The International Shipper’s Checklist Part 1

March 2, 2018 by Mikayla Avila Vila
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Part 1: Shippability & Packaging

Shipping freight can be tricky business, and when you decide to ship cargo internationally the process can make you feel like you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way. And yet, expanding your shipping capabilities across the pond and beyond is a great way to grow your business. We want to make sure shipping is a breeze, which is why we’ve put a short series together so you’ll be better prepared for the journey ahead. Consider us your travel guides through the wonderful world of international freight shipping!

In this part, we’ll be covering the shippability and packaging of your international freight, so you know you’re on the right track.

Can I Ship That?

Remember that time your brother was studying abroad in Japan and called you, homesick for Puerto Rican coffee, so your mom tried to ship him a crate of it and couldn’t due to customs regulations? Neither do we (perhaps the writer does).

See, when it comes to shipping freight internationally, you first have to make sure that you’re allowed to ship it at all. The devil is really in the details: shipping coffee to Japan, for instance, is a cumbersome process. It can be done, but in a very particular manner: Roasted coffee requires import notification and inspection by the Japan Health Ministry. If the coffee is in the form of un-roasted or raw beans, they’re prohibited entirely. There are also occasions where an item is shippable, but only in limited quantities.

Every country has its own list of prohibited items, so before waving farewell to your cargo, research whether or not the commodity you’re sending overseas will make it past customs. Sometimes what strikes us as innocuous is something totally unshippable. Cosmetics have very particular rules coming in or leaving the U.S., and, in fact, they’re an import restriction in Japan. Nail polish is subject to inspection, since there are brands comprised of flammable ingredients. Something like a hoverboard can be shipped domestically, but forget it if you want to ship one to your cousin in Nigeria.

And don’t get us started on trademarks (really, when you delve into the world of intellectual property rights, the rules become granular—there are too many to explain it here)!

Do your research. Investigate various international carriers to make sure that they are open to carrying your freight. Just understand that international freight can be denied over the smallest infractions, so make sure your bases are covered with shippability and packaging before you begin your paperwork process.

It Goes In What Now?

There are steps to the packaging process. Rules abound and are far stricter for international freight. Air freight and ocean freight function under different parameters, so it’s important to know what applies to which when it comes to packaging materials.

Packaging Materials

There are two things to keep in mind when packing for air freight: size and weight. Air freight is more expensive since space is limited, and packaging materials add extra weight. If you’re looking for quicker shipping times, air freight will be your better option.

Rules for ocean freight are a little more lenient. It’s much cheaper than air freight, but it’s much slower as well. If your schedule permits, sending your cargo via ocean freight is the way to go. Extra packaging won’t cost extra either.

Packaging Materials II: Electric Boogaloo

There are strict regulations regarding how you crate or box your goods for travel. Any raw wood that isn’t heat treated, fumigated, or sufficiently processed and branded by the ISPM 15 is susceptible to carrying pests like insects or fungus (that can potentially spread disease), and will not be ISPM 15 compliant.

What is ISPM 15, you ask? This stands for International Standards For Phytosanitary Measures No. 15, and this delightful, necessary tongue-twister was created by the International Plant Protection Organization (IPPC), which is a part of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. It’s a standard that a number of countries follow to ensure that the softwood and hardwood used for shipping are treated and certified before shipment.

Untreated lumber risks the transference of invasive species (plant, insect, or otherwise) across international lines. While we have species that are native to the U.S.—like the pinewood nematode—such a pest could pose a huge threat to the ecology of the country of destination. These critters, no matter how microscopic, can decimate a country’s native flora and fauna. The Eastern European Gypsy Moth alone can defoliate 700,000 acres of the Northeastern United States a year, causing millions of dollars in damage.

All Your Ducks in a Row, or in a Stack on a Pallet

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, it’s preferred that the goods packaged for shipment into the U.S. are done so with the inspectors in mind. Inspecting imports can be a time-consuming process if cargo isn’t properly invoiced and itemized. There are instances where cargo has to be physically examined, which is a very labor-intensive process, so when the goods shipped are of one kind only, or more uniform in nature, it speeds up the examination.

The more disorderly the contents of a shipment, the higher the risk of delay.

How is your freight being shipped? The CBP considers palletized shipments an excellent and effective way to accelerate examinations since it allows for quick removal by way of a forklift. The more conveniently packaged your freight (conveniently does not mean simply), the faster the shipping process will be for everyone involved, from you, to your consignee, to all the carriers and inspectors in between.

See You at the Next Port of Call!

Don’t let shipping internationally feel like a global catastrophe. Keep your eyes on FreightCenter’s series, The International Shipper’s Checklist, for more tips and tricks for all your international shipments.

Our next port of call will be at the customs broker’s office. See you then!

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