International orders have huge potential for all e-commerce businesses. If you want your business to grow, offering international orders is a great way to build your customer base and ensure you have access to the widest market possible.

This is true even for small businesses that plan to sell just a few items internationally. Some 70 percent of customers shop globally, and that number has only gone up over the past few years.

If you don’t offer international orders, you may also be left behind the competition. More than 90 percent of businesses already offer overseas shipping. For many customers, it’s become the norm. Small businesses can compete with larger businesses in the e-commerce, but it will require adapting to the global market.

While shipping can be complicated even domestically, you may also be intimidated by the process of accepting and shipping international orders.

It is true that shipping internationally is a little more complex, but the benefits of shipping internationally almost always outweigh the costs. Here are steps that you can take to modify your e-commerce business to meet international orders.

Key Guidelines for International Shipping

Most major U.S. package delivery services offer international shipping and will provide assistance in the form of services like customs brokerage and international package tracking. While these services exist, you’ll still need to ensure that the items are correctly packaged and labeled.

Depending on the kinds of goods you’re shipping, packaging guidelines can become pretty complicated. For example, any material that’s considered hazardous by the UN will be labeled with UN packaging codes. These codes relay certain information about the cargo being shipped, like the level of risk and composition. You’ll need to provide this information when shipping hazardous materials. Otherwise, you risk having your parcels held up before it reaches your customer.

Certain countries also prohibit or restrict the import of specific goods. For most products, this won’t be a problem — but animal and plant products are often tricky or harshly regulated due to concerns about potentially introducing invasive species or diseases, or the unintentional facilitation of animal trafficking. If you have customers in France, for example, you won’t be able to ship them, honey, without a government-approved certificate of origin and non-infection.

Food, alcohol and prison-made items are also typically regulated a little more heavily than other goods. The USPS has a full list of international shipping restrictions on their site. Each entry covers items that are banned or restricted in a country or region, as well as any special packaging or shipping requirements for that area.

Additional Costs of International Shipping

Beyond differing regulations and standards, the biggest difference between international and domestic shipping is probably the cost. International shipping will almost always be more expensive than domestic shipping — and because of varying taxes and shipping services, it can be more difficult to predict exactly how much an order will cost to ship.

Be aware of potential hidden costs of international shipping, like handling charges and local duties and taxes. Many global carriers and shipping services, like USPS, offer calculators and fact sheets you can use to estimate the total cost.

If you’re concerned about your shipped items being damaged in transit, package insurance may be a good investment, especially for packages that are particularly valuable or fragile. Many global carriers also offer fairly cheap package insurance. USPS, for example, will insure international packages for around $1 per $100 of value.

Managing International Customer Checkout

Once you have a good idea of how you’ll ship your packages and how much it will cost, you’ll still need to prep your storefront for international customers.

It’s a good idea to ensure a localized checkout experience — and e-commerce experience in general — where possible.

You can use customer location data and user preferences to automatically convert storefront prices from USD to a local currency so that customers don’t have to calculate how much they’ll spend. Setting your payment processor to accept other currencies can also help prevent surprise foreign transaction fees, which can easily lead to cart abandonment.

Most shoppers prefer to make purchases on websites that are in their native language, meaning translating your storefront and checkout can go a long way toward making them more comfortable. This may not be practical for every business, but if you want to target a specific, nearby country — or you notice many of your customers speak a specific language — investing in localization can be helpful.

When offering international shipping, consider providing multiple delivery options. International shipping isn’t cheap for you or your customers, and many overseas shoppers are willing to wait a little longer if they can cut back on shipping costs.

Some fees may not be avoidable. For example, if you’re shipping to an EU country, you’ll probably need to collect a value-added tax (VAT) from your customers. You should communicate information about potential fees clearly on a policy page and in other relevant locations, like your shipping information page. This will help make sure your customers don’t feel blindsided by these costs when it’s time to check out.

Prepping Your E-commerce Business for International Orders

If you want to access to the widest possible market, your e-commerce business needs to offer international orders. Shipping these orders will be more complicated than managing domestic orders, but the benefits can easily outweigh the costs.

Most major mail carriers in the U.S. offer international shipping services, calculators and fact sheets that you can use to estimate costs and prep your packages. Some items will need special packaging — like hazardous materials — and others may be prohibited altogether depending on where you are shipping your goods. For the most part, however, all you’ll need to do is research and prepare for extra costs, like customs fees, extra shipping fees or local duties and taxes.

Lexie is a digital nomad and graphic designer. If she’s not traveling to various parts of the country, you can find her at the local flea markets or hiking with her goldendoodle. Check out her design blog, Design Roast, and connect with her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.

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