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1. Understanding the basics of international shipping for small businesses

Small business international shipping: 2024 guide

Updated Jan 15 2024

In today's globalized world, the mantra 'business without borders' has never been more relevant. Whether it's a handcrafted jewelry store in Brooklyn eyeing customers in Berlin or a bespoke coffee roastery in Melbourne hoping to satiate palates in Montreal, the digital age has shrunk the world and expanded market horizons for small businesses. But as enticing as international sales can be, the labyrinth of logistics, customs, tariffs, and shipping regulations can intimidate many budding entrepreneurs.

This is where our 2024 guide to small business international shipping steps in. Tailored for the current global landscape, we aim to demystify the complexities of international commerce, giving you the insights, strategies, and confidence to expand your brand to every corner of the globe. Whether you're a novice just dipping your toes in international waters or a seasoned trader looking to optimize your shipping operations, this guide is designed to be your compass. Let's set sail!

Main takeaways from this article:

  • Small businesses can expand their reach globally with effective international shipping costs and strategies.

  • International shipping is essential in today's global market, allowing small businesses to tap into new markets and boost brand loyalty.

  • Evaluating international shipping needs includes identifying target markets and assessing product-specific requirements.

  • Multiple options are available for international shipping, from major couriers to digital solutions.

  • Gelato's print on demand service offers fast, sustainable, and cost-effective international shipping by printing orders close to the customer's location, knowing how to get started.

Understanding the basics of international shipping for small businesses


International shipping plays a crucial role in today's global market. With the increasing demand for products worldwide, small businesses must understand the importance of international shipping and how it can benefit their growth. Whether shipping products directly to customers or distributing goods through international retailers, a solid understanding of the basics is essential.

The importance of international shipping in today's global market

In a globalized world, the ability to ship products internationally is no longer a luxury; it's a necessity. International shipping allows small businesses to tap into new markets and reach a broader customer base which helps cultivate brand loyalty and credibility. Small businesses can cater to the growing demand for access to custom, high-quality products worldwide by offering global shipping options.

Furthermore, international delivery allows small businesses to collaborate with global retailers. By establishing partnerships with retailers in different countries, you can expand your distribution network and gain access to new markets that would otherwise be difficult to penetrate. This can lead to increased sales and revenue for your business.

Evaluating your small business's international shipping needs


Before diving headfirst into the realm of international shipping, it's essential for small business owners to take a step back and assess their specific requirements. This involves considering various factors, from product type to target demographics. By comprehensively understanding your needs, you can make informed decisions that align with your business objectives and customer expectations.

Understanding your product

  • Weight & size: Know the dimensions and weight of your products. These details play a significant role in determining shipping costs and methods.

  • Fragility & special requirements: Some products might require special packaging or climate-controlled shipping. For instance, perishable items, glassware, or electronics have unique shipping needs.

  • Value & insurance: Evaluate the worth of your goods. It'll help you decide whether you need to invest in insurance or opt for more secure shipping methods.

Identifying target markets

  • High-demand regions: Identify where the majority of your international customers reside. Focusing on these regions can help optimize strategies and cushion the impact of shipping costs.

  • Cultural & regional preferences: Understand the preferences and requirements of different cultures. For instance, some regions might have a high demand for express deliveries, while others might prioritize eco-friendly packaging.

Assessing Your Budget

  • Cost analysis: Break down all the potential costs involved in international shipping – from packaging to customs duties.

  • Profit margins: Ensure that the added expense of international shipping doesn't eat into the profit margins of your product significantly. It’s a delicate balancing act between cost and customer satisfaction.

Familiarizing yourself with customs and regulations

  • Documentation: Know the necessary documents you'll need for each destination country. This can range from invoices to specific certificates.

  • Tariffs & taxes: Research potential tariffs and taxes that might apply to your products in the destination country. This helps in pricing your products appropriately and avoiding unpleasant surprises.

Considering storage and fulfillment

  • Local warehousing: Understand if it makes sense for your business to use local warehouses in target regions to speed up deliveries and reduce costs.

  • Third-party logistics (3PL): Consider partnering with 3PL providers if handling storage, packaging, and shipping in-house becomes overwhelming.

As you venture into international shipping, always remember that the world of global commerce is ever-evolving. It’s crucial to periodically re-evaluate your shipping needs to align with changing market dynamics and customer expectations.

Various options for small businesses when shipping internationally

Even small businesses can reach customers worldwide in today's interconnected global economy. Shipping internationally is a significant component, allowing businesses to tap into markets beyond their borders. Thankfully, numerous options are available to small businesses to ensure their products reach international customers efficiently and cost-effectively. Here's a breakdown:


Major couriers

Major international couriers like FedEx, UPS, DHL, and USPS are stalwarts in the shipping industry, known for their reliability and comprehensive range of services. They offer businesses a blend of speed, tracking capabilities, insurance options, and guaranteed delivery times. While these services might come at a premium, they provide unparalleled peace of mind and consistency, especially for valuable or time-sensitive shipments. Moreover, these couriers often have a vast global network, ensuring deliveries to even the most remote locations.

Freight forwarders

Freight forwarders act as invaluable intermediaries for businesses shipping goods across international borders. They manage the logistics, from storing products to handling the intricacies of overseas shipping, including documentation and regulatory compliance. By consolidating shipments from various clients, they can secure more competitive rates than a business might get individually. Their expertise in international trade regulations can prevent costly delays, making them a preferred choice for businesses unfamiliar with international shipment nuances.

Regional postal services

Regional postal services, the standard mail carriers in a specific country, can be economical for international shipping companies, especially for lighter parcels. They might not offer the same comprehensive tracking or speed as major couriers, but they are a viable option for businesses looking for a cost-effective solution without the frills. It's also worth noting that local postal services have a more extensive delivery network in many regions, ensuring packages reach even the most rural areas.

Ecommerce platforms with integrated shipping

Modern ecommerce platforms are not just sales platforms but integrated business solutions. Many partners with major shipping providers, offering businesses discounted rates and a seamless shipping process from the platform. This integration reduces manual tasks and errors, often providing customers with real-time shipping rate calculations, and enhances the shopping experience.

Consolidated shipments

Consolidation services offer businesses the option of grouping their shipment with others to achieve better rates and efficiencies. This approach can lead to significant savings, especially for businesses that might not have the volume to secure bulk rates. By combining several smaller shipments into one larger one, businesses can leverage the benefits of bulk shipping without the need for high individual volumes.

Dropshipping providers

Dropshipping is a unique ecommerce model where businesses sell art and products online without handling them directly. Instead, third-party suppliers manage inventory and shipping. Many dropshipping providers offer comprehensive international shipping solutions for those utilizing this model, taking the logistical burden off the business. It's an excellent solution for businesses looking to expand internationally without investing heavily in logistics.

Digital shipping solutions

In the digital age, numerous online tools and platforms, like ShipStation or EasyShip, have emerged, simplifying international shipping. They allow businesses to compare rates across shippers, streamline label generation, and easily manage shipments. These digital solutions often integrate with ecommerce platforms, further enhancing the shipping overseas process by automating many manual tasks.

Hybrid shipping solutions

Combining private couriers and national postal services, hybrid shipping solutions like FedEx SmartPost or DHL ecommerce offer the best of both worlds. Packages are picked up and transported by private couriers and then handed over to local postal services for final delivery. This often results in lower costs and efficient deliveries, especially to remote areas, making it a popular choice for businesses aiming for both affordability and reliability.

Customs brokers

International shipping isn't just about moving a package from point A to B. Customs regulations, documentation, and duties can be a minefield for the uninitiated. Customs brokers are experts in this domain. They ensure shipments comply with all rules, handle necessary paperwork, and can expedite the customs clearance process. Partnering with a customs broker can be invaluable for businesses keen on smooth international transactions.

Print on demand services revolutionizing international shipping


In the rapidly evolving ecommerce trends, businesses constantly seek ways to outpace the competition and optimize operations. Regarding international selling and shipping, Gelato's print on demand solution stands out as the undisputed champion. Here's why Gelato's print on demand approach is capturing the attention of savvy ecommerce merchants globally.

Unparalleled speed

Traditional international shipping methods grapple with lengthy lead times due to various factors, from customs clearances to transcontinental travel. Gelato flips this narrative on its head. By leveraging a vast network of local printers around the globe, orders are printed closest to the end customer. This means faster production and reduced delivery times. Customers no longer need to wait weeks for an international package— with Gelato's POD, their orders are produced locally for international consumers and arrive in a fraction of the time.

Sustainability at its core

In a world where sustainability isn't just a buzzword but a genuine consumer demand, Gelato's model shines. By printing orders close to the customer, Gelato significantly reduces the carbon footprint associated with long-distance shipping. There are fewer planes to transport goods, less packaging used, and a lower overall environmental impact. It's a win-win situation: businesses offer faster shipping times while touting a reduced carbon footprint, appealing to the growing demographic of eco-conscious consumers. Adopt sustainable options for gifting and reduce carbon footprints.

Cost-effective and efficient

International shipping can be notoriously expensive, often presenting a barrier for businesses wanting to expand globally. Gelato's print on demand system slashes these costs dramatically. With no bulk inventory storage, businesses can reduce overheads and potential wastage. Plus, by printing locally, shipping costs plummet. Instead of expensive international shipping rates, businesses only pay for local delivery. The savings here are twofold: reduced production costs and drastically lower shipping fees.

Make international shipping easier with Gelato

Gelato is a worldwide digital printing platform providing print on demand services in 32 countries. Our global alliance of print partners facilitates localized production of various products, including t-shirts, mugs, phone cases, and wall art. This proximity-focused approach empowers ecommerce businesses to manufacture their products nearer to their customers, significantly reducing shipping costs and time.

Gelato reduces waste, cuts costs, and minimizes carbon emissions, demonstrating that profitability and sustainability can go hand-in-hand. With Gelato, you're expanding your business and contributing to a greener planet. Experience the game-changing power of local, on-demand production.

Ready to ship internationally faster, scale smarter, and make an impact? Sign up for Gelato today.


Why is international shipping essential for small businesses today?

In today's globalized market, international shipping allows small businesses to tap into new markets, reach a broader customer base, cultivate brand loyalty, and achieve global recognition. This enhances their growth opportunities and boosts revenue.

How can small businesses evaluate their international shipping needs?

The evaluation process involves identifying target international markets through market research and assessing product-specific shipping requirements, such as weight, fragility, perishability, and shipping regulations.

What are some of the international shipping options available to small businesses in 2024?

Small businesses can explore various shipping options, including major couriers like FedEx and UPS, freight forwarders, regional postal services, ecommerce platforms with integrated shipping, consolidated shipments, and many more. The guide dives deep into the benefits and considerations for each.

Why should a business use Gelato's print on demand service for international shipping?

Gelato's print on demand system offers numerous advantages, such as faster delivery times by printing orders closer to the customer, significantly reducing shipping costs, focusing on sustainability by minimizing the carbon footprint, and eliminating bulk inventory storage.


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