries known for exporting them (i.e., wool in Australia and New Zealand)
Lottery tickets or gambling-related items
Medication and pharmaceuticals
Used or refurbished items
Literature and printed material featuring political points of view
Be careful. It may be difficult, and possibly illegal, to send these items using an international mail service.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the United States Postal Service (USPS) cultivates and maintains strong relationships with local posts and agents around the world to ensure final-mile delivery regardless of the de minimis value. Undeliverable parcels are returned free of charge to the sender by the USPS.
Restrictions and Regulations
Once you have evaluated the de minimis value of your delivery destination, you must determine the types of shipments that have restrictions on importation. Local protectionism for domestic industries, political considerations, the threat of disease or pre-empting potentially illegal activities are just a few of the plausible reasons certain items cannot be freely shipped or mailed.
For reasons Americans may not fully appreciate, horror comic books, unpopped popcorn and blue ice (an over-the-counter remedy for treatment of minor injuries that solidifies in a freezer) create a panoply of intrinsic headaches for domestic mailers and shippers.
Some of the more unexpected prohibited items (at the time of this writing) for importation include:
• Flammable nightwear, pine cones, unpopped popcorn and honey into Australia
• Switchblade knives into Canada
• Matches, play money, collectible coins and stamps, blue ice, printed materials and literature considered political by nature into the People’s Republic of China
• Internet modems for personal use, chocolate and vitamins into France
• Horror comic books and material for printing them, eggs, dried meat and jerky-style products, foreign-prison-made goods, soil and straw into the United Kingdom
These details are important to U.S. mailers and shippers because failure to comply could result in delayed or returned shipments, fines and penalties and even a personal ban on importation into a market by a foreign customs authority.
Also keep in mind that international mailing and shipping rules and regulations can – and do – change often. It is your responsibility to keep current on prohibitions and restrictions if you want to mail or ship successfully overseas.
International Mail Resources
International mail can seem forbiddingly complex; many rules and requirements can overwhelm shippers. However, businesses can take advantage of a few key resources to navigate their international mailing and shipping strategies.
Businesses can consult with a licensed customhouse broker to determine if they can send an item to a particular country and if there is a limit on the quantity. If there is a quantity restriction, a broker might be able to petition a customs authority or consulate for the right documentation and recipient vetting so the item can be imported.
There are several other information sources that can provide extensive expertise on exporting:
Department of Commerce: Utilize the commodity look-up feature
Invest Some Time, Save Some Money
Every business has unique challenges it must overcome and control before it can develop an efficient and effective international mailing and shipping strategy. International mailing and shipping represent a significant expense, so invest wisely. Do a little homework and study your markets. Utilize the free information available to you from trade associations and online sources. Engage a knowledgeable partner. Those simple investments will help you save money and maximize revenue.
Source: Neopost USA
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