Why Is International Shipping So Expensive?

If you've ever shipped an item across national borders, you've probably experienced a moment or two of sticker shock. But just what's included in the high price of sending something across country lines?

Commenter (and ops manager for an international freight forwarder) Ruthless, if you let me filled us in on just some of the factors that go into setting a price when an item makes a postal trek from Europe to the US:

Costs on shipping depend on a lot of factors. I can speak to the factors up until it reaches a European port, and somewhat beyond. Some things should be driving costs down- capacity being the biggest factor. More capacity drives rates down. US East Coast to (Western) Europe is incredibly cheap in terms of freight right now. Air freight being about as low as $0.70/kg all-in (normally you would see a strict airport to airport rate of something like $0.50/kg + $1.20/kg + $0.10/kg to some airports.) The caveat though, is that it depends on destination. Most carriers fly in to larger Euro airports, or in the case of vessels ocean ports like Rotterdam, and then deliver to final city level destination via RFS- Road Feeder Service (trucks.)

The other driving factor, which I can't speak to exactly is VAT in Europe. Which depends entirely on the commodity, and manufacturing location. Just because it ships from the US, doesn't mean it was manufactured here. It could only be sold here, with manufacturing location being Korea, South Africa, Brazil, etc. Point of origin isn't as important as country of manufacture- meaning final assemblage.

Which is all to say, "it depends." If you have a good importer, and someone well versed in Customs you can mitigate some of the cost.

Easily the most cost effective way is via ocean container or truck. You can ship as much as possible within a container or truck as long as the doors shut, and as long as it won't be over road safety weight limits. Here in the US the road limits are about 20,000kgs (essentially it's near 50,000lbs including the truck weight.)

Environmentally friendly... Definitely not ocean container. Ocean vessels use the absolute worst type of fuel, bunker fuel. It's thick sludge and pollutes like crazy. There aren't any regulations on ocean vessels in terms of air pollutants. Enviro friendly would probably be train- you can move a lot of stuff with a great fuel/distance ratio.

Image: Daniel Ramirez