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The U.S. International Shipping Process Explained

international shipping

Whether you’re an international shopper, a business owner expanding into new regions, or a U.S expat living abroad, a little knowledge of the U.S international shipping process will help you understand what happens to your packages as they make their way from the source, to their final destination.

There are certainly a few steps, (which also means sometimes things can go wrong).

Should problems occur, knowing where along the shipping process it has happened makes it easier to rectify.

So, today we will look at the U.S international shipping process so you have a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes.

The U.S. International Shipping Process

international shipping dhl

When using a package forwarding service to ship overseas, there are four main handlers of your package between the source and the final destination. These are:

  • Shipper
  • Package forwarder/Mailbox service
  • Shipping line
  • Consignee

Let’s take a look at each of these and explain what they do.

1. The Shipper

The shipper is the entity that gives the package to the forwarder. If you are a business selling direct, you will ship the item to the forwarder.

If you are an online shopper, the shipper is the vendor/eCommerce store that you bought the product from.

If you are an expat or traveler using a mailbox service, the shipper is the person/business that sent the mail item to your virtual address.

2. The Mailbox or Package Forwarder

The mailbox or package forwarder is quite self-explanatory. This is the service that you have chosen to use in order to manage the reshipping of your mail items.

As explained elsewhere on Mailbox Master, these services provide you with a virtual address that you have given to the shipper. 

The shipper sends the package to the mailbox or forwarder and they will arrange shipment to the location you have specified.

This might also involve repackaging for international transit and/or consolidation if more than one item is being sent at the same time.

3. The Shipping Line

The shipping line is the company that ships your package internationally. This can normally be chosen by you when you order a shipment through your mailbox or forwarder account dashboard.

Depending on the size of the package and the type of shipping you request, this will be carried abroad via airmail or ship.

4. The Consignee

A consignee is a person, business, and/or organization that receives your package at the end of its journey. Very often this is the user of the mailbox or forwarding service; i.e you.

If you are using the forwarding service for business purposes the consignee might well be your client or customer.

U.S International Shipping For Business

international shipping business

If your business is operating worldwide, (i.e you are sending packages to customers abroad), and you are using a package fowarding service to facilitate shipments, the following steps should be considered.

Checking the Consignee

You will need to check that the consignee is eligible to receive the exported goods. The U.S government publishes a restricted party list. You will need to screen the consignee against this to ensure you can send the item to them.

Create a Proforma Invoice

A proforma invoice should be emailed to the consignee. This is essentially a draft invoice, that includes the finalized costs.

If your consignee has bought goods from your business you can’t change the costs after the sale. So the price charged in the proforma invoice needs to include everything related to the sale.

Once the sale has cleared, you can begin the shipment process and send the package to your forwarding company.

U.S International Shipping For Shoppers

International Shipping with package forwarder

Now let’s look at what happens if you are an international shopper buying products from a U.S vendor and utilizing a mailbox or forwarding service to receive your goods.

1. Product Purchase

The first step in this particular chain of events is the purchase of the product. During the ordering process, you will use the virtual address you received from your provider.

The vendor will then ship your product to this address.

2. Package Fowarder

Once the package has arrived at the forwarding depot or mailbox service, the forwarder will arrange shipment to you as per your instructions. This may include added items such as international shipping insurance.

You will also be able to choose the shipping carrier from the selection made available, (DHL, UPS, etc).

3. Exit Port

For faster shipping times the carrier will take the package airport. There, it will need to be cleared through export customs.

Assuming you and the forwarding service have filed the documents correctly there should be no issues here. The item will go through customs and undergo inspection, before going on to the next stage.

4. Shipping Internationally

After clearing customs the package will be released to the shipping carrier. The bill for this will have already been paid when you ordered delivery via your forwarder.

Once onboard the carrier airline, the package may travel over one or two (or even more) legs to reach the entry port of the final location. 

Customs inspection will also happen at the entry port. Your forwarder will handle this step for you and generally does not cause any issues assuming forms have been filed correctly, (value of the item, import taxes paid, etc).

If you are shipping DDP (delivered duty paid), the consignee will be responsible for any charges associated with import duties.

5. Delivery to the Consignee

An agent of the package forwarder or the shipping carrier (if they have the infrastructure for local delivery) will take care of this final step.

The package will be picked up from the entry port and taken to a sorting office. There it will be delivered to the address of the consignee or in some cases they will come to collect it.

The chain of events is over and your parcel has been delivered internationally.

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