How long does international shipping take?

How long does international shipping take?


Written by David Renwick

Wondering how long international shipping takes? Don't worry, this guide will cover everything you need to know to offer your customers fast international shipping.

If you're a retailer, it's important to understand both how long international shipping takes and the factors that affect delivery times. Why? Because knowing estimated delivery times means you can set expectations for your customers. And, when customers have a clear idea of when their products will arrive, they'll be more satisfied with their shopping experience.

Courier delivering parcels

How long will international shipping take?

How long international shipping takes depends on which delivery service you choose. For example, express international shipping is a faster option for international shipments than standard international shipping.

But as we'll learn in this article, there are a number of other factors that can impact delivery speed. For example, the customs clearance process and whether or not you're shipping dangerous goods.

International shipping options

Generally, international shipping options can be broken up into several broad categories, which we'll cover below. Keep in mind: every shipping provider and carrier will have their own unique offerings.

Express international shipping

Usually the fastest option, international express shipping offers quick delivery times often in the 1-5 day range. These services also come with enhanced tracking, faster customs clearance and priority handling. Examples include DHL Express and FedEx International Priority.

Standard international shipping

This is the standard shipping option for most international packages. Delivery timeframes are typically longer, but the services are also more affordable. Carrier provided services often include basic tracking and standard customs clearance. Examples include USPS Priority Mail International and UPS Worldwide Expedited.

Economy international shipping

The most affordable international shipping option. Delivery times are slower, but the costs are also significantly reduced. It's the ideal option for less time-sensitive orders. Examples include DHL eCommerce and UPS Standard.

Air freight

Air freight is a shipping method for larger and heavier orders which are sent via air cargo. It's often used for commercial purposes, arranged through specialised shipping companies. It can be expensive, but it's one of the fastest options for shipping cross-border.

Sea freight

Ocean freight is often for bulky or large shipments where longer delivery times aren't an issue. Like air freight, you'll often need to arrange these services through specialised shipping companies.

Postal services

National postal services (like Australia Post and China Post) also offer international shipping services. Features vary between carriers and one example is USPS First class package.

plane at airport with vehicles spaced around at sunset

What impacts delivery speed?

Shipping a package internationally is much more complex than sending a package within the same country.

Below are the key things to keep in mind.


Sending anything from one country to another means going through customs, and dealing with the destination country's customs guidelines. This process usually involves completing a customs declaration form and providing necessary documentation about the contents (and value) of the package.

Customs authorities assess duties, taxes, and fees based on their evaluation of the package. The package undergoes customs clearance, which includes inspection, documentation review, and assessment of applicable charges.

Delays or disputes may occur if the authorities raise any concerns, requiring additional information or resolution. Once customs clearance is complete, the package is released for delivery.

This is an area where automation can help. By automating your customs documentation, every order always has the right paperwork to go along with it.

Which services you choose

The services you choose for your parcel delivery also has a large part to play, like air freight and sea cargo. Before you make a decision, consider what you're shipping and the timeframes you (and your customers) are comfortable with.

Air freight is the fastest option, and typically the method of choice for retailers shipping small items. Sea freight, on the other hand, is cheaper but takes significantly longer.

Dangerous goods

Are you shipping products containing dangerous goods? Don't brush this question off so quickly – there are many items which may seem safe but fall under this category. Lithium batteries are just one example, and are found in many consumer products. The same goes for cosmetics, many of which have restrictions.

Before sending anything overseas, make sure you understand whether or not you're sending dangerous goods.

International shipping address format

International shipping speed can take a hit if you don't stick to international shipping address formats. This format is a standardised way of formatting addresses to ensure accurate and efficient delivery of packages across borders.

Which is the fastest international shipping service?

We've pulled together some delivery times from the world's major carriers. Keep in mind that these delivery estimates should be used as a general guide only. They'll vary depending on factors like customs clearance, distance, specific service chosen, and any unforeseen circumstances.

We recommend checking with your service provider for the most up-to-date and accurate shipping time estimates. Most carriers also have shipping calculators you can use to work out how long a delivery will take.

Other considerations for international shipping

Managing international returns

Returns are a tricky part of customer service – but the issues compound when you're shipping overseas. Now, there's a need to get orders back from the destination country, figure out the delivery options and shipping methods.

There are many options for managing returns, including Loop, but handling them through your shipping platform is much more cost-effective. With Starshipit's returns for example, you can create your own self-service returns portal and automate notifications. What's more, Starshipit is one of the only platforms which supports international returns.

Keeping customers informed about order status

Whether you're shipping packages domestically or internationally, it's important to keep customers in the loop with accurate tracking information. When customers can track where their packages are throughout the delivery process with a tracking number, you'll see fewer queries.

In general, most carriers will offer some form of tracking. For example, USPS has international priority shipping tracking. You can take this a step further by creating your own branded tracking pages, as well as SMS and email notifications. This gives your customers a consistent experience from start to finish.

How the right tools can help

In summary, the answer to the question "How long does international shipping take?" depends on the services you choose, how much you're willing to pay and what other software you use. With Starshipit, for example, you can automate customs paperwork, HS codes and more to cut down on total handling time. What's more, other features like the returns portal and branded tracking allow you to also improve your delivery experience.

Get in touch with one of our shipping experts to discuss how Starshipit can help you with your global shipping program.

International Shipping_eBook

Download our eBook on international shipping

Choosing an international shipping courier is just one part of the process of sending orders overseas. To learn more about how to manage customs requirements and the technology that can help you achieve international shipping success, download our eBook today.

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FAQs – Why is international shipping so slow?

From customs forms to shipping delays, there are several reasons international shipping can take some time. When you use expedited services and automate the cumbersome parts of international shipping, you should see faster deliveries.

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David Renwick

David Renwick

David is Starshipit's Product Marketing Lead. When he's not whipping up a fresh new product update or chatting to customers for an exciting case study, you'll typically find him scoping out coffee spots and talking about what's on at the movies. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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