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International Shipping FAQs

Vivien Christel Vella
Vivien Christel Vella
5 min read
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Shipping internationally? There will be a lot for your business to navigate, including all the requirements for clearing customs. But don’t feel overwhelmed! As international shipping experts, we’re here to help. This FAQ guide is full of key information to help businesses of all sizes – from SMEs to multinationals – have a seamless cross-border journey. Read on and get ready to grow your business globally!

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CUSTOMS CLEARANCE FAQS

When shipping internationally, you’ll be required to fill out some paperwork to clear your goods through customs. This includes a Commercial Invoice (which acts as a customs declaration for goods being shipped across international borders, and helps authorities calculate the duties and taxes due), and an Air Waybill (which tells customs authorities important details about the shipment.) Depending on the goods being shipped, you may also need an Import/Export License.

Use this guide as a documentation checklist to ensure your goods make their way through customs without delay! 

A Commercial Invoice is a key part of the shipping documentation you’ll need when shipping internationally. It acts as a customs declaration for goods being shipped across borders, and contains information – such as the value and country of origin – that will help customs authorities calculate the taxes and duties due, and who is responsible for paying them. 

Commercial Invoices record completed transactions and serve as official documents for payment. Pro-forma Invoices serve as estimates or bids and give potential customers a general idea of projected prices.

When shipping internationally, you’ll need to generate an Air Waybill (also known as a Waybill or AWB). This important document contains integral information and instructions about the contents of your shipment so that machines, couriers and customs officials can process and track it. Just as importantly, the AWB is the document that proves ownership of the package – based on the details of the sender and recipient.

You’ll need to provide some key pieces of information including the shipper’s and receiver’s details, a description of the contents, and whether the shipment is Duties & Taxes Paid (DTP), meaning you, the shipper, incurs the full costs of the shipment, or Duties & Taxes Unpaid (DTU), whereby all duties and taxes incurred at the destination country will be borne by the consignee.

This guide will help you fill in an Air Waybill correctly so that it is not delayed at customs. 

A Harmonized System (HS) code (or Tariff Code/Tariff Number) is a unique, six to ten-digit code used to classify the exact type of goods being shipped. As an internationally recognized system for traded products, it helps customs authorities accurately calculate taxes and duties and apply any necessary restrictions.

You can find the correct HS Code for your shipment via DHL’s MyGTS (My Global Trade Services) – a free, user-friendly platform designed to help you navigate all international shipping regulations, seamlessly. It leverages AI to give you the correct classification for your shipment every time, making customs clearance faster. Search for HS codes using keywords or the code directory.

A Certificate of Origin declares to customs authorities where goods within a shipment were manufactured. The Certificate indicates whether there is a free trade agreement established between the shipper’s country and the destination country and thus whether the goods are eligible for reduced taxes and duties.

Yes! With DHL’s Paperless Clearance service, you can easily create Certificates of Origin, Commercial or Pro-forma Invoices as you prepare Air Waybills online. If additional Customs documentation is required, you can simply upload the completed forms with one simple click. Find out more here

Landed Cost is the total cost of getting your product from the factory to a customer’s door, and includes shipping fees, insurance, and any customs and duties due if it crosses borders.

You can get a Landed Cost estimate through DHL’s MyGTS (My Global Trade Services), a free, user-friendly platform that will help you navigate all aspects of international shipping.

A Bill of Lading is a legal document issued by the shipment’s carrier (for example, DHL) to the shipper and represents the agreed terms and conditions for the transportation – such as destination and handling instructions. It also acts as a receipt for the shipment, and thus must be signed by an authorized representative from the carrier, shipper, and receiver.

It depends – each country has its own list of restricted items to regulate goods crossing its borders. It might include things like certain liquids, hazardous materials, and medicines. You’ll need to check the rules for your shipment’s origin and destination countries. Each separate shipment will require an individual license. 

When a shipment enters or leaves a country, Customs authorities review the accompanying paperwork to ensure the shipper has followed all the appropriate rules and regulations.

Before handing over your shipment(s) to DHL, ensure you’ve filled out the paperwork properly and completely to avoid delays in the Customs process.

To help ensure faster Customs clearance:

  • Provide all necessary documents
  • List each commodity separately with accurate descriptions
  • Check for consistency across all documents
  • Make sure documents are clearly written, typed or electronically submitted
  • Provide as much detailed information as possible
  • Confirm that all associated costs are correct
  • Ensure that receiving country or person is not on a Denied Parties List  

An Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number is needed by a business that is sending shipments to and from Europe.

  • The EORI number will be stated on the customs declaration paperwork when sending parcels into Europe. When you have an account, DHL capture this as part of the booking process. The EORI number will be visible on your Proforma or Commercial Invoice [VCV(I1] (the customs declaration paperwork).
  • A shipper’s EORI number is required when exporting on all of DHL’s international services.
  • When a shipment is going from a business (anywhere in the world) to a European customer (B2C), a recipient EORI is not mandatory.
  • When a shipment is going from a business (anywhere in the world) to another business that is based in Europe (B2B), a recipient EORI number is mandatory.
  • When you set up a DHL business account, your dedicated Account Manager will request your EORI number and add it to your shipping account.

Denied Parties are individuals or entities that have been denied shipping privileges by government agencies. Conducting trade with them is prohibited.

You can check if a person or organization is on a Denied Parties list via DHL’s MyGTS

This guide explains the international shipping documents required for exports – including a list of the information you’ll need to fill out an Air Waybill. 

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DUTIES, TAXES AND PAYMENTS FAQS

Import duty (or customs duty) is a tax collected by customs authorities on all goods sold across borders. The aim of import duties is to raise income for local governments - but also to increase the end price of the goods for consumers, thus encouraging them to buy from the domestic market, which is not subject to this tax. Common examples of import duties are trade tariffs and excise duties.

Import tax is a flat tax rate charged by customs on imports. In many cases, the tax is equal to the local sales tax. Even when the goods have been purchased abroad, this consumption tax will still apply when they enter a different country. Examples include sales tax and value-added tax (VAT).

Import duty and tax amounts are calculated off the individual items inside your shipment depending on:

  • The value 
  • Country of manufacture 
  • Use of goods
  • The goods’ HS Codes
  • Trade agreements 

Customs officials assess duties and taxes, otherwise known as customs fees, based on information provided on the Commercial (or Pro-forma) Invoice.  

De Minimis is the value below which goods can be shipped into a country before duties and taxes are assessed. It is often considered more efficient by customs authorities to waive very small amounts of duties and taxes rather than collect them. 

The European Union removed the VAT de minimis threshold of €22 for all imports in July 2021. It means that every EU e-commerce transaction is now subject to EU VAT and a Customs Declaration.

If you trade or move goods in, around, or out of Europe, these are the VAT regulations you need to be aware of. 

Incoterms are a widely used term of sale, which define the responsibilities of sellers and buyers. Incoterms specify who is responsible for paying for and managing the shipment, insurance, documentation, customs clearance, and other logistical activities. 

For example, DHL offers a DTP (Duty Taxes Paid) service to account holders. This means DHL will invoice the shipper (your business) to cover the costs. The benefit of this is the end customer will not receive an unexpected tax bill when their package arrives at customs – which may damage their opinion of your brand.

Delivered Duty Paid (DDP).

Commonly referred to as Duties and Taxes Paid (DTP) at DHL Express. Selecting this option indicates that the shipper or account holder incurs the full costs of the shipment, including any duties or taxes that might be incurred from customs. 

Delivered at Place (DAP).

Commonly referred to as Duties and Taxes Unpaid (DTU) at DHL Express. Selecting this option indicates that the shipper or account holder will incur the full cost of transportation until it reaches their intended recipient. However, all duties and taxes incurred at the destination country will be borne by the consignee or billing agency that was assigned by the shipper as indicated in the shipping invoice.

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SMALL BUSINESS SHIPPING FAQS

There are lots of elements to consider when shipping, but ultimately the customer experience should remain at the heart of everything. Here’s a snapshot of shipping best practices for e-commerce businesses:

Express delivery: Customers want their orders fast – next day delivery is now expected as a minimum. Be sure to offer express shipping options at checkout – and communicate it on your e-commerce homepage, too.  

Free shipping: It’s no surprise that online customers love free shipping; businesses which offer this feature enjoy a higher conversion rate.

Transparent pricing: Be clear about your shipping fees upfront – customers receiving unexpected charges at checkout are more likely to abandon their carts.

Flexible delivery options: On-Demand Delivery allows your customers to choose exactly when and where their orders are delivered – with full tracking too.

Easy returns: Product returns may be a pain to deal with, but there’s no escaping them, and many consumers will actively check an online retailer’s returns policy before committing to buy.

Packaging: Customers want their orders to arrive in one piece so be sure to use quality, robust packaging – bonus points if it’s sustainable!

Simply put, order fulfillment is the process that happens from the point an e-commerce customer clicks the “buy” button, to the point where the product is delivered to them. The six main steps in the order fulfillment process are: receiving inventory, storage, picking, packing, shipping and managing returns. 

As your small business grows, you may wish to consider outsourcing your fulfillment and shipping to a logistics provider like DHL Express. They have a range of dedicated e-commerce shipping solutions to help small businesses like yours guarantee reliable, on-time shipping – every time. After all, a late delivery to a customer will impact negatively on your business.

On-Demand Delivery, for example, is a flexible service that lets receivers choose exactly when and where their orders are delivered – with full tracking too. Speak to your DHL Express Account Manager about this service for your business. 

Although shipping insurance is an optional service, it will be a valuable reassurance in the rare event of delayed, stolen or damaged goods. It means your business can confidently issue a replacement shipment to your customer, at no extra – or minimal – cost.

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LOGISTICS FAQS

Many small and medium sized e-commerce businesses will already be familiar with 3PL (third-party logistics) – that is, outsourcing some of their supply chain operations, namely packaging, warehousing and delivery.

5PL (fifth-party logistics) is more advanced; a supply chain model that has emerged to help e-commerce businesses in particular cope with the increasing pressure they are finding themselves under. Within 5PL, a business will outsource all its supply chain to a logistics service provider like DHL Express, which will then plan, execute and manage their entire supply chain network. 

5G is the fifth generation mobile network. Every smartphone uses radio waves to send and receive data, whether it’s voice calls or web browsing. As technology has improved, so too has the capabilities of these radio wave networks – or cellular networks. 5G is the latest generation of these cellular networks.

5G’s enhanced speed and capacity is empowering the application of AI in logistics – such as optimized delivery routes, autonomous vehicles, and smart warehouses. 

Product returns can be a pain for online businesses to deal with. But reverse logistics promotes the recycling, repurposing, repairing and resale of the products – a more sustainable and cost effective model.   

This is the final part of your shipment’s journey – typically from a local distribution center (either your own or your logistics partner’s) to the end consumer.

Fast, on-time delivery is what your customers really care about, so is something your business should really invest in. Here we explore some innovative solutions enhancing the last mile, from AI-enabled route planning to drone-led deliveries. 

This is a temperature-controlled supply chain for the storage and shipment of certain goods. Perishable foods, medicines and vaccines are some examples of temperature-sensitive products which need to be managed in a controlled environment.    

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DHL DELIVERY FAQS

Yes! We’ll pick up a shipment of virtually any size or weight and deliver it to its destination within hours.

  • Next flight out service to more than 220 countries and territories
  • Door-to-door service, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year
  • Proactive tracking and monitoring from pickup through delivery
  • Web Order Entry option that allows real-time, first-flight-in-delivery solution
  • Web tracking and reporting capabilities
  • Pickup normally within 60 minutes of order
  • Proof-of-delivery confirmation via phone, e-mail or cell phone

Find out more 

On-Demand Delivery is a flexible service that lets e-commerce customers choose exactly when and where their orders are delivered. For example, they can choose to have their package left with a neighbor or sent to their work address if they know they aren’t going to be at home.

Another benefit of On-Demand Delivery is that the customer can receive notifications about their shipment’s status, in real time, so they can track where it is.

With On-Demand Delivery, the customer benefits from a truly convenient service, whilst the retailer reduces their failed delivery rate. Win win! 

DHL’s Time Definite International service. This door-to-door service offers time critical shipping at predetermined times. Our customs clearance expertise keeps shipments moving without delay to arrive at your customer’s doorstep on time, every time. 

Tracking international shipments is easy! The fastest way to track your package is to use the DHL website. Enter the number of your tracked international shipment to get an estimated delivery date and current location.

Whether you’re importing or exporting, you can get a quick quote for your shipment with MyDHL+. Simply log in and select the “Get Quote” tab. You’ll need to enter some details, including the package’s volumetric rate – this simple guide shows you how to get this measurement. All available DHL Express services will then be presented, with a guaranteed delivery date and estimated charges. 

International shipping can be complex, so DHL Express has a range of dedicated tools to help businesses like yours have a smoother journey, including:

DHL Express Commerce

A multi-functional e-commerce shipping tool that allows you to display live shipping rates at the checkout of your store, import orders automatically, manage shipments, and save time on daily shipping tasks.

MyGTS (My Global Trade Services)

A free, user-friendly platform that will help you navigate all international shipping regulations, seamlessly. Access:

  • Accurate HS Codes: no more guesswork; MyGTS leverages AI to give you the correct classification for your shipment every time, making customs clearance faster. Search for HS codes using keywords or the code directory.
  • Landed Cost for goods in any country: calculate your product cost, duties & taxes, and freight charges to enhance your pricing strategy and give your customers transparency over shipping fees – which builds trust with your business. 
  • Guidance on each country’s import restrictions before you ship – no more goods held up at borders!

MyDHL+

An all-in-one solution for international shipping with DHL Express. Create and track shipments, specify packaging types, schedule pickups, view shipment history, print shipping labels, and benefit from paperless invoicing for smoother customs clearance – all in one place.

DHL Express Mobile

All the convenience and versatility of DHL Express right in your pocket! Download our mobile app to create, drop off, track and pay for shipments on the go. Download from Google Play or App Store.

MyDHL API

Combine the benefits of DHL Express with your in-house shipping processes. MyDHL API can be integrated directly with your order management, inventory, and other systems, by passing any intermediary tools and giving you a customizable, more granular control over shipping activities. Browse API possibilities.

We know that no two businesses are the same, so our flexible optional services ensure you get your shipment delivered exactly the way you want!

Optional DHL services include:

Customs Preparation and Support:

  • Export Declaration
  • Permits and Licenses
  • Clearance Processing

Flexible Delivery Options:

  • Saturday Delivery
  • Signature/No Signature required

Shipment Protection:

  • Shipping Insurance
  • Extended Liability

Availability of services varies by country, so speak to your Account Manager about a solution for your business’s unique needs.  

Our Dynamic Discounting program rewards you with increasing discounts as your shipping volume grows, so the more you ship, the more you save.

We know that small businesses can’t always anticipate how much they’ll be shipping each month, but with Dynamic Discounting, pricing will be automatically adjusted according to changes in volume. Talk to your Account Manager to discover how your business can benefit.  

Absolutely! The GoGreen portfolio includes a range of solutions to help your business reduce its carbon footprint, including carbon transparency tools and sustainable transport modes. The latter includes GoGreen Plus, a dedicated service to lower the carbon emissions associated with shipments through the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel. SAF is a biofuel that is produced from renewable sources such as vegetable oils, animal fats, waste products, and agricultural crops. SAF is specifically designed to be used as a substitute for traditional jet fuel and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to fossil fuels.  

Millions of businesses call on the expertise of DHL Express to send light items and small consignments. The good news? The same fixed price, time-definite international service can be used for heavier and larger shipments too. Check out this guide for size and weight limits. 

Before you ship with DHL Express, it's important to check whether your goods are restricted. Search for “Prohibited and Restricted Items” on MyDHL+ for a full list based on your country of origin and/or destination.  

If you are still in any doubt as to the acceptability of your goods, you can contact DHL Customer Service or your Account Manager prior to shipping. 

DHL Express is proud to serve over 220 countries and territories. The full list can be found here.

Yes. DHL Express has got you covered if you’re looking for a reliable courier service provider that you can trust with your one-off shipment.

You can drop your package off at a DHL Express Service Point, arrange a shipment via MyDHL+, or call DHL Customer Service in your country. 

 Or call the customer service in your country

As the world’s most international company, we can help your business open its online doors to the world, seamlessly!

When you partner with DHL Express, you’ll benefit from easy international shipping to over 220 countries and territories, competitive business shipping rates, flexible delivery options, and trusted services.

It’s quick and easy to open a DHL Express Business Account. Apply now.

SERVICES

The following options are available to you as a DHL Express account holder:

DHL green van

Same Day Delivery

When time is critical, the DHL Same Day service will pick up a shipment of almost any size or weight and deliver it to its destination within hours – to over 220 countries and territories.

DHL courier

Saturday Delivery

Expedited shipping, even at the weekend, with our Saturday delivery service – available in key cities in more than 70 countries.

DHL courier scanning parcel

Time-Definite Export & Import

Our time-definite services offer delivery before 9:00 AM, 10:30 AM, and 12:00 PM on the next possible working day. Time-definite services feature a money-back guarantee and are suitable for pieces of up to 70kg and shipments of up to 300kg.

Express Domestic

Express Domestic offers delivery of shipments within the same country before the end of the next possible working day. Suitable for pieces of up to 70kg and shipments of up to 3000kg.

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Shipping insurance

Comprehensive protection of your valuable shipments, giving you peace of mind in the unlikely event of physical damage or loss.

two women smiling

Customs and duty billing services

Full support for customs clearance processes and duty billing options, ensuring your cross-border customers have a smooth experience without additional charges.

GoGreen Plus

This service allows businesses to reduce (‘inset’) the carbon emissions associated with their shipments through the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel.

Still have questions? Our Logistics Jargon Buster might have the answers you’re looking for. For everything else, our international shipping experts are ready to help.