Getting your goods or services to international markets

Whether you are trading in goods or services, the logistics of getting them to your export market can be a complex undertaking with many considerations.

Exporting a service

When delivering a service, you will need to know about any requirements for entering or staying in a country, such as passports, entry visas or work permits. Find out if there are professional certification requirements. You will want to inquire further about local telecommunication systems, electricity requirements, meeting facilities, business support systems, travel and accommodation, and anything else you need to deliver your service.

Exported services tend to be delivered using one or more of the following methods:

  •     Visiting the client
  •     Client visiting you (tourism is an example)
  •     Opening an office abroad
  •     Franchising or licensing
  •     Electronic delivery, such as e-business

Delivering goods

If you are selling goods to another country, you will need to consider a number of factors.

Shipping options

Choosing a shipping method may depend on the type of goods, their destination, the cost and how fast you need to get them to your customer. There are four basic methods of transportation and you may end up using a combination of these:

  • Road: Popular for shipping within North America or for getting the products to another mode of transportation

  • Rail: Common when shipping to the United States or when shipping to and from seaports

  • Air: Shipping by air is more expensive, but the cost may be offset by faster delivery, lower insurance costs, cheaper warehousing and better inventory control

  • Sea: An economical option for large items, bulk commodities and goods that do not require fast delivery

Shipping documents

Shipping documents are prepared by you or by your freight forwarder. They allow the shipment to pass through customs, to be loaded onto a carrier and transported to the destination. Key shipping documents include:

  • Commercial invoice
  • Special packing or marking list
  • Certificate of origin
  • Certificate of insurance
  • Bill of lading

Packing, marking and labelling your goods

Help your products arrive on time and in good condition by paying attention to the packing, marking and labelling. Failing to do so could get them stalled at the border. Consider the following:

  • Pack goods so they survive rough cargo handlers and bumpy roads
  • Use appropriate temperature controls or other protective measures
  • Use the proper type of packing for the mode of transportation
  • Lower the risk of theft during transit with the right packaging

Marking distinguishes your goods from those of other shippers. The required markings may include some or all of the following:

  • Buyer's name or some other form of agreed identification
  • Point/port of entry into the importing country
  • Gross and net weight of the product in kilograms and pounds
  • Identification of the country of origin, for example, "Made in Canada"
  • Quantity of packages
  • Appropriate warning or cautionary markings
  • Packing list, plus one copy in each container, itemizing the contents

Follow labelling, packaging or advertising regulations that apply to your goods in the importing country.

Transportation insurance

Cargo insurance is highly recommended for international transportation because:

  • Carriers assume only limited liability for your goods when shipping by air or sea
  • You are often responsible for the goods up to the point of delivery to your foreign buyer


To provide a common terminology for international shipping and to minimize misunderstandings, a set of terms known as Incoterms was developed by the International Chamber of Commerce. The terms are available in many different languages and are used to describe key terms that are used in international shipping.

Freight forwarders

These companies specialize in getting your goods from point A to point B. They can handle all of your logistical requirements or simply help negotiate shipping rates with shipping lines, airlines, trucking companies, customs brokers and insurance firms.

Many of them specialize in arranging shipments to certain countries, while others concentrate on particular types of products. If you are arranging financing through letters of credit, a good freight forwarder can help you clarify the conditions of the transaction.

Customs brokers

These service providers can help you clear goods through customs, prepare customs documentation and remit duties owing on exported goods. They are also good sources of information on recent tariff changes and other customs-related developments.

For more information

Learn more in Step #7 of the Step-by-Step Guide to Exporting.


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