Getting Started with International Shipping

Moving into international markets is a big step for a growing business. It can seem intimidating, confusing and perhaps too expensive to start. This guide will go through what you need to know about shipping beyond the borders in simple terms, the forms and taxes expected, and how to utilize ShipStation for your international shipments.

Let’s start by going over the major difference between domestic and international shipping.

A comparison of the domestic and international shipping flow. Domestic starts at warehouse then goes to the destination. International starts at warehouse, then customs, before the destination.


The very basic purpose of customs is: Screening incoming products to ensure they comply with the laws of the land and can be taxed appropriately. How do they do this without opening your packages? Customs forms! (Also known as: Commercial Invoices, Declarations, etc) These forms declare what the package contains, how much it costs, where it came from and where it should go.

Before You Ship

These are a series of considerations to take before picking a carrier or filling out forms.

3. Picking a Carrier

Arguably, one of the more challenging things to decide is which carrier you want to use for international shipments. Each carrier has their own advantages for international shipments.

The major things to consider beyond price are:

  • Availability in the destination country

  • Ability to export your particular product

  • Time it takes to deliver

  • Features for International shipments such as insurance or express delivery

  • Whether the whole process is handled by the carrier or if it changes hands after customs

To help with this research, here is a list of the carriers within ShipStation that offer International services:


Q: What is a consolidator service? 

A: Consolidation will put multiple shipments into one large cargo shipment and ship everything in a larger container. This is a good solution if you have a high volume of international orders. ShipStation includes a selection of consolidation providers for Platinum plans or higher.

Creating an International Label

ShipStation's goal is to make the process for international shipping as seamless as it is for domestic shipping.

An international order will have custom declarations in the order details. It will be filled in with all your items’ harmonization codes, weights, and dimensions (adding international shipping details to your product records will ensure these details are filled in automatically).

Carriers have two primary methods of handling customs: Electronic Submission or Printed Hard Copy.

Carriers that support electronic customs will send all custom information to the customs office for you. The label will have an icon on it to denote that customs information was sent. There is generally no further action necessary on your part.

Carriers that do not have electronic customs require you to print out custom forms and include them with the shipment. You can print your customs forms from ShipStation after creating the label.


Some carriers like USPS  print customs directly onto the label so there is no need to print an additional form. Visit (article) to learn about how carriers handle customs.

Q: Where can I find a blank customs form to fill out myself?

A: You can usually find the appropriate forms on the carrier website. 

FedEx Customs Forms

UPS Customs Forms

Q: What is a commercial invoice? Is that the same as a customs form?

A: A commercial invoice includes all the information necessary to get through customs. It is considered a customs document.

Q: Do I need to include other forms?

A: This will depend on the content and destination of your shipment. Dangerous goods, Perishable goods and high value goods can require additional forms. Some of these forms are available on ShipStation (such as UPS High value goods report). Others, like the USMCA form, are not and must be downloaded and filled out separately.

Continued Learning

There are many little details about international shipping that will be unique to your business. This guide covers the basics but you may need to look into the following topics: 

  • Insuring Shipments

  • Setting up the payor of Bills and Taxes (link to article)

  • Other forms

  • Shipping to Territories and Military Bases

  • Automate International Shipments (link to article)

ShipStation has several resources for handling international shipping. 

If you need help with your international shipping process, visit our Support Community for advice from peers. For assistance with setting things up in ShipStation, contact our support team.