“When you are taking a meeting outside the U.S., one of your most important partners is a shipping broker who can navigate customs to get your materials through and delivered on time,” says Karl M. Kirsch, CAE, vice president at Meeting Expectations in Atlanta. Carol Krugman, CMP, CMM, director of meeting and business event management for the Department of Hospitality, Tourism, and Events Management at Metropolitan State College of Denver, puts “a reliable shipping company, customs broker, and/or freight forwarder” at No. 2 on her list of must-have partners for international meetings.

Our go-to shipping expert, Paul Griggs, vice president, business development, at Vancouver-based customs broker and freight forwarder Events on the Move, outlines the process:

1. Consider shipping in your site-selection phase.
Talk to a customs broker about your short list of countries or cities. Ask about the duty and tax for your association, group, or exhibitor shipments, and whether the particular items you will be shipping are problematic for that destination.

2. Think about what not to ship.
What can you buy locally at your meeting destination? What can you carry on a USB drive and print out at the hotel or convention center? You’ll also want to consider what you plan to ship back to the U.S. after your meeting. In some cases—for example, with anything that could be considered a “textile”—you can run into high import duties to get them back.

3. Find your shipping partner or partners.
Customs brokers specialize in the importation and exportation of goods across international borders. Freight forwarders specialize in shipping goods. Some will specialize in local pickup and deliveries and some will specialize in shipping to or from certain countries. Still others specialize in shipping for meetings and conventions.

Find a customs broker and/or freight forwarder by asking your local convention and visitors bureau or the CVB or national tourist organization in your meeting city for recommendations. Or work your network of peers in meeting industry organizations. Once you get some names, here are a few questions to ask:

  • Are you familiar with the needs of meetings and conventions?
  • What experience do you have in the country where my meeting is being held?
  • Do you use agents in my meeting city? If so, how do I contact them when I am there?
  • What is your rate schedule? Can I get a quote based on my estimated shipment? Will this quote include door-to-door service including all duties and taxes?

4. Know what you shipped.
Carry with you the original “bill of lading,” which is generated by your carrier. This is your most secure document from a legal point of view. When you sign the bill of lading in your office, you are agreeing to its terms and conditions. On the destination side, the bill of lading will be signed by you, your agent, or hotel personnel, and thereby becomes your proof of delivery. At that point, you are releasing the carrier from responsibility. The bill of lading states where the shipment was picked up, where it gets dropped off, and how many pieces are part of the shipment, and it has a tracking number. It does not list the contents of your packages.

Therefore, you should create an inventory of each piece and carry that with you as well. Include a description of the box, the piece count number (box 1 of 6, for example), and what’s inside. That way, you’ll know quickly what is missing if part of the shipment fails to arrive. For example, you are missing piece number 3 of 6, which is a blue plastic container, 24 inches by 24 inches by 24 inches, that contains all your registration forms. You can tell the freight forwarder exactly what they’re looking for and in the meantime work on replacing the missing documents.

5. Have your goods waiting for you.
Shipping far in advance of your meeting means you can use a less-expensive shipping method. (If there’s one mantra you should repeat with your staff, it is: No overnight shipping!) Hotels and convention centers often don’t have the capacity to handle shipments too far in advance of a meeting. However, the shipping industry relies on warehouses to load, unload, transfer, and hold shipments as they enter and exit regions and cities. You can contract with a carrier to use their warehouse and have all your materials arrive days or weeks in advance of your event. The warehouse will charge you for receiving and delivering the freight to your hotel or convention center. If you select a carrier that can provide all of your shipping, customs, and warehousing, you can get better rates (sometimes even at no charge) for the advance warehousing.

Paul Griggs is Vice President, Business Development, at Events on the Move, a customs broker and freight forwarder specializing in meetings and conventions.