The frustration and potential pitfalls of international shipping are increasing exponentially as the rules and regulations change from location to location. Becoming proficient at international shipping documentation is a key objective for organizations to improve cycle time and costs and avoid penalties. Unfortunately, manual completion of export documentation is one of the greatest triggers for shipping errors and penalties for errors. But you can improve your organization’s proficiency in this area, to ship with ease and peace of mind, contributing to greater customer satisfaction. 

International shipping paperwork is costly — in time, money and penalties. In a day and age of continued focus on cutting costs and improving throughput, the inefficiencies wrought by international paperwork can impede your shipping department's productivity and reduce your shipping volume. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have staff that understands export requirements, they still may get bogged down in completing the required paperwork, have shipments held up in customs for mistakes in the documentation, and even incur potential fines due to errors.

The checklist for international shipping is endless. It starts with the paperwork, commercial invoice, the harmonized codes, the signatures, and finally the requirements of each country to get each shipment past customs. Each time you ship a product internationally, the country’s customs department will review the documents they require with your shipment. If a wrong form is filled out, is incomplete, or documentation is missing, at best, your shipment will be held up at the border. At worst, you may be assessed a hefty fine, and your shipment may be interminably delayed or never make it through customs period. Bottom line, errors in the paperwork translates to lost customers because your company cannot fulfill its promise. 

Apart from losing business, fines for non-compliance can be exorbitant, and that may be the least of your worries, especially when you consider the following: the Automated Export System (AES) was designed to allow electronic filing of your Shippers Export Declaration (SED) prior to shipping. This dramatically decreases both the time to create paperwork while improving the flow of goods through customs, thus avoiding costly delays for your customers. Failing to use the AES correctly comes with fines ranging from $1,500 to $10,000 per occurrence, and even jail terms! 

With this in mind, many companies have taken to having their shipment carriers, such as UPS and FedEx, handle the international shipping paperwork. While this is easier on their shipping staff, it's harder on their budget as these companies charge a minimum of $20 per international order for this service and could easily charge upwards of $70 per order depending on complexity. If you are a high volume international shipper, the cost of this luxury adds up quickly and takes a significant chunk out of your bottom line. Freight forwarders can also add value to the shipping process, but at a significant cost. 

Now is the time to take control of your international shipping to improve productivity, reduce errors and contain costs. You can keep your international shipping in house but avoid the afore-mentioned problems by bringing in automation.

So, what should you look for in a shipping platform that will simultaneously cut costs and make international shipping painless?

First, look for a system that facilitates information sharing between systems. Cutting out manual data entry from system to system translates into tremendous time savings. This eliminates the chance for human errors and typos which can result in hefty fees, and frees up personnel to focus on other more value added tasks.

Next, look for a system that is smart. A “smart” system is programmed with all the specifics about all of your organization’s products and auto-populates the documentation with all the necessary information — saving time and effort. 

And while you’re at it, wouldn’t you like a system that does the paperwork for you? Today’s systems can automatically recognize an international shipment and process the appropriate paperwork based on the materials being shipped, where the order is shipping to, or both.

Finally, look for interoperability. Choosing a system that works with all of your carriers from the get-go is a must. Not having to hop from terminal to terminal or from web site to website is a huge time saver and will also keep your sanity in check.

International shipping paperwork doesn't have to be painful or expensive – it just requires employing the right tools for the job. Fortunately, technology platforms exist that enable companies to confidently process the paperwork for international shipping efficiently, saving time, money and frustration, and keeping you free from fines and operational risk. 

Stephanie McNeil is Manager, Ship Sales & Service, Insite Software. Visit for more information.