Many products pose problems for international shipments, and it can be difficult for retailers to stay on top of varying local customs regulations around the world.
A common scenario is when an online retailer is allowed to send some of their products to customers in certain countries, but not to shoppers in others, or not without special licenses.
While it can be quite complicated, online retailers shipping internationally must ensure they are not only aware of the customs regulations for all destinations to which they ship, but also remain up-to-date on these regulations as they can change over time. Following is our advice to help you plan for difficult shipments, stay on the right side of the law, and effectively navigate customs regulations.
- Health and safety concerns
Rules on prohibited and restricted goods are implemented mainly for health and safety reasons. Hazardous materials are surprisingly common, and it’s important for online retailers to understand exactly what items fall into this category. Did you know, for example, that everyday products like nail varnish, mothballs, perfumes, and batteries can be dangerous if transported in large quantities?
Regulations control how these difficult items must be packed and properly marked for transport, or are sometimes banned completely from entering borders. In many cases, special paperwork must accompany the shipment containing hazardous materials along with instructions to be followed in the event an emergency response is needed. As a result of these requirements, the customs process may take longer while authorities verify full compliance.
- Prohibited and restricted goods
Along with health and safety concerns, there are other reasons for prohibiting or restricting goods entering a country, including religious values, the environment, and economics (trade barriers to protect economies).
Our advice for etailers shipping internationally is to plan ahead. Customs regulations around the world can be very surprising, especially if you’re not familiar with the destination country and its culture. In New Zealand, for example, wooden items and baby monitors are restricted. In Russia, clocks and musical instruments will cause exporter problems. At the same time, nylon fishing nets will be seized in Dubai. Check the restrictions for the countries you ship to ahead of time to factor in applications for any licences that may be required, or to completely halt trading there due to prohibitions.
There are also certain goods that are forbidden to be shipped to specific countries due to sanctions and embargoes. These are political trade tools that are put in place against target countries with the aim of improving their regimes and political behaviour. Before offering products on your website for shipment to international destinations, ensure that these goods are not embargoed and can be sent freely to the destinations you serve, as missing licences can lead to delays, seizures, fines, or even imprisonment.
- Avoid unnecessary problems
Planning for difficult shipments is a complex matter and can cause a great deal of unnecessary conflict with authorities, partners, and shoppers if not handled carefully.
To start with, there are various legal regulations and restrictions for business owners to comprehend. The internationally agreed upon rules for transporting dangerous goods by air are covered by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), while the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) code provides guidance on transporting hazardous materials by sea. Regulations vary for moving dangerous goods by road or rail depending on the country of transport. Furthermore, carriers can reserve the right to refuse any items they deem inappropriate to customers or employees, regardless of the law.
The most convenient way for online retailers to tackle the planning of difficult shipments is to partner with an international shipping expert who will have the most up-to-date guidance on customs and shipping regulations around the world, and the experience needed to guide you through the process.