All Things Shipping | Apr 14, 2022

International Shipping 101: Shipping To The UK From The US

Sarah Rickerd

International shipping can be a great way to grow your e-commerce business by reaching new customers around the world. Shipping to the UK, perhaps unsurprisingly, is one of the most popular destinations for US-based merchants.

The United Kingdom is a sovereign state that encompasses England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Close trade relations and existing infrastructure make it easy to start shipping to the UK from the U.S., while the country’s early adoption of e-commerce and an English-speaking population makes doing so especially lucrative. How lucrative you might ask? Consider this.

But, before you can start tapping into this market you’ll need to understand who you are selling to, the legal requirements involved in shipping to the UK, and which shipping services are at your disposal when shipping out from the US.

Understanding The UK E-commerce Market

Before you try to start selling your products across the pond, it’s important to understand who you’re selling to and what their expectations are when shopping on your website.

Some of the top trends you should keep in mind and actions to take include:

  • During the third quarter of 2021, smartphones accounted for 72 percent of retail site visits in the United Kingdom and were used to make 67 percent of online shopping orders. Be sure your e-commerce site is optimized for mobile devices.
  • In the UK buyers care more about “defined delivery,” i.e. defining a delivery date and receiving the parcel on that exact date, than delivery speed. Be sure to offer day-definite delivery as a shipping option.
  • The most popular delivery option is home delivery, with 88% of shoppers preferring this option. Be sure to use a shipping platform like Shippo that has address validation built-in.
  • According to the results of a global consumer survey conducted by Statista, 54% of online shoppers in the UK had returned an online order in the last 12 months. Of those that did, clothing had the highest return rates. Be sure to have an international returns policy and process in place.

Rules, Tariffs, Customs, and Cost of Shipping to the UK From The US

When it comes to shipping internationally, you should always expect an additional fee to send your products past another country’s borders. The UK is no different in that regard. But the UK’s cessation from the EU (a.k.a. Brexit) does present a few wrinkles when it comes to shipping to the UK from the US.

The UK is no longer part of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union and on 1 January 2021, the UK EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) came into force. Later that year, on July 1, 2021, the new EU VAT (Value Added Taxes) rules went into effect.

What does this mean for you?

As a non-EU member, you are likely to see some hefty taxes applied to your shipment. The UK-US trade agreement is unlike that of the UK and the EU so VAT for your shipment could add up to 20% depending on what you’re trying to send in. This means paying for an international shipping label plus 20% of whatever your product is worth.

There are two ways to go about this fee. You can pay this fee yourself before shipping out the order (referred to as Delivery Duty Paid) or you can have your customer pay this fee once the package arrives at the UK border (referred to as Delivery Duty Unpaid).

With a tool like Shippo, you can easily handle customs, duties, and taxes with a few clicks before you even print out your international shipping label. You’ll also be able to save money on international shipping labels with top carriers such as UPS and DHL. To learn more about customs, tariffs, and paperless trade documents, and how Shippo handles them for you click here.

But, if you choose to have the customers pay this fee be sure to inform them of the amount to expect before shipping in order to avoid surprised and frustrated customers. You could also take the strategy of marking up your product’s price in order to accommodate for the fees it will meet at the UK border.

You’ll also want to double-check to see if your products are even allowed into the country. Certain items like weapons, knives, and endangered plant species are banned by the UK government from outside countries. Prohibited items from UPS, FedEx, and USPS should also be taken into account.

How to Ship to the UK From the US

Aside from filling out a little extra paperwork, shipping to the UK from the US will work similarly to domestic shipments in that you’ll need to generate a label and drop off/have someone come pick up your packages and deliver them to a carrier. The most common carriers to use when shipping to the UK from the US are USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL.

They all have multiple international shipping options that vary in terms of speed and cost.

In most cases, however, you’ll find that the cheapest way to ship items to the UK is to accept longer delivery times. If you have some flexibility with your delivery windows—and you’re willing to shop around between services—getting packages across the pond may be cheaper than you think.

Take a look at the following popular services for shipping to the UK:

Shipping to the UK with USPS

The close relationship between the United States Postal Service (USPS) and the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail service makes international shipping here easy.

All of USPS’s international services deliver to Great Britain, though it’s worth noting that, as of March 23, 2020, the agency no longer provides a day-definite delivery guarantee on items shipped through the Priority Mail Express International service.

Service Speed Best For
Global Express Guaranteed® (GXG®) 1-3 business days Urgent items that require guaranteed, day-definite delivery
Priority Mail Express International® 3-5 business days Urgent items that need to arrive within a week
Priority Mail International® 6-10 business days Parcels weighing more than 4 pounds
First-Class Package International Service® Varies Parcels or large envelopes weighing less than 4 pounds
First-Class Mail International® Varies Envelopes that contain documents and weigh less than 1 pound
Airmail M-Bags® Varies Books or printed material

Ship to the UK with UPS

Shipping to the UK from the US with UPS can be a great choice if you have especially time-sensitive deliveries. Unlike USPS, UPS offers deliveries that are both day-definite and time-definite to specific markets within the UK (though you’ll certainly pay more for the privilege).

But, if you ship with UPS through Shippo, you may be able to find up to 86% off International services. This will help to lessen the cost of shipping for your business and/or your customer.

Service Speed Best For
UPS Worldwide Express Plus® 1-3 business days Urgent items that need to be delivered before 8:30 or 9:00am, local time
UPS Worldwide Express® 1-3 business days Urgent items that can be delivered between 10:30am or noon, local time
UPS Worldwide Saver® 1-3 business days Urgent items that can be delivered before the end of the day, local time
UPS Worldwide Expedited® 2-5 business days Less urgent items that still require day-definite delivery

Shipping To The UK with FedEx

Finally, there’s FedEx, which offers a suite of international shipping solutions that are comparable to UPS’s services.

Service Speed Best For
FedEx® International Next Flight 1 business days Extremely urgent items requiring delivery within 24 hours (available in select locations)
FedEx International Priority® Express 1-3 business days Day- and time-definite delivery by noon to select UK markets
FedEx International Priority® 1-3 business days Day- and time-definite delivery by the end of the day, local time
FedEx International First® 1-3 business days Day-definite delivery to specific postal codes
FedEx International Economy® 2-5 business days Less time-sensitive items that can take advantage of more economical rates

Be aware that the availability of these specific services varies within the UK. International First® is not available for shipments from the US to Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, or the Channel Islands (a dependent territory of the British Crown). International Priority® Express delivery is also not available to the Channel Islands, although all of the services listed above are available for shipments to England.

Coverage for International Next Flight is limited to major cities; more details are available on the service’s coverage map.

Shipping to the UK with DHL

DHL is one of the most common carriers to use for international shipping. With its headquarters based in Germany, DHL has deep roots shipping in Europe. On top of that, those who ship with DHL through Shippo could save up to 63% off DHL Express services.

Service Speed Best For
DHL Packet International 4-8 days business days Lightweight, cost-effective shipments
DHL Parcel International Standard 4-8 days business days Heavier shipments with increased visibility
DHL Parcel International Direct 3-10 days business days Fast shipping for heavier parcels 

How to Ship in the UK or Ship from the UK: Shipping Returns

As an international e-commerce merchant, you may also find yourself in the position of needing to ship within the UK or even ship from the UK back to the US.

For example, if a UK customer decides to return an item, you may need to determine how to get it back to one of your US locations. Or, as your business grows, you may decide to put down more permanent roots with a warehouse or distribution center (DC) in the UK. In this case, you may regularly need to move inventory across international borders—which makes having the right partners in place even more important.

At Shippo, we built a close partnership with the Royal Mail in order to make it easy to coordinate UK shipments like these no matter where they’re originating from or where they’re going. In addition, our software makes it easy to handle customs declarations, commercial invoices, paperless trade documents, and other required items, while at the same time granting you access to discounts on your international shipping fees.

Sarah Rickerd is a Michigan-based freelance writer covering business, marketing, and technology topics. She is also the owner of Content Conquered, a B2B-focused content marketing consultancy.

Sign up for the Shippo newsletter

Loading...

Get Started Today for Free

Everything you need for professional-grade shipping + deep discounts from top carriers.
Sign Up Free