We�re spoiled in the US. We have one of the largest, most dynamic economies in the world, and we can ship almost anything within this large geographical area without having to worry about currencies, customs or tariffs. But with the continued strength in many Latin American countries and the rise in e-commerce, more and more companies are finding customers outside the US and that means they have many more issues to consider.
    First, sales outside the US mean you are exporting goods and need to follow the appropriate regulations � not just for the destination country but for the US as well. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau requires filing of shipper�s export information to compile trade statistics. The Bureau of Export Administration, Department of Commerce, also has lists of individuals and organizations with whom trade is prohibited (notably terrorist organizations and drug traffickers) as well as lists of proscribed goods.
    It is also important to understand the various regulations, forms, duties and other requirements of each country. Customers want to know, up front, what the total cost of the purchase is and not be surprised upon delivery by additional import duties, fees or taxes. If fees are not calculated and charged up front, collecting and paying these fees may require companies to deal with currency exchange issues and generally requires a local contact to ensure the goods are delivered and money is collected.
    Even though NAFTA has standardized and simplified paperwork, Mexico and Canada are still foreign countries and require customs forms to be completed and duties or taxes paid even for what we consider everyday items.
    Shipping to Canada and Mexico is by far the simplest with the advent of NAFTA. Other countries in the Americas, however, may have very rigid, archaic import requirements and poor infrastructures or extremely modern and streamlined procedures and excellent infrastructures.
    For the occasional shipment outside the US, the usual methods may be the best bet. That is, carriers that offer direct service to the destination and U.S. Postal Service International Priority Mail may be the easiest approach. Your service representative should also be able to help you with the proper paperwork. Be aware, however, that postal systems in other parts of the world may not be as good as the USPS and the final delivery depends on who handles the ground portion in the destination country. Local conditions, such as common airport delays and road conditions, may affect delivery schedules as well. A little research with the carriers can pay off in better service.
    If your company is getting into international sales in a big way, you may want to consider developing a comprehensive listing of national regulations and paperwork. Working with a service provider who has significant experience and presence in the area is a major advantage. For example, there are regulations on whether you must use blue or black ink on forms in some countries. (Use the wrong color and the form is rejected.)
    Some of the services a customs broker or international freight specialist can assist you with include:
    �           Identifying and completing of all appropriate forms.
    �           Identifying applicable duties and taxes.
    �           In-country assistance with customs and delivery problems.
    �           Assuring Country of Origin marking and labeling compliance with international standards.
    �           Conducting training seminars to ensure team-wide knowledge and full compliance, as well as providing up-to-date and concise trading information.
    �           Document templates for each country.
    Information on export regulations is available from the following government Web sites: U.S. Customs Service, www.customs.treas.gov/impoexpo/impoexpo.htm; Bureau of Export Administration, Department of Commerce, www.bxa.doc.gov; and the U.S. Census Bureau: www.census.gov/foreign-trade/www/.
    Bert Moore is the editor of Parcel Shipping & Distribution.