Who are my potential shipping partners?
A customs broker specializes in the importation and exportation of goods across international borders. Some specialize in meetings and conventions and can reduce or eliminate import duties and taxes. Most countries require customs brokers to be licensed or affiliated with a professional organization in order to offer customs brokerage services.

Freight forwarders are companies ship goods through their network of trucking, airlines, and shipping companies and can offer a variety of speed and cost options. Some specialize in meetings and special events and can be better suited to weekend and evening pickup and deliveries.

A combination partner is a company that is both a customs broker and a freight forwarder. As long as they have experience with meetings and conventions, a company that performs both services helps streamline the process and reduces your number of vendors.

What paperwork do I need for international shipping?
The most important is the commercial invoice. This one page specifies what you are sending, its country of origin, and its value (for examples, 50 T-shirts, made in China, worth $50). This is what customs looks at to assess your duty and tax.

The most legally secure is the Bill of Lading. This is a contract between you and your carrier that is generated by the carrier. At your destination, the bill of lading will be signed by you, your agent, or hotel personnel, and thereby it will become your proof of delivery. At that point, you release the carrier from responsibility. The bill of lading states where the shipment was picked up, where it gets dropped off, how many pieces are part of the shipment, and it has a tracking number. It generally does not list the contents.

The most likely to be short on information is the Shipping Label. In addition to the destination address, the shipping label should include when the package must arrive, a piece count, and a contact number. If your box ends up alone on a warehouse floor with no commercial invoice or bill of lading, you’re in a better position when there is a shipping label that says “2 of 10” and has a phone number.

The most specialized document is the ATA Carnet. This document allows a shipment, with restrictions, to move into a country without duty and tax. It is used, for example, if you have a large display that will be traveling to multiple countries over the course of a year.

Fee Info
Ask for a rate schedule. Rate schedules are most often based on the value of the goods being sent combined with the services that the broker is providing. Note: The value declared on your commercial invoice can often trigger the rate the broker will charge, and also the amount of duties and taxes that will be applied.

VAT Info
Your other expense will be the duty or tax—commonly called value-added tax or VAT—that a government will charge for bringing goods into their country. Brokers often can reduce or eliminate these charges, which are a percentage of the total value of the goods. For high-value goods, the VAT adds up quickly. The way to reduce what you pay in VAT is to research VAT rates during your site selection process.

Learn More: Visit the international sections of the FedEx and UPS Web sites for a great education in international shipping. Even if you don’t use these companies to move your freight, their guides offer comprehensive worldwide information.

Paul Griggs specializes in international shipping and customs for meetings and conventions. Reach him at paul@paulgriggs.org.