Research and reports
Sending parcels and products across Europe and the rest of the world might be something you’re considering as you expand your small business to reach customers beyond the UK.
But how does international shipping work? From taxes, customs regulations, and costs, to a round-up of the best international shipping companies, our guide covers everything you need to know.
Whether you’re an eBay or Amazon seller, have an Etsy shop, or just have an online shop as a side hustle, it’s important to know the rules for shipping overseas. Jump to the section you need or read on for a complete overview of the process from start to finish:
There will be different rules and regulations you need to follow depending on where you’re shipping to and what you’re sending. And with the UK’s departure from the EU and a new trade agreement in place, there’s additional paperwork to complete.
Firstly, your customs declaration
Everything you send overseas needs to have a customs declaration, which can be done online through your courier or by picking up a form at a Post Office.
Your customs form needs to include:
You’ll need a CN22 customs form for items worth less than £270 and a CN23 form for items worth £270 or more.
Always check the duties and customs process for the country you’re exporting to. The Department for Business and Trade also has detailed guides on each market to help you understand specific rules for different countries.
Some products require specialised licences in order to be able to export, including plants, artworks, and animal products. As a small business you're not likely to need a specialist licence though, but make sure you read up on the rules.
Packaging and labelling
You’ll also need a commercial or pro-forma invoice included with your package – often your shipping company will generate this for you as part of the postage process.
Contact the UK government’s export support team if you have a question about rules and paperwork you need.
Goods sent to countries outside the UK will be subject to different tax and duties – you can use the government’s online tool to check the rates (as well as rules and required documents) for the country you’re shipping to.
Meanwhile, VAT is a tax used for products sold and marketed in the UK so won't apply for international shipping. This means, if you're VAT reigstered, you'll be able to apply a zero VAT rating to any products you export from the UK. You need to show proof of export within a certain timeframe though, so make sure you read up on law surrounding VAT and exports on the government website.
Of course, the cost to send a parcel internationally varies depending on the size of your parcel, where you’re sending it, and the speed of delivery you need. Costs also vary if you ship regularly – for example, sending more than 20 parcels a month can come with cheaper prices.
It’s easy to get a quote from any of the different international shipping companies (we’ll go into these below). But to keep costs low, it’s worth considering a few general rules:
International shipping can be complex and comes with additional paperwork and costs. To make sure you don’t get caught out with unexpected charges:
If you're a larger business sending high volumes overseas, you might consider using a freight forwarder to manage the contact between you and the shipping company.
As a general rule, standard postage to Europe can take between three to five working days. Shipping worldwide can take about six or seven working days. You might also find cheaper options if you’re happy to have a longer delivery time.
Our guide to different couriers out there has more on the specifics of each brand, while below we’ll explore them in the context of international shipping.
Royal Mail has a choice of international shipping services for parcels and letters. You’ll probably want to choose an option for tracking and signing for it – and it’s also worth checking the level of compensation if your item gets lost or damaged in transit.
The types of service depend on how much you’re likely to spend each year and setting up an account. If you don’t set up an account, you can use their click and drop service.
DHL offers two options for businesses:
There’s a range of DPD international shipping options, and they offer a specific delivery service for online businesses.
DPD Local also offers worldwide delivery to these countries.
Evri (formally Hermes) offers international delivery, either as a one–off or in bulk to more than 200 countries and territories.
If you’re an expanding business then you’ll likely already have business insurance. However, make sure you let your provider know that you’ve started shipping internationally as this could affect your level of cover.
Simply Business offers tailored insurance for online businesses, which includes product liability cover (in case your product causes injury or damage to someone). Stock cover is also worth considering to protect your items from loss or damage, in case of a flood or fire for example.
Tax and international shipping rules are complex, so make sure you speak to a professional advisor if you’re not sure of anything. The government has more information for businesses exporting goods, and a website dedicated to helping businesses to export goods.
Do you have any questions or tips on international shipping from the UK? Let us know in the comments.
Catriona Smith is a content and marketing professional with 12 years’ experience across the financial services, higher education, and insurance sectors. She’s also a trained NCTJ Gold Standard journalist. As a Senior Copywriter at Simply Business, Catriona has in-depth knowledge of small business concerns and specialises in tax, marketing, and business operations. Catriona lives in the seaside city of Brighton where she’s also a freelance yoga teacher.
We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer
6th Floor99 Gresham StreetLondonEC2V 7NG
Sol House29 St Katherine's StreetNorthamptonNN1 2QZ
© Copyright 2023 Simply Business. All Rights Reserved. Simply Business is a trading name of Xbridge Limited which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Financial Services Registration No: 313348). Xbridge Limited (No: 3967717) has its registered office at 6th Floor, 99 Gresham Street, London, EC2V 7NG.