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International shipping from UK: a guide for small businesses

5-minute read

Small business sorting parcels in a warehouse
Catriona Smith

Catriona Smith

8 June 2023

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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.

What do you need to know about international shipping?

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:

Rules and regulations

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:

  • your name and address (including business name)
  • what you’re sending and a description (including what it’s made from)
  • individual item value, quantity, and weight
  • total value of goods, quantity and weight
  • HS Tariff number (also known as a commodity code) and EORI number or VAT registered number

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

  • products sold in Great Britain need to show a UKCA marking
  • products sold and marketed in the EU must have a CE marking
  • complete a proof of origin for your goods (if you need to) – this is sometimes needed to clear customs in your buyer's home country and shows where the product was produced, manufacturered, or processed

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.

Your tax responsibilities

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.

How much is international shipping?

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:

  • set up an account with your chosen shipping company
  • make sure you’re registered to access prices for businesses (these are often cheaper than standard postage rates)
  • send packages in the smallest box possible (while still keeping the items safe from any damage in transit)
  • consider the weight of your products before choosing to list them for international customers

How to avoid unexpected charges?

International shipping can be complex and comes with additional paperwork and costs. To make sure you don’t get caught out with unexpected charges:

  • fill in your customs declaration
  • don’t send anything that’s a prohibited item or dangerous (Royal Mail has a list, but also make sure the UK government hasn’t imposed any international trade sanctions for the country you’re sending to)
  • include the necessary labels and paperwork
  • measure and weigh your parcel accurately, in metric units
  • don’t forget to include the full address with state/province and country on your label (and include a return address too)
  • make sure your buyer is aware of duties and taxes on the item you’re sending – if they refuse to pay, you’ll be liable for the 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.

How long does international shipping take?

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.

How to choose an international shipping company

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 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 international shipping

DHL offers two options for businesses:

DPD international shipping

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 international shipping

Evri (formally Hermes) offers international delivery, either as a one–off or in bulk to more than 200 countries and territories.

Insurance for online sellers

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.

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Photograph: Gorodenkoff/
Catriona Smith

Written by

Catriona Smith

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

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