International Shipping 103: Shipping to France from the US
With a total e-commerce market expected to reach $203.57 billion USD by 2026, the country of France represents a great opportunity for US-based sellers looking to expand to international audiences. Further estimates rank France as the second-largest B2C commerce market in Europe and the fifth-largest in the world overall.
But before you start working up French language translations of your key website pages and converting your pricing to euros, let’s take a step back and make sure you understand what it takes to ship to France from the US.
Rules to Know Before Shipping to France
One of the questions you’ll want to answer when thinking about your international shipping strategy is whether the items you sell are prohibited or restricted for import (the USPS has a great resource to reference).
Another consideration to be aware of is that the French tend to take consumer privacy seriously; adherence to the GDPR is critical for companies doing business in the country. In fact, a notice from the US International Trade Administration explains that:
“The French tend to interpret existing EU regulations stringently or tend to regulate in areas where the EU has not yet proposed legislation. For example, several recent online players, both U.S. and European, have been fined in France for violating rules such as the protection of consumer’s data privacy.”
A more recent rule to know is in regard to Harmonized System Codes (also known as HS codes or tariff codes). Starting on March 1, 2023, the countries within the EU will require international shippers to include the HS code of their products within the customs invoice. HS codes are universally excepted codes that define the product you’re shipping without the customs agency having to manually open the parcel to see or simply rely on your description.
If you cannot find the HS code for the items you’re shipping, you’ll need to be extra descriptive of what your product is to avoid a possible fine or having your parcel stuck at customs.
Tariffs, Taxes, and Fees When Shipping to France From the US
When shipping internationally to any new country, you’ll want to pay attention to any tariffs, taxes, and other fees that may be assessed. In the case of shipping to France from the US, here’s what you need to know:
- French customs base duties and taxes on the CIF calculation (which includes costs, insurance, and freight). When preparing customs invoices, it can be helpful to note whether or not the package’s value includes CIF to prevent excess fees from being assessed.
- A 20% import tax is assessed on all packages (the minimum taxation threshold is 0 euros). Additional category-specific taxes may be assessed as well.
- Shipping delivery duty unpaid (DDU) lets French authorities know that import duties have not been paid on the shipment. In this case, recipients will be contacted directly by customs to pay the applicable fees and collect their packages. By contrast, shipping delivery duty paid (DDP) keeps the responsibility for all customs fees with the seller.
As a note, if you intend to send your shipments DDU, ensure that your customers understand that they’ll be assessed fees and roughly how much they can expect to owe. Nobody likes surprises in the final leg of their package’s journey!
How to Sell to Customers in France
To a certain extent, understanding how to sell to customers in France comes down to the same process you used to determine which products to market in the US: conduct market research, keep your costs low while testing different items, and iterate as you learn more about your consumers’ preferences.
However, there are a few data points to consider that may give you a head-start on this process:
- Clothing, footwear, books, and home electronics are the largest online retail sectors in France.1
- France sells the most fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) of any European country, accounting for 7.1% of all European sales.2
- French consumers overwhelmingly prefer shopping with bank cards.
- Seasonal sales (“les soldes” in French) run for six weeks in early January and again in the summer from late June. Dates for sales moreover, whether online or in stores, may be affected by French Trade Law.
In addition to deciding what you’ll sell to customers in France, spend some time thinking about where you’ll sell. Beyond selling directly through your website, Amazon, Etsy, and Ebay all have a presence in the country.
Cheapest Way to Ship to France
Navigating international shipping can be a major barrier for US-based e-commerce merchants. And yes, shipping to France is pricier than shipping packages domestically, generally speaking. But there are several things you can do to keep your costs in check:
- Evaluate your packaging options. Ensure that you’re using the lightest, smallest possible package and infill materials that will get your items safely to their international destinations.
- Choose the right service level. Speed is only one factor to consider when comparing international shipping services to France. Pay attention also to whether tracking is included, what support you receive with customs documentation, and what insurance comes standard with each package.
- Pass on duties and taxes upfront to your customers. Trying to account for these additional fees within your existing margins can deal a significant blow to your profitability. Instead, clearly notify customers that these charges will be assessed to them as part of their order totals.
- Consider partnering with warehouses or fulfillment centers within France. Not only will doing so enable you to take advantage of domestic shipping rates to get your packages to their final destinations, but you also won’t have to pay taxes again on returns when shipping from France.
Another strategy for reducing costs is to partner with Shippo. Once you set up your free account, you’ll gain access to discounted rates of up to 86% off UPS international services, as well as up to 75% off DHL Express international rates.
Carrier Services for Shipping to France and International Shipping
The following international carrier services represent your best options for shipping to France:
Keep in mind that Shippo now offers UPS Paperless, which means you don’t have to print out a customs invoice for international shipments. Instead, that information is sent to the customs agency electronically. This means your parcels can potentially pass through customs faster and arrive at your customer’s doorstep sooner.
Also, FedEx International Connect Plus, is now available on Shippo, offering a native discount option for shipping across borders with FedEx! Packages weighing under 70 pounds and measuring under 130 inches in length plus girth qualify for this service level. Added features such as 24-hour tracking, customs clearance, and day-definite transit times come standard with this service.
Also, depending on whether you ship from the US or a warehouse in France, you may also want to evaluate the services of France’s national carrier, La Poste. In fact, USPS shipments to the country are typically given to La Poste for their final hand-offs.
However you plan to ship your goods to your new French customers, take the time to research and fully understand your shipping options before getting started.
If you have any questions about shipping to France, reach out to Shippo’s team of experts for personalized guidance.