Your Essential Guide to International Shipping From the UK

The prospect of starting international shipping can be both an exhilarating and a scary feeling for businesses of all sizes. While the potential rewards (and profits) can be immense, there are also a lot of logistical and practical issues that need to be sorted out first. Unfortunately, too many businesses crack under the pressure of sorting out the paperwork and adhering to guidelines and regulations.

To help you get it right the first time around, read on for your essential guide to international shipping from the UK.

1. Understand the standards and requirements

When it comes to international shipping from the UK, it is essential that you educate yourself on the standards and requirements. Otherwise, your shipments could be delayed or held at the border.

Due to the fact that the United Kingdom was a member of the European Union (EU), most of its export standards are correlated to EU requirements. Therefore, the standards and requirements are going to differ depending on whether you are sending packages from the UK to another EU country, or from the UK to a location outside of the EU.

Nations that are located outside of the EU are recognized as “third countries.” When you ship goods from the UK directly to these countries, it is referred to as a direct export. On the other hand, if your goods are being sent to an EU country and then moved elsewhere, they are considered an “indirect export.”

When it comes to indirect exports, you will need to follow special procedures and fill out paperwork, which will be largely dependent on the final destination of the goods. The required paperwork will include an export declaration, an export license, proof that your products have left the EU, and a transshipment license.

2. Exporting to the EU is straightforward

When your packages are being exported to other countries within the EU, the process tends to be straightforward. This is due to the fact that the EU is an open market and you won’t have to pay any duty or be subject to any customs checks. Additionally, across the EU, product standards are (usually) uniform, so if your goods are compliant in the UK, they should be fine in the rest of the European Union.

However, you will have to take into account value-added tax (VAT). Therefore, it is crucial that you keep thorough records of your EU sales – both on your VAT return, and an EU Sales List (ESL). Keep in mind that if your VAT is more than £250,000, you will be required to fill out an Intrastat declaration. That being said, if your goods are being shipped to a customer who is registered for VAT in their own country, then they will be responsible for paying for it.

3. Some exports are restricted

Compared to other nations, the UK’s list of restricted exports isn’t particularly lengthy. However, there are certain goods that fall under specific regulations. Usually, these are also controlled in the form of licensing. 

Some of these regulated or controlled exports include military products or products that can be used for military purposes, agricultural products and processed foods, works of art and antiques, regulated drugs or their component materials, and dangerous chemicals.

4. Packaging must be a priority

No matter where you are sending your packages, you need to consider the type of packaging you use thoroughly. When exporting from the UK, keep in mind that there are restrictions on using untreated wood for packaging in the aims of reducing the spread of insects and disease.

Instead, you can utilize alternative forms of packaging, such as plywood shipping crates. This form of packaging is just as strong as untreated wood, yet they aren’t a threat as they have been treated during manufacturing.

Another option is kiln-dried pallets, which are also unrestricted in their usage. Generally, it is not recommended that you use cardboard boxes as these aren’t the most durable option and can often be crushed during transit. However, there are heavy-duty double wall and triple wall options that are able to withstand a lot more stress and weight.

Ultimately, your packaging choice is going to depend on both the contents of your shipment and the distance and climatic conditions that it will move through. For packages that are likely to be exposed to high levels of damp or humidity, a plywood option is the best choice.

If you are thinking about starting to export goods from the United Kingdom, then it is highly suggested that you get expert advice because, otherwise, you could be at a severe disadvantage. While the potential rewards of successful exports are immense, you need to ensure that you are approaching shipping from the UK in the right way from the get-go.

Have you ever considered international shipping from the UK? Why or why not?

Let us know your thoughts and any relevant experiences in the comments below! 


Paul Rehmet is the Chief Product Officer for Shipa Freight. He is responsible for translating the company’s vision into an easy-to-use online freight platform for its customers. In his 25-year career, Paul has held various technology leadership positions with early-stage startups and Fortune 500 companies including Unisys, Destiny Web Solutions, and US Airways.

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