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  • Writer's pictureMatt Moreno

International Shipping: Mastering Overseas Shipping and the Supply Chain Process

While shipping a product within the United States can be complex, in the end, it's relatively straightforward. Overseas shipping, on the other hand, can quickly become highly complicated, involving a host of interested parties who all play a role in getting your product from the manufacturer to your customers.


If you're planning on shipping your products overseas (you're now considered an exporter), you need to have a good grasp of the major terms that you're going to hear thrown around, all the parties involved in moving your products, the difference between air and sea shipping, and the entire journey your product takes to get from point A to point B.


In this post, we'll give you the basics on everything from transloading to international shipping to an overall better understanding of the supply chain management process.


The Overseas Shipping Process: Getting from Point A to Point B


Supply chains today are incredibly intricate, with an incredible amount of redundancy that ensures you can get almost any product anywhere in the world sooner or later. At Supply Chain Warehouses, our services — from transloading to drayage and everything in between — are laser-focused on simplifying this tricky process and reducing shipping stress on you.

This also means your product's journey from where it's manufactured to how it's shipped to your customers can be just as complicated - especially with overseas shipping involved. Still, most products follow similar processes.

First, a trucking company picks up your products and takes them, directly or indirectly, to either an airport, a seaport, or a rail station.


Many factors affect how direct that path to the port is. Your goods may have to stop in one or more cities and be put onto other trucks or trains until they get to the port of exit.

Your goods are then loaded onto a plane or a ship and sent across the sea. They may stop at multiple airports/seaports along the way.

Your goods might also journey on different aircraft/seacraft before reaching the port of destination (port of discharge and port of loading are other names you'll see).


Then the reverse happens. Your products may be stored for a while at the port before someone can get them on a truck.


That truck might then go directly to your customers, another major city where it's loaded on another vehicle, or to a rail station to travel via train to its final destination. It might even have to get onto a small boat or plane to reach hard-to-access areas.


But eventually, that package gets delivered sooner or later, resulting in satisfied customers and access to a larger market for your business.


Overseas Shipping Terms to Know


Like any business, overseas shipping has a massive list of jargon and specialized terminology, but here are the three significant terms you need to know as a shipper/exporter.


Carriers


These are the businesses that move your products from where they're manufactured to where your customers are. Some carriers specialize solely in overseas shipping, air transportation, ground transportation (rail or trucking). Others offer it all - generally for a premium price.

Employee scanning boxes
Your goods may have to stop in one or more cities and be put onto other trucks or trains until they get to the port of exit.

Courier Services


A courier service provides end-to-end service, taking your products from the manufacturer to your customer. They essentially have built out their own supply chain network from beginning to end and can generally offer faster service.


The drawback with a courier service is usually pricing — they tend to be more expensive than using a freight forwarder.


Freight Forwarders


Freight forwarders (in this case, we're mostly concerned with international freight forwarders) are businesses that specialize in getting your products to their destination. However, they're not doing the actual work of moving your products (that's the carrier's job).

Instead, freight forwarders specialize in organizing the entire logistics process, connecting you to the right carrier (or carriers) and shepherding your products to their final destination. One of their main jobs is to prepare all the documents you need for customs clearance and take care of that process for you.

Because there are so many different types of documents involved in any shipment with variations from one country to another, a freight forwarder can be a lifesaver in reducing stress and confusion when shipping overseas.


They also save you time and money — one of their main jobs is to organize the supply chain by picking the carriers that meet your needs.


While a courier service uses its own transportation network, a freight forwarder can choose between the best options, potentially saving you money or getting your goods moved quicker than a courier might.

Air Freight vs. Sea Freight (Ocean/Container Shipping)


You have two options when shipping overseas — ocean and air — each with clear benefits.


Air Freight Benefits


Plane transporting goods from warehouse
The obvious benefit of shipping via aircraft is speed — nothing can beat a plane (for now, at least).

The obvious benefit of shipping via aircraft is speed — nothing can beat a plane (for now, at least).


Just as obviously, this comes with a more premium cost. Air freight costs are calculated based on the weight and size of what you're shipping — so the more you ship, the higher the cost.


For large loads that take up a lot of volume or heavy loads (or both), air freight might be too cost-prohibitive to be feasible. However, pricing for small shipments or light shipments via air can sometimes be comparable to ocean shipping.

Airlines are also much more likely to be able to stick to the schedule they give you for a variety of reasons. For example, a storm might only throw a plane off for a few hours or even a day at most.


They can often (but don't always) fly directly to the closest airport to your products' final destinations, which means there's less chance of your products being slowed by multiple issues at various ports.

Products can often go directly onto delivery trucks, but if they can't, warehousing fees are usually lower than for ocean shipping. However, certain products can't be shipped by air because of the massive pressure changes that aircraft experience, which leaves ocean shipping as the only option.


Ocean Shipping Benefits


Ocean freight shipment
Ocean shipping allows you to take advantage of the fact that other customers are also shipping goods at the same time as you.

Ocean shipping comes with its own set of benefits, with the main one being price. Ocean shipping saves you money — even on small shipments. For very large and/or very heavy shipments, ocean shipping can sometimes be the only way to ship fiscally responsibly.

Ocean shipping also allows you to take advantage of the fact that other customers are also shipping goods at the same time as you — and they might not take up an entire container with their goods.

That means that extra space is available, giving you flexibility (this is known as Less-than-Container-Load or LCL) because you can split goods between containers to go to different destinations.


Below and above a certain point, and with certain types of products, LCL may cost more than getting a full container (Full Container Load or FCL). Getting your own container can be more cost-effective and more secure — it's also generally a little faster.


Both types of shipping have other drawbacks — for example, containers have specific requirements for what can and can't be loaded into them (and the same goes for aircraft).

Ocean carriers often work together, which means you may have different ships moving your products from one week or month to the next, each with different requirements about what kind of products they can, can't, and won't carry. These rule changes can cause delays.

Proceed With Caution


Overseas shipping also has many more potential roadblocks and hazards beyond the "normal" issues of dealing with different governmental regulations, language barriers, and customs issues. The most significant difficulty with shipping overseas is that every country does things differently — sometimes much differently.


For example, storms at sea can cause significant delays if you've decided to go with container shipping. Many countries have severe restrictions on what can and can't come into their country and may ban everything from firearms to batteries.

Additionally, not all countries are politically stable, and more than a few countries struggle with systemic corruption issues, which can cause significant delays (at best) or shipments being seized (at worst).


Now You're Ready!

Despite the cautions, shipping goods overseas happens on a massive scale daily, with tens of millions of tons of goods arriving at their destination safely and undamaged daily.

Now that you've mastered the overseas shipping process, reach out and get a quote to take your business supply chain needs to the next level.


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