Southeast Asia (SEA) has been heralded as the next land of opportunity for e-commerce. With fast-growing markets like Indonesia looking ripe for cross-border sales of your e-commerce goods, it would ideal for your shipment to sail through customs, reaching your customers safely and on time.
Dealing with customs in Southeast Asia could be challenging seeing that each country has its own set of customs regulations, import duties, paperwork and taxes that need to be complied with.
This is a living page covering how best to navigate the different customs regulations to get your products through customs without a hitch. This guide will be updated with the latest changes that each SEA country brings about.
PART 1: 6 STEPS TO INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING TO SEA
1. Engaging shipping partners that are right for your business
In any form of cross-border shipping, deliveries tend to follow these few stages:
Some logistics service providers specialise in certain stages while others offer end-to-end service.
Here is a breakdown of what happens at each stage:
- First-mile delivery
The shipment moves from the merchant’s warehouse to the airport or port.
- Customs clearance at country of origin
Clearing goods to export from origin country.
The shipment is transported, either by air or sea, from the origin country’s airport or port to the destination airport or port.
- Customs clearance at destination country
Clearing goods for import in the destination country.
The shipment is sent from the airport or port to the domestic distribution centre to be sorted and assigned to vans and motorcycles for the last mile delivery stage.
- Last mile delivery
The shipment moves from the distribution centre to the customer’s doorstep.
As an example, a Singaporean merchant could have their goods shipped via truck from their premises to Changi International Airport (SIN) where it is cleared for export. Then, it is transported via air freight to reach Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) and goes through customs clearance.
After that, it gets transported to a local distribution facility to be picked up by the last mile delivery van or motorcycle. These vehicles then travel from the distribution facility to your customer’s address in Ho Chi Minh City.
Which type of logistics service provider should you choose?
When searching for suitable logistics service providers, consider the pros and cons of using postal service, private delivery companies or logistics integrators. Logistics integrators partner with a network of logistics service providers and assign your delivery to their partners for you.
To give you a hand when deciding which these you should use, have a look at our article comparing Express Courier to Postal Mail.
One way to save money on shipping is to use multiple smaller, localised shipping partners at different stages of the delivery, but this may prove hard to manage, especially when there are so many choices. Fortunately, there are end-to-end 4PL couriers with wide networks of logistics service providers which provide great coverage in Southeast Asia who can manage these logistics partners for you at a similarly competitive rate.
What should you look out for in a logistics service provider?
In general, you should look out for 3 factors in any logistics service provider:
Check out our blog post to find out more about the 3 Things E-commerce merchants should consider in a SEA Delivery Service.
2. Packaging your goods
Appropriately packaging your products for shipment is important in cross-border shipping. There are many ways to package your products for shipment: boxes, envelopes, poly mailers, and mailing tubes.
Including additional packing materials, such as bubble wrap and packing peanuts, helps to prevent your products from bouncing around within the package during shipment.
For more information, check out our quick guide on the basics of packaging your goods for express deliveries.
3. Choosing the right service levels
Carriers usually offer multiple tiers of service in shipping. These delivery options mainly differ in the features they offer, such as:
- Delivery time
- Weight limit
- Whether they offer track & trace
- Free pick-up at origin address
- Compensation at the event of shipment loss
Typically, the more features offered, the higher the shipping fee is. Some of these features can give your e-commerce business a boost. Real-time track and trace can provide you and your customers peace of mind as customers are able to check on the condition of their parcels without needing to contact you. Choose the right features that best suit your shipping needs and budget.
4. Providing shipping details
Carriers will need merchants to provide shipping details to generate the documentation required by Vietnam’s customs. Additionally, the documents supplied may need to be in the country’s local language.
The type of information most carriers require are:
- Sender’s details and address
- Recipient’s details and address
- Country of manufacture
- Declared value and the currency in the country’s required currency
- Harmonised System (HS) Code of Item
- Item description
- Item weight and dimensions
- Item quantity
This information will be entered into a Customs Declaration form and shipping label by either you or the shipping partner if they offer this service. Always check that this information has been entered accurately. Incomplete documentation may trap your goods in customs.
It’s good to be as accurate as possible when preparing these customs documents. Additional shipping charges could arise if the shipping company returns the packages to you. Under-declaring the value of the items of your shipments on the commercial invoice could result in fines if the custom clearance agencies correctly suspect it. The courier may also charge you additional fees for undervaluing your goods.
Different countries in Southeast Asia may have different regulations depending on what you are shipping into the country. To find out more about each SEA country’s customs requirements, check out our latest Guide on SEA Customs Clearance, also downloadable for offline viewing.
5. Printing and attaching shipping labels and documents to your package(s)
Paste the shipping label, which contains the information you’ve entered in the previous step, securely onto the parcel. The addresses and bar-codes on the shipping label must be in clear view for the scanning of details during the shipping process.
One of the ways to secure your label is to place all supporting documents inside a clear plastic pocket and tape it onto the package. Do note that some of these documents, such as the Customs Declaration and commercial invoice, will require your signature.
6. Handing over your shipments to the carriers
Depending on the delivery option selected and service level the carrier offers, they will collect the package from you either at the sender address you specified or at one of their drop-off points in the origin country.
Once your package is in the carrier’s hands, you’ll be given a tracking code to track your package on their tracking platform, unless the delivery option you chose does not offer tracking services. Your customer can also use this tracking code to find out if the package is still in the origin warehouse, transiting via air freight, or en route to their address.
Part 2: Individual Country Guides
This guide covers the basics of shipping to almost any country but no two Southeast Asian countries are alike. Differences in geography, regulations and infrastructure pose different challenges to deliveries in each country.
To help you find out how best to ship to each major Southeast Asian country, we’ve prepared a growing list of individual country guides:
Part 3: Additional Resources
The shipping process doesn’t just end after you’ve passed the parcel to your carriers. Here are some articles and guides on other topics related to shipping to SEA:
1. Guide to Customs Clearance in SEA
As each Southeast Asia country has its own customs regulations, keeping up with their requirements could be challenging. To help you out, we’ve put together some best practices and the documentation requirements for most of the countries in SEA, ranging from Indonesia to Vietnam in this guide.
> Learn more about customs clearance in SEA
2. Should you offer Cash on Delivery? (COD)
Some countries in Southeast Asia like Indonesia and Philippines for example, still rely a fair bit on cash payments for online shopping. Before you decide to offer this payment method, it’s good to understand the situation and what’s involved.
> To find out, read more on our blog post
3. An Overview of ASEAN FTAs and What They Mean for eCommerce
ASEAN countries are part of many free trade agreements with major economies such as India, China, Japan and more. With these agreements, goods that originate from ASEAN countries can get customs and duties reductions which can help companies be more competitive in partner markets. But how do we make use of these agreements and benefits and what’s involved?
> Learn more about ASEAN’s free-trade agreements
4. Dealing with Shipping Delays
Any eCommerce merchant would hate for delays to happen to their customers. This experience would break the trust and reputation of any online store. But what are the causes of these delays? Is there a way we can prevent or at least mitigate delays and the problems that come with it? Find out in our list of shipping delay tips.
> See the list of tips
5. Should you Deliver with Courier or Postal Services?
Private courier companies and postal services each have their strengths and weaknesses, but which ones are best suited for your e-commerce needs? We provide a breakdown of each type of logistics service provider’s strengths and weaknesses in this article.
> Get the full comparison