Understanding How International Shipments Work


Whether in traditional retail businesses or e-commerce enterprises, international shipments play a crucial role in their supply chains. In the simplest sense, international shipping refers to the transportation of goods, either raw materials or manufactured products, to another country where they are required.

International shipments are common for those who have suppliers from China. Recent market reports revealed that China’s exports have grown to an astounding USD 331.3 billion in June 2022, showing how robust the country’s manufacturing industry is. 

If you are new to international shipments, you are on the right page as we will cover its various details in the following sections. 

Who’s who in international shipping

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Understanding the roles of the various parties involved in international shipping is key to smoother and clearer delivery processes. Common terms like carriers and freight forwarders are easy to confuse, so take a refresher below to identify each related party in international shipments.

  • The exporter is the owner of the goods being transported to another country. They are responsible for document verification, issuance of commercial invoices, and other responsibilities.
  • Once the shipment arrives at its destination, the consignee is responsible for receiving it. They must present certain documents to get the products. 
  • A freight forwarder is an intermediary and expert hired by the exporter to arrange and coordinate the various shipping processes needed for the delivery. For example, exporters can hire a reliable freight forwarder from China to Canada to get more affordable deals and comprehensive plans. 
  • Carriers are the shipping companies that physically transport your goods to their destination. They will load your products into shipping containers and other kinds of vessels to bring to your target shipping location.
  • The customs authority regulates the types of merchandise that you can bring into your destination country. For example, products related to child pornography and prohibited drugs are banned for export to the United States. 

The international shipping process

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Generally, the best move that an exporter can do is directly contact a freight forwarder at the beginning of an international shipment. Experienced freight forwarders have partnerships with top carriers, making freight space booking and price negotiation more manageable. 

All you have to do is get a quote and accept the deal, and you’re good to go for a smooth international shipment. After doing this, let’s discuss the essential steps in transporting your goods from one country to another. 

Export haulage

Assuming that the products are packed and ready to ship, your freight forwarder will arrange inland transportation for them to be moved from the production facility to the export warehouse or port. This process is usually accomplished using ground transportation, such as trucking and railway delivery.

Export clearance

Before leaving the country’s borders, the cargo will first undergo export customs clearance. The various shipping documents prepared by the supplier and the freight forwarder will be checked, while the cargo will also be inspected. Exporters usually need to present an export declaration, which details the type, number, and value of the products inside the cargo. 

Freight transportation

Once the freight passes the customs clearance, it will be arranged for international transit. Which type of transportation you use depends on your deal with your freight forwarder. For heavy shipments, you may use sea freight, while air or express deliveries would be suitable for lightweight cargo. 

Import clearance

After being delivered to the destination country, the goods will again undergo customs clearance. Here, the cargo will be inspected by the authority. They will check whether there are prohibited or restricted goods in your cargo. Certain documentation may also be required for the import of specific products. Taxes and duties must be paid, as well as handling fees. 

Import haulage

The final step of an international shipment is the last-mile delivery. In simple terms, import haulage refers to the process of transporting your freight from the destination country’s border to your client’s address. This may be arranged by either you or the buyer depending on the incoterms used. 

Shipping times for international shipments


Consulting with your freight forwarder would be your best option to get an accurate estimate of your transit duration. Shipping times vary depending on several factors such as

  • your target shipping country,
  • your chosen shipping method,
  • when you ship your goods, 
  • and others.

In terms of shipping methods, the fastest options you can take are air and express deliveries. These methods are especially suitable for lightweight shipments. On the other hand, sea freight takes the longest in transit and is more suitable for non-time-sensitive freight.

Delivering your goods during peak times and holidays may also result in longer shipping durations. Also, keep in mind that the farther your target shipping location is, the more extensive your transit time will be.


Shipping your products internationally can be both simple and complex. Understanding the various entities in international shipments, as well as the key steps involved, is key to achieving smoother product deliveries to your clients. You have learned about the basics of the international shipping process in this blog. 

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