Hauling freight from one country to another is a process that has been utilised for many years. Helping businesses to expand, supporting infrastructures across the world, and allowing goods to become available anywhere, has a host of benefits. As e-commerce continues to grow every single day, it has become commonplace for many companies to offer international shipping. However, unless you’ve already been through this complicated and specific process before, the entire thing can feel daunting. International Shipping Process Flow is the steps any supplier, shipper, or individual must take in order to move freight between countries.

Today, we’ll go through the key steps and what you should consider at each point to make the process as smooth-flowing as possible.

Understanding the 7-Step International Shipping Process

To get a product or shipment to the end customer, it will need to go through the following steps:

  1. Export Haulage.
  2. Origin Handling.
  3. Export Customs Clearance.
  4. Freight.
  5. Import Customs Clearance.
  6. Destination Handling.
  7. Import Haulage.

During these stages, you will need to liaise with several contacts and professional points to ensure the smooth movement of your cargo. These include freight forwarders, customs house brokers, ocean freight businesses. Ensuring a problem-free transition through all of these points increases the likelihood that you’ll be able to ship within your budget and to the desired timeframe.

Next, we’ll take a look at each step in more detail.

  • 1. Export Haulage.

Once you have confirmed that an item or shipment needs to be moved internationally, it needs to move from the shipper’s possession to that of a freight forwarders. This is known as Export Haulage. The costs of this vary depending on who takes responsibility for the goods during this period. If the shipper does, they will organise their own transportation and pay for this accordingly. A freight forwarder can also offer a fully comprehensive package that collects the shipment and brings it to their premises.

Things to consider here are the safety of the package. If you are transporting delicate or hazardous goods, you’ll want to work with an experienced transportation company. Equally, you need to ensure that they hold the right licenses and insurance to allow them to deliver your items to the designated spot.

It’s also worth noting that the loading of goods onto transportation vehicles is often considered an additional surcharge.

  • 2. Origin Handling.

This process encompasses everything to do with the movement and inspection of goods. It covers a time frame from when the freight forwarder receives the freight until it is loaded onto the relevant shipping means (ship, plane, lorry, etc.). This process ensures that the goods arrive, stay and leave in the same condition. Everything that arrives is tallied (inspected) and reports are made. A receipt is issued to confirm the arrival of the products and is also forwarded to the relevant shipper.

Plans are then made for its next steps – including how it will be loaded onto the relevant means of transport and whether it needs to be consolidated. We’ve covered the differences between FCL and LCL in this blog here. Which category your cargo falls into will determine its next steps.


For Less Than Container Load shipments, the goods will be consolidated with others before being loaded into a container a few days before shipment.


Full Container Load shipments generally arrive at a freight forwarder already packaged within their container. There is no need to consolidate them with other goods.

  • 3. Export Customs Clearance.

Export customs is a legal checkpoint where the goods you wish to send are checked against the documentation provided and current shipping laws. It is a vital step within international shipments, ensuring goods are safe and suitable for travel. It is also one of the most common places where delays occur. Generally, you’ll find that this is due to incorrectly labelled packages or wrongly filled-out documentation. The delays here can be significant, especially if the end customer has paid a premium for quick delivery.

During this process, formal documentation is created and submitted to the relevant bodies. This is where a freight forwarder, agent, or customs house broker comes into play. These authorities facilitate the clearance of goods through the customs process. An Export Customs clearance is legally mandatory and ensures that you are compliant with all relevant licensing requirements, duties, and taxes.

  • 4. Freight.

This is the process of physically moving your goods across seas to another country. When using sea freight, the shipment is managed underneath a ‘Contract Of Carriage’ with the freight forwarder. They are responsible for ensuring the house bill of lading states the correct vessel and voyage. The container will then be loaded onto the ship, alongside thousands of others, and taken on the next leg of its journey.

  • 5. Import Customs Clearance.

When the freight arrives in its destination country, it passes through import customs clearance. Again, this is a declaration, stating all of the goods included in a shipment and their value. This ensures the shipper has paid all relevant taxes, duties, and expenses in correlation to these shipments.

Freight forwarders will generally begin the process of collating all the documentation needed for import customs clearance before it arrives at the desired port. Without it, the goods will not be accepted into the country. Again, this can cause significant delays if this process is performed incorrectly.

  • 6. Destination Handling.

As you can imagine, destination handling is the process of moving goods from the port to a storage facility. It covers everything from receiving and checking documents as well as submitting the original carrier bill of lading. Freight forwarders are responsible for this as they are responsible for collecting the container from the destination port.

The costs associated with this process are either the responsibility of the shipper or the consignee. If it is a DDU or a DDP (delivered duty unpaid/paid) shipment, the shipper must cover these costs. If it is an FCA, FOB, or CNF (free carrier, free-on-board, or cost-and-freight) shipment, the costs are the responsibility of the consignee. This payment must be made before the goods leave the warehouse.

  • 7. Import Haulage.

Finally, the process of moving the goods from the storage facility to the end customer is known as Import Haulage. This normally occurs by road freight, as this is one of the most convenient, cost-effective, and timely methods of short-distance freight movement. Depending on the end destination, this process may also involve trains to speed everything up. A freight forwarder can take care of this or an external transportation company can be enlisted.

Freight Forwarders, such as our specialist team here at Radius Warehouse and Logistics Services, are the solution to navigating these complicated international shipment steps. They bring with them both a wealth of experience and contacts throughout the industry to ensure freight movement occurs as swiftly and cost-effectively as possible. As members of the BIFA, we specialise in USA and Far East inbound and outbound movements while also offering services to and from most worldwide origins. If you require assistance moving single or bulk shipments internationally, get in contact to see how we can help.