Guide to international shipping for e-commerce businesses

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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Singapore government implemented a nationwide lockdown, forcing people to stay at home. As a result, many businesses that relied on in-person interactions faced a significant decline in sales as customers could not visit their stores. Even those who had never considered e-commerce were forced to look for new ways to reach customers and reduce their losses. With classes and work shifting online, many people turned to e-commerce to shop for essential items and other goods. For businesses, this presented an opportunity to expand their reach and tap into a growing customer base. By leveraging the power of e-commerce, companies in Singapore could stay afloat during a challenging time and even emerge stronger than before.

With increased internet usage, businesses saw an opportunity and started selling their products on e-commerce sites like Shopee and Lazada. Some locals also took the chance to create a side hustle on these platforms and earn more profit. 

The growing number of people shopping online has caused a steady growth in the e-commerce industry in Singapore. Data by Statista has stated that e-commerce sales in Singapore are forecasted to reach US$6.59 billion by the end of 2023,  and an annual growth rate of 12.2% to hit US$10.45 billion by 2027. Furthermore, according to TechWire Asia, Singapore's digital economy has placed the country as a hub for cross-border e-commerce platforms, with several well-known tech unicorns establishing their regional headquarters here. This gives companies more reason to expand their e-commerce businesses and ship their products internationally.

Looking to expand your e-commerce business internationally? Read on to learn how to work on your international shipping strategy. 

1. Understand the key aspects of international e-commerce shipping

After determining what to sell and planning a business model, you'll have to register your business with ACRA. Singapore's e-commerce regulations are implemented to boost consumers' confidence when purchasing online. All companies doing business in Singapore are expected to follow these laws:

  • Electronic Transactions Act

  • Sale of Goods Act

  • Misrepresentation Act

  • Computers Misuse Act

  • Copyright Act

  • Trade Marks Act

  • Personal Data Protection Act

Once done, you'll have to choose a platform on which your business will be based on. Most would opt for a site with the highest traffic to increase their chances of earning more profits. The most popular e-commerce platforms in Singapore that companies leverage include Lazada, Shopee, Amazon, and Qoo10.

Shipping can be domestic or international, with the latter adding an extra layer of complexity due to customs requirements that goods must comply with. As such, additional documentation, regulations, and costs such as duties, taxes, and ancillary fees must be taken into account when shipping internationally. However, regional agreements between neighbouring countries simplify the import and export process, resulting in minimal customs requirements.

Such agreements include shipping between EU member nations, shipping between the US, Canada, and Mexico (NAFTA), and shipping between members of the European Union (EUSFTA). By taking advantage of these agreements, e-commerce companies in Singapore can minimise the customs requirements for shipping their products internationally.

2. Research international shipping carrier services

In addition to transporting packages across borders, logistics companies like DHL Express also provide additional services essential to international shipping.

When you ship with us expect services such as express delivery, insurance coverage, customs brokerage, tracking, and consolidation. For e-commerce businesses, we also offer specialised services, such as webshop shipping integration, flexible delivery options, and international returns. Other services include:

  • Insurance that can provide coverage for lost or damaged parcels during transit.

  • Parcel tracking for both senders and receivers to monitor the progress of shipments.

  • Flexible delivery options for receivers. Think customised delivery times, express delivery, same-day delivery, or local pickup.

  • Consolidation is a service that groups multiple packages to a specific destination for reduced costs or streamlined customs clearance.

  • Customs brokerage to help your international shipments clear customs more quickly.

  • Return services such as generating return labels and claiming duty refunds for international return shipments.

  • Integrated webshop features to provide real-time carrier rates, address validation, parcel tracking, as well as duty and tax calculators directly.

E-commerce businesses must take the time to research and compare different courier services to find the ones that align with their specific shipping requirements. By leveraging these services, businesses can optimise their shipping operations and provide customers with a seamless, hassle-free experience. 

3. Calculate shipping costs

To ensure you set the right shipping rates for your e-commerce business, it's important to understand the factors that influence carrier shipping costs. We offer online calculators that take into account parcel size, weight, package density, and origin and destination addresses to help you estimate the cost of shipping your products abroad.

Here are some tips to help you set your shipping rates:

  • Consider the size and weight of your parcels to determine if they fit into standard categories or if they are oversized or odd-sized.

  • Dimensional weight is another important factor to consider as it refers to the package size relative to its weight.

  • Keep in mind that long-distance and cross-border shipping typically cost more due to the distance and destination.

  • Take into account your preferences and needs for delivery speed, such as express or regular delivery, as well as any extra carrier services you may require, such as insurance, tracking, or customs brokerage.

  • For international shipments, be aware of customs charges, including duties, taxes, and processing fees charged by the carrier.

By considering these factors and using online calculators, you can easily estimate the cost of international shipping and choose the best shipping option for your business.

4. Consider transit times and set your shipping rates

As an e-commerce business owner, offering timely and reliable shipping services is crucial to optimise your shipping strategy. Once you have found a cost-effective shipping arrangement with a carrier, it's time to define your e-commerce shipping rates for customers. Your financial strategy and who covers the shipping cost, whether it's you, your customer, or both, will mostly determine this.

To offer customers the best experience, it's helpful to provide a few delivery options to choose from. Some commonly used options are:

  • Free shipping for purchases over a certain value

  • Flat-rate shipping within a country or region

  • Real-time carrier rates calculated live at webshop checkout

  • Express or regular delivery, allowing customers to choose between delivery speed and cost

  • Free or discounted local delivery or collection from carrier's pickup points

Transit times are important in international shipping. Working with DHL Express means your customers can receive their parcels by the next possible business day. Here’s an overview of our transit times:


Delivered on next possible business day before

Express 9:00


Express 10:30


Express 12:00


Express Worldwide

End of Day

Express Easy

End of Day

DHL Express also offers end-to-end tracking visibility and Optional Services for added flexibility, ensuring timely and efficient deliveries that satisfy your customers.

Couple this with MyDHL+ with which , you can easily sign in and receive your desired delivery information, create shipments, invoices and more, you’ll drive up efficiency effortlessly.

By partnering with an experienced logistics and order fulfilment company like us in Singapore, you can successfully deliver products to your customers and keep them satisfied with timely and efficient deliveries.


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5. Have the right paperwork ready 

To prepare customs paperwork for e-commerce shipments, there are typically several key steps that need to be followed:

  • Set up your commercial invoice template 

  • Write an accurate description of the e-commerce good that you are shipping internationally

  • Identify your good’s Harmonised System (HS) code

  • Identify the country of manufacture for your goods

  • Determine the duties and taxes you may need to pay

  • Check for duties and tax exemptions

  • Create and consolidate all of your customs documentation

View the full list of export documents you need to prepare before shipping out your parcels.

6. Exploring packaging options

A well-packed shipment can limit the chance of damage and ensure that your recipient receives the products in perfect shape. Heavier shipments will need a more sturdy box or possibly double-layer wrapping. For odd-sized items, choose a box that can easily hold your shipment and allow extra room within the box to include cushioning or packing material, such as foam peanuts. Use two types of inner packaging material for valuable cargo for enhanced protection. Being familiar with how to pack your goods properly will take you a step closer to ensuring they arrive at their destination in optimal conditions. 

Start shipping internationally by partnering with a credible logistics company

With more e-commerce companies taking off abroad, partnering with a trusted carrier is crucial to deliver your packages internationally. Growing and scaling your e-commerce business does not have to be an uphill journey. When you partner with an experienced logistics provider like DHL Express, your shipping experience is fast, safe and hassle-free. Besides innovative and end-to-end e-commerce shipping solutions, we also offer the fastest shipping transit times to Asia Pacific and other countries worldwide. Make DHL Express your e-commerce business’ delivery partner, and sign up for an account today.