All Things Shipping | Jul 19, 2022

International Shipping 104: Shipping to Germany from the US

Sarah Rickerd

Thinking about expanding your e-commerce presence through international shipping? If so, shipping to Germany from the US gives you access to one of the biggest e-commerce markets on the globe. According to Statista, Germany grossed over 99.1 billion euros in e-commerce revenue in 2021—more than 106 billion US dollars.

Ready to get started? Keep reading to learn how to ship to Germany, how and what to sell to German consumers, and which carriers give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Rules to Know Before Shipping to Germany

In many ways, shipping internationally from the US to Germany is the same as shipping within the states. However, there are some key differences. Luckily, it’s easy to learn the process, and the best place to start is with the basics: rules.

Shipments containing certain items are restricted in Germany. This means you’ll need to follow specific regulations and, in some cases, prepare special paperwork for the shipment. Here are a few examples of restricted items:

  • Chemicals
  • Currency
  • Rough diamonds
  • Medicinal products

Further, Germany also prohibits the import of certain items, including:

  • Perishable items
  • Animal products
  • Cultural assets, like works of art and antiques
  • Resale items for a home-based business

For a complete list of restricted and prohibited items, keep Germany’s customs office website as a handy reference.

Tariffs, Taxes, and Fees When Shipping to Germany

When a package enters Germany, it must first pass through customs clearance, which involves taxes, tariffs, and fees called duties. In Germany, these are calculated using the Cost Insurance Freight (CIF) method, which means the cost you pay is based on the value of the package and its shipping cost.

Delivery Duty Paid (DDP)

When a shipment is categorized as Delivery Duty Paid (DDP), the shipper pays all tariffs, taxes, and duties to the German customs office. Some companies mark up their products to absorb the additional costs to ship to Germany, though companies that deliver DDP can also bill their customers to pay them back for the price paid.

Delivery Duty Unpaid (DDU)

Delivery Duty Unpaid (DDU), on the other hand, means the shipper takes no responsibility for paying customs charges. When this happens, the buyer must pay these fees before the package can be delivered.

VAT Taxes

Value-added tax (VAT) is a type of import tax on all shipments going to the European Union. For shipments going to Germany, the VAT tax rate is 19% and is charged on packages with a value of less than €150 ($157.80 USD, as of this writing).

GST Taxes

Unlike VAT taxes, goods, and services tax (GST) is charged at a flat rate, not a percentage, on German shipments. When goods are imported, everyone is reimbursed for this expense except the buyer. Although these taxes aren’t charged at customs, they are collected by the seller and sent to the German government.

Import Duties

Finally, you may be required to pay import duties—import taxes charged on goods in certain categories—when shipping to Germany. Shipments going into the country are charged anywhere from 0%-17% in import duties, depending on their category.

With Shippo, users are able to take care of any of these fees with just a few simple clicks when creating a shipping label. This saves time for customs agencies and ensures your customers in Germany get their orders as soon as possible.

How to Sell to Customers in Germany

As in the US, the first thing you need to do when preparing to sell to customers in Germany is to decide what to sell. One estimate shows that, between 2019 and 2020, the top three best-selling categories in Germany were clothing, electronics, and telecommunication. But you don’t need to operate in one of these niches to be successful.

No matter what you sell, performing market research will help you to both identify your target audience and create a marketing strategy that’s appropriate for them. In addition, keep in mind that, because Germany has one of the largest e-commerce markets in the European Union, maintaining an active presence on social media and other online platforms will be critical.

Another way to more easily enter the German e-commerce market is to join an online marketplace that operates in the country. Amazon, eBay, and Etsy are some of the larger marketplaces to join. However, some more German-specific sites to sell on include Otto Market and Zalando. Both specialize in fashion and apparel products, but both have relatively strict rules to join. For example, with Zalando, you have to offer free shipping and returns which can be expensive for U.S.-based businesses.

Cheapest Way to Ship to Germany

When it comes to cost-effective shipping to Germany, choosing the proper packaging and service level is vital. Shipping fees are typically based on a package’s size and weight. Shipping service levels, on the other hand, generally dictate how long a package will take to arrive.

Keep in mind that customs clearance can greatly slow down a shipping timeline. A great way to counter this is by having customers pay duties and taxes upfront, which eliminates customs delays for payment.

Another opportunity to cut down on shipping costs is to work with a local warehouse or fulfillment center in Germany. These centers can fulfill orders and accept returns, which reduces duties and tax costs. This setup also reduces the amount of time a package will be in transit to the customer, as well as how long your company will need to wait to receive returns before processing them.

Also, don’t forget about partnering with services like Shippo, which offers 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 Germany and International Shipping

When you look at shipping to Germany, you’ll likely find the best rates by working with the four major shipping services: USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL. 

USPS

USPS shipping to Germany can be your least expensive option in certain scenarios. Packages sent this way first go through the U.S. Postal Service, and are then transferred to Deutsche Post—Germany’s national delivery service—which operates similarly to the USPS. That said, because a transfer is required, packages shipped by USPS often take the longest to deliver.

Service Transit Time
Global Express Guaranteed 1-3 business days
Priority Mail Express 3-5 business days
Priority Mail International 6-10 business days
First-Class Package International Service Varies by exact destination

UPS

Beyond USPS, UPS is one of the most popular options for air and sea shipments to Germany, offering a great mix of services and value. Discounts on international shipping rates also make it a competitive option when looking to ship to Germany. 

Service Transit Time
Worldwide Express Plus 1-2 business days
Worldwide Express 2 business days
Worldwide Saver 2 business days
Worldwide Expedited 2-4 business days

FedEx

Next up is FedEx—a great option for e-commerce sellers who need refrigerated or climate-controlled deliveries. Package tracking is also available and accurate for shipments going out to Germany.

Service Transit Time
FedEx International First 2 business days
FedEx International Express 2 business days
FedEx International Priority 6 business days

DHL

Finally, there’s DHL—one of the most popular international shipping services in the world. Since their service lines are tailored toward international shipments, you can be confident in their reliability and timeliness. DHL is also based in Germany which means they have a deep understanding of how to ship to Germany as well as within the country.

Service Transit Time
Parcel International Express 3-10 business days
Parcel International Standard 8-14 business days
Packet International 4-8 business days

 Ultimately, the size of your shipments and the speed with which you’d like to have them delivered will help you determine which international shipping service to use when shipping to Germany.

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.

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