Packaging for International Shipments

Exporters should be aware of the demands that international shipping puts on packaged goods. Exporters should keep these four potential problems in mind: breakage, moisture, theft and excess weight.

Generally cargo is carried in containers, but sometimes it is still shipped as break-bulk cargo. Besides the normal handling encountered in domestic transportation, a break-bulk shipment transported by ocean freight may be loaded aboard vessels in a net, by sling, conveyor, or chute that puts an added strain on the package. During the shipment, goods may be stacked on top of each other or come into hard contact with other goods. Overseas handling facilities may be less sophisticated than in the United States and the cargo could be dragged, pushed, rolled, or dropped during unloading, while moving through customs, or in transit to the final destination.

Moisture is a constant concern because condensation may develop in the hold of a ship even if it is equipped with air conditioning and a dehumidifier. Another problem is that the cargo may also be unloaded or loaded in rain or snow. Also, the foreign port may not have covered storage facilities. Theft and pilferage are added risks.

If you are not familiar enough with the port systems overseas to specify packaging requirements, If be sure the goods are prepared using these guidelines:

  • Pack in strong containers, adequately sealed and filled when possible.
  • To provide proper bracing in the container, regardless of size, make sure the weight is evenly distributed.
  • Goods should be palletized and when possible containerized.
  • Packages and packing filler should be made of moisture-resistant material.
  • To avoid pilferage, avoid writing contents or brand names on packages. Other safeguards include using straps, seals, and shrink wrapping.
  • Observe any product-specific or hazardous material packing requirements.

One popular method of shipment is to use containers obtained from carriers or private leasing companies. These containers vary in size and material, but accommodate most cargo even though they are best suited for standard package sizes and shapes. Also, refrigerated and liquid bulk containers are usually readily available. Some containers are no more than semi-truck trailers lifted off their wheels, placed on a vessel at the port of export and then transferred to another set of wheels at the port of import.

Air shipments require less heavy packing than ocean shipments, although they should still be adequately protected, especially if they could easily be stolen. In many instances, standard domestic packing is acceptable, especially if the product is durable and there is no concern for display packaging. In other instances, high quality cardboard or tri-wall construction boxes are more than adequate.

Since transportation costs are determined by volume and weight, specially reinforced and lightweight packing materials have been developed for exporting. Packing goods to minimize volume and weight while reinforcing them may save money, as well as ensure that the goods are properly packed. It is recommended that a professional firm be hired to pack the products if the supplier is not equipped to do so.