Shipping and logistics

To be successful at selling overseas you need to get your products where they need to be, and get them there on time.

With a number of transport options and paperwork requirements, the logistics of international trade can seem complex, especially to newer exporters. But experienced third parties can do a lot of the work for you. And there are many sources of help and advice.

Choose how you handle international logistics

You’ll need to consider whether to handle logistics by yourself, or whether to work with a third party, usually a freight forwarder.

If you have a smaller number of easily transportable products you may be able to work with UK parcel carriers without outside help. But if you’re working with products in any volume, it’s likely you’ll want to save time and money by using a freight forwarder.

Freight forwarders can help you export

Freight forwarders offer a wide range of expertise and services, and can:

  • consolidate smaller shipments to save you time and money
  • advise on rules and regulations and help you navigate the complexities of more challenging markets
  • act as an intermediary when you’re transporting to a new market
  • arrange and manage several different transport methods for a shipment, if they’re needed

You’re advised to use an experienced operator who is a member of the British International Freight Association (BIFA).

Read more on freight forwarding on GOV.UK.

Find a freight forwarder on the BIFA website.

Choose your transport

You can use road, rail, air and sea to transport your goods, or any combination of these. The most obvious choice in transportation might not always be the best. Take into account:

  • your budget
  • timescales
  • you product – size, weight, perishability and any need for security
  • special requirements for animals and dangerous goods

If you’re working with a freight forwarder to help you manage transport and logistics, discuss the options thoroughly with them. Get information on the pros and cons of different methods of international trade transport on

Use incoterms and contracts to avoid confusion

For a successful partnership with freight forwarders and international buyers you need to make sure responsibilities are clearly understood, and then written down in a language everyone agrees to. Using incoterms in a well-written contract will help you do this.

Incoterms, or International Commercial Terms, is an internationally accepted system of trading terms for the delivery of goods. In setting out contracts you’ll need to include specific clauses on shipping of goods.

To avoid confusion, internationally agreed incoterms should be used to spell out exactly what delivery terms are being agreed, such as:

  • where the goods will be delivered
  • who arranges transport
  • who is responsible for insuring the goods, and who pays for insurance
  • who handles customs procedures, and who pays any duties and taxes

Read more on international trade contracts and incoterms on GOV.UK.

Read short descriptions of incoterms.

Get your export documentation right

When you’re transporting goods across borders, the right paperwork is crucial. Missing or inaccurate documents can lead to delays and extra costs, or even prevent a deal from being completed.

Get to know which paperwork you or your freight forwarder will need to complete, at which stage of the journey. There are types of documentation which are specific to your transport method.

Air freight documentation

An “air waybill” sets out the contract between your business and the carrier you’re using. The e-freight project aims to remove all paperwork from air cargo transportation.

Find out about the e-freight scheme on the International Air Transport Association (IATA) website.

Sea freight documentation

All your consignments must be accompanied by either a “bill of lading” or “sea waybill.” These documents clearly set out who the consignment owner is and the terms of the contract of carriage.

A bill of lading allows you to retain ownership of the goods until you release them to your customer. It is risky to release the goods before full payment is made unless you know your customer’s creditworthiness. Bills of lading give you documentary security and more control over your consignments.

Find more information on export documentation on

Get help from some of our GREAT partners

  • DHL

    DHL offers an unrivalled portfolio of global logistics services, ranging from national and international parcel delivery, e-commerce shipping and fulfilment solutions, international express, road, air and ocean transport to supply chain management. DHL connects businesses securely and reliably through its own people in more than 220 countries and territories. DHL’s Express division offers advice to small businesses, supporting with international shipping, customs, and maximising international e-commerce.

    Contact an advisor to discuss options, or visit DHLGuide for more information.

  • Parcelforce Worldwide

    Parcelforce Worldwide can support exporters with a variety of quality services which include delivery guarantees and online tracking.  It can deliver to 240 countries and territories worldwide and works with local overseas postal partners to deliver to 99.6% of the world’s population, including remote areas outside the big cities.

    Find out how Parcelforce Worldwide can help your business export.

  • ParcelHero

    ParcelHero can deliver to more than 220 countries using the world’s best couriers, with savings of up to 70%. It offers a range of business courier services with real-time parcel tracking on every shipment. ParcelHero can also provide an account manager with logistics and international customs expertise to help with delivery queries and any transit delay.  This end-to-end expert customer support can help businesses build a reliable offering on a global scale.

    Find out how ParcelHero can help .

  • Uniserve

    Uniserve is the UK’s largest privately-owned international freight and logistics company. As well as air, land and sea freight delivery worldwide, it can help businesses with cost-effective logistics and ancillary freight solutions. This includes warehousing, supply chain management and customs documentation management. It also provides a wide range of other useful industry and technical information, and access to training and advice.

    Contact a Uniserve advisor quoting ‘Exporting is GREAT’ in the the subject.

    Or find out how Uniserve can help.