Everything You Need to Know About Selling Internationally
When you run an online store, you’re not limited by location. Almost anybody can find you from anywhere—it doesn’t matter that they’re not located where you are. You can reach potential customers around the world, which is great for expanding your audience and fans.
But selling to customers in a different country comes with some extra responsibilities. There are things you have to consider when selling internationally that don’t apply to more local customers.
We’ll cover all of that here, so you can seamlessly sell to all of your customers, near and far. Learn about the information your international customers need to know, international shipping prices and speeds, and how currency works.
Your Target Market
The first thing you should do is understand your current customers and your target market. Do you already have a lot of orders coming in from customers abroad? Do you want to target more people abroad? Or maybe you’re located in a different country and want to tackle a new market?
If you’re already selling in the US, it’s worth considering expanding your business to other English-speaking regions, such as Canada, the UK, Australia, or New Zealand. It’s relatively easy to target potential customers from these countries since there’s no language barrier. And with Printful having facilities in each of these regions, slower shipping times won’t be an issue either.
If you have a limited amount of international orders or aren’t very interested in breaking into international markets, then the amount of time you should dedicate to accommodating international customers should be more limited.
In the age of Amazon 2-hour delivery, people expect they’ll get their products quickly. Savvy internet shoppers may already know they’ll have to wait a little longer to get their products ordered from far away. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to manage your customers’ expectations and be upfront with how long it’ll take.
When you’re calculating how much time it’ll take for customers to receive their orders, there are two elements you need to consider: Printful’s fulfillment time, and shipping speed.
It can take anywhere between 2-5 business days for Printful to print your products. Most of our products are printed in 3 business days.
Then you have to calculate shipping speed on top of that. International orders have further to travel, so it’ll usually take longer for the order to get to your customer, and it might be pricier as well. However, with Printful, you might not need international shipping at all. Keep reading to find out why.
Let’s take a look at a few details you should know about shipping before you start selling internationally.
International vs. domestic shipping
Printful has fulfillment centers all over the world. Our facilities are located in the US, Canada, Mexico, Latvia, and Spain, with partner facilities in Japan, Brazil, and Australia. So if you decide to expand your business to any of these countries, and choose to sell the products we produce in our local fulfillment centers, we’ll use domestic shipping to deliver your goods.
To check which products will have domestic—and faster—shipping times in the region that interests you, check out our regional product collections. For example, imagine you decide to start selling in Canada. Go to Printful’s product collections page and, in the menu on the left, look for the collection called “Fast shipping to Canada.” In this collection, we’ve listed only the products that are fulfilled in our Canada facility. It’s worth starting out your sales in Canada with these products because you won’t have to worry about international shipping costs. Plus, you can avoid any other potential issues that importing your goods from abroad would bring.
However, domestic shipping won’t always be enough, especially if you have ambitious expansion plans.
Let’s say you’re based in the US, but decided to expand your business to the UK. You check our “fast shipping to the UK” product collection, but can’t find your bestsellers there. Should you opt for shipping them directly from the US? Not necessarily. We’ll have to use international shipping to deliver your goods to your UK customers, but we’ll choose the closest facility abroad that produces these products, which would be Spain or Latvia in this case.
Note: If you check our regional product collections, you’ll notice that we don’t have a “Fast shipping to Japan” collection, but we do offer a “Sell in East Asia” one. This collection lists all the products we fulfill in our partner facilities in Japan, but we’ll have to use international shipping to deliver these products to other countries in South Asia, such as South Korea. The same applies to our Northern and Southern Europe product collections—they contain products fulfilled in our Latvia and Spain facilities respectively. And products from the “Fast shipping to Australia and New Zealand” collection will be shipped domestically within Australia, but we’ll have to rely on international shipping to send them to New Zealand. We have trusted carriers in each of the regions, and that’s why we can guarantee fast and affordable shipping, but customs fees and taxes may apply for international orders.
Flat rates vs. live rates
An unexpectedly high shipping price is a big reason for shopping cart abandonment. According to Statista, 56% of shoppers say that unexpected costs are the main reason they don’t go through with their purchase.
That’s why it’s important to be clear about what types of rates your customers can expect. For example, worldwide shipping rates are usually more expensive than domestic rates. It also depends on whether you offer flat rates or live rates, what carriers you offer, and what shipping method your customer chooses—standard or express.
Flat rates remain fixed depending on the product category, quantity, and destination. If you choose to use flat rates for your store, then we’ll be sending your orders out automatically with the available carrier that offers the best value for your money at the time of the order. This means that for every order we’ll find the best service that’s affordable within the flat rate—considering the carrier’s quality, shipping speed, and price.
Check out our Shipping Speed and Pricing page to find more detailed information about Printful’s shipping rates for your selling region and different product categories. If you’d like to learn the cost of flat rates for a specific product, then go to its product page and click on the “Shipping” tab.
If you offer live rates, shipping could be cheaper. Live rates calculate the shipping price for the carriers you choose based on the weight and destination. They’re only available for manual orders, Shopify Advanced plan users, users of other Shopify plans who request live rates for their stores at $20/month, WooCommerce users, Ecwid Venture, Business, and Unlimited plan users, and API users.
If you enable live rates for your store, customers will see two shipping options at checkout—express (fast shipping) and standard. We choose the most suitable carrier for your shipment, considering the selected shipping method and destination. For some destinations, express shipping won’t be available though. If this is the case, your customer will see only the standard shipping option at order checkout. You’ll know which carrier service delivers your shipment in the order confirmation email.
It’s critical that the address in each order is correct and properly formatted. Otherwise, the carrier might not deliver it.
When submitting your orders in the Printful Dashboard, you’ll have an opportunity to configure the delivery address at the checkout. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when you format the delivery address:
- Address length. Shipping carriers usually have limitations on how many characters from the address field can be printed on the shipping label. The addresses that are too long might get trimmed, and it’ll make your order undeliverable. To prevent this from happening, in your ecommerce store’s checkout, limit the address length to 35 characters max (this is only for the address field, names of states, counties, provinces, and countries will be added in separate fields).
- Using abbreviations. Although there are character limitations, deliberately shortened addresses can also make your order undeliverable. Avoid using any unnecessary abbreviations and don’t skip important subdivisions (e.g. province, county, etc.).
- Input language. If the destination country uses a different alphabet or numeral system, it might not be recognized by shipping carriers. Whenever possible, write the delivery address in Roman letters and Arabic numerals.
Tip: For international shipping, try to ask for your customer’s phone number as often as possible, to ensure that shipping carriers can contact them in case of any troubles with delivery.
When in doubt about how to correctly format the address of an international customer, you can check the address format for a specific country with the Universal Postal Union’s guide on postal addressing systems.
You can set your store’s default currency to whatever you like. For example, if most of your customers are located in Europe, then you can charge them in EUR.
When it comes to how you pay Printful for your orders (a.k.a your “paying currency”), you have multiple currency options as well, and it can be different from the currency in which you charge customers on your storefront. We currently accept 17 currencies, including USD, EUR, GBP, AUD, and more. You can customize your paying currency by going to Dashboard > Billing > Billing methods.
When you add new products to your store, you’ll see the production price (also called the “Printful price”) for this product, and it will be automatically shown in your paying currency. You might see several production prices for the same product that slightly differ from each other. Each of these prices is how much it costs us to produce a particular product at different fulfillment centers around the world, and each price will have a facility’s country flag attached to it.
Whether you’ll see just one production price or multiple depends on which default selling region (DSR) you’ve chosen for your Printful account (you can set it up by going to Dashboard > Settings > Stores > Selling region). If you chose “worldwide” as your selling region, then you might see up to 7 different prices displayed—one for each of the countries where we’ll be fulfilling your goods.
The production price is the amount you’ll pay Printful for each product we send to your customers. To ensure you’re making a profit, in the product view, you’ll be able to add the revenue you want to get to the production price(it can be either a percent of the product price or simply an amount you add on top, e.g. + $3). This way the final retail price will show—how much money customers will pay for this product.
Depending on where your customers are located, Printful may charge tax on your orders or you may be liable to collect tax from your customers. To protect your profit, you can consider adding these expenses to your product price.
Let’s take a look at what taxes you’ll have to pay when selling with Printful in each selling region.
In the US, sales tax applies to the sale or lease of all goods and services. Sales tax is governed at the state level, so its rate is different in each state. Within each state, it also varies by county, city, and district. Printful charges sales tax in 45 states.
Not only US-based sellers have to pay sales tax. Even if you aren’t physically located in the US, but you’re an international seller who makes sales in the US, you’re obligated to pay sales tax. However, sales tax applies only to orders fulfilled in the US and shipped to a delivery address within the US. So, if your order gets imported to the US from another country, you won’t be charged sales tax, but the order recipient may have to pay customs.
There are a couple of exceptions when sales tax isn’t charged:
- You’re exempted from sales tax obligations if you have a resales certificate. A resales certificate lets you buy products without paying sales tax if you plan to resell them, like with Printful products. In order to get a resales certificate, you have to obtain a sales tax permit, and once you have it, you can apply for a resales certificate.
- Some ecommerce marketplaces, such as Etsy, eBay, Amazon, Bonanza, and Big Cartel, already charge sales tax on all US-based orders. This information is available to Printful, so we won’t charge you tax a second time.
You can read more about what sales tax obligations apply to international sellers in this TaxJar article.
All orders shipped to a customer in one of the European Union Member States are charged value-added tax (VAT). It applies to orders fulfilled at any Printful location, both within the EU and outside it. Similar to US sales tax, the VAT rate is different in each of the EU Member States.
Each EU Member State has a set domestic VAT threshold, which represents the total value of everything you sell or supply annually. If you’re based in the EU, let’s say in Germany, and your business meets Germany’s threshold, you’re required to register as a VAT payer in Germany.
If you’re based in the EU and sell to multiple countries, you also need to keep your eye on the “distance selling threshold.” Just like each EU country has its domestic sales threshold, there is also an EU-wide threshold of distance selling which is EUR 10K per year. For example, let’s say you’re based and registered as a VAT payer in France because you’ve met the country’s domestic sales threshold. If you also sell to customers based in Germany and your sales there have reached the distance selling threshold, you also have to register as a VAT payer in Germany.
Once your sales reach the distance selling threshold in Europe, you can register with The Union One-Stop Shop (OSS) to declare and pay VAT for all supplies of goods and services in a single electronic quarterly return. The Union OSS is the electronic portal businesses can use to comply with their VAT obligations for ecommerce sales within the EU.
If you’re based outside the EU (for example, in the US) but sell to the EU market, you may need to register as a VAT payer in the EU Member State where you have the most sales. It’s the same for businesses based in the EU: you’ll have to register as a VAT payer if your sales reach the threshold of the EU country you’re selling to. And you will also need to keep an eye on the EU-wide distance selling threshold. If your salesreach the EUR 10K threshold in any other country, you can also need to register in OSS.
VAT is charged differently for goods shipped within the EU and for orders imported from outside the EU. Whether VAT will be charged or not also depends on if a seller is registered as a VAT payer in the EU.
The table below shows how VAT will be charged depending on from which Printful location the order is shipped to the EU:
*Please keep in mind that currency rates are subject to change.
Although the UK isn’t an EU Member State anymore, it also uses the VAT system. However, it works differently from the EU VAT.
The way in which UK VAT will be applied to your orders depends on whether you are registered as a VAT payer in the UK or not.
If you aren’t registered as a taxpayer in the UK but have a valid UK VAT ID, all your Printful orders fulfilled at our UK facility and then shipped within the UK will have 20% VAT applied. For orders fulfilled outside of the UK, but shipped to an end address in the UK, the same 20% VAT rate will be charged. This is only if the total order amount (product price excluding shipping) is less than GBP 135.
If your Printful order amount is more than GBP 135, we won’t charge you VAT. However, your customer who receives the order will be charged VAT and customs duties at the border.
If you are registered as a taxpayer and have a valid UK VAT ID, all your domestic UK orders will be charged 20% VAT.
For Printful orders fulfilled outside of the UK, but shipped to an end address in the UK, you won’t be automatically charged VAT. You’ll be responsible for VAT charges yourself and will have to collect them from your customers.
Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein
Both Norway and Switzerland use a tax system similar to the UK and the EU, and also charge VAT.
Norway uses VOEC—it’s a simplified VAT scheme that requires Printful to charge VAT on all orders going to Norway. Norway’s VAT rate is 25%.
This system has some exceptions for when you won’t be charged Norway VAT:
- If marketplaces already charge VAT on orders going to Norway. This information is available to Printful for all automatically imported orders, so we won’t charge you VAT a second time.
- Orders where the retail price of each item is over NOK 3,000 (approx. USD 330 or EUR 300). In this case, your customers will have to pay VAT and customs fees when the order arrives in Norway.
Printful won’t charge you VAT on orders going to Norway if your business is registered with the Norwegian VAT Registry, and you submit your Norway VAT ID to Printful.
Swiss VAT is a Swiss consumption tax. It operates as a tax system similar to the EU’s value-added tax, and it’s locally known as Mehrwertsteuer (MWST), Taxe sur la valeur ajoutée (TVA), or Imposta sul valore aggiunto (IVA).
Even though Liechtenstein is a separate territory from Switzerland, they are also using the Switzerland VAT regime. Therefore, tax rules for the orders shipped to Liechtenstein are the same as for orders shipped to Switzerland.
Swiss VAT is applied to all orders going to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and its rate is 7.7%.
Switzerland doesn’t offer any VAT exemptions and even if you are registered as a taxpayer in Switzerland or Liechtenstein, all your orders with a delivery address in Switzerland or Liechtenstein will be charged with VAT.
(Note: Printful will start charging Swiss VAT starting June 1, 2022)
For all orders fulfilled and shipped in Canada, you’ll pay the GST or HST (a goods and services tax or a harmonized sales tax). Similar to the US, these tax rates vary by province.
The current rates are:
- 5% GST in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Yukon
- 13% HST in Ontario
- 15% HST in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island
A couple of other provinces also add a provincial sales tax. For example, Saskatchewan charges PST (provincial sales tax) at a rate of 6%, so to figure out how much tax you’ll pay on orders to Saskatchewan, you can add the PST (6%) to the GST (5%) to equal 11% of your order’s total. Quebec also charges QST (Quebec sales tax) at a rate of 9.975%.
There are some products that aren’t charged with HST in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. For example, children’s clothing and footwear are exempt from HST. In this case, only the GST is charged instead of the full HST rate.
Australia and New Zealand
Both Australia and New Zealand have a similar tax system. GST (a goods and service tax) is due on all goods sold by foreign online retailers to Australian and New Zealand consumers. This impacts goods that are valued at less than AUD 1,000 or NZD 1,000.
This means that if your business isn’t located in Australia or New Zealand, Printful will collect 10% GST on all orders being shipped to Australia, and 15% GST on all orders going to New Zealand.
You won’t be charged Australian or New Zealand GST if your business is registered in Australia or New Zealand respectively, but you’ll still have to collect GST from your customers and remit it to the Australian or New Zealand government. You’ll also be free from GST charges if your store is on Etsy, eBay, or Amazon since they already charge GST on orders going to Australia or New Zealand. GST only has to be collected once, so Printful won’t collect GST if your marketplace already does.
In Japan, all domestic orders are required to have a consumption fee applied. That means that all orders that are fulfilled at Printful’s partner facilities in Japan and shipped to the delivery address within the country will have a 10% consumption tax added to them.
You won’t be charged consumption tax for orders imported to Japan from other countries. But, as per usual, your customers may be charged customs duties.
If your orders have to cross country borders to reach their delivery destination, your customers might have to pay customs fees when they receive them. This depends entirely on the destination country and it’s beyond Printful’s control. We can’t mark orders as gifts or not declare the actual value.
The amount customers have to pay depends entirely on the destination country and its laws. Some countries apply customs fees on orders valued at less than a certain price. Some may charge extra handling fees. It all depends on your customer’s location. The one thing that’ll always stay the same: customs will have to be paid by your end customers upon receiving their order at the border.
For example, for orders fulfilled outside of the UK, but shipped to an end address in the UK, VAT and customs duties will differ depending on the order amount (product price excluding shipping). If it’s less than GBP 135, Printful will charge you VAT, but customs won’t be charged. If the order value is more than GBP 135, Printful won’t charge you VAT, but the order recipient will be charged VAT and customs fees upon receiving this order at the border.
A similar exception applies to orders shipped to the EU from outside the EU. If the order value is less than EUR 150, Printful will charge you VAT, but your customer won’t be charged VAT or customs fees. If the order value is more than EUR 150, Printful won’t charge you VAT but your customers will have to pay VAT and customs duties when receiving their order.
It’s a good idea to let your customers know that they may have to pay customs and VAT fees so there aren’t any unpleasant surprises. You could write a disclaimer on the checkout page that this order may incur customs and VAT fees.
Reach Customers Near and Far
With an online store, the world is your oyster. Your customers can come from all around the globe. You just have to know what to do to make sure sales go smoothly.
How many of you get orders from international customers? Let us know in the comments below.