Important International Customs Rules

If you ship internationally, learn how to prepare your shipments so they comply with customs regulations. Find a comprehensive guide to ensuring your international shipments move smoothly.

Accuracy: Description & Value

It all starts with providing detailed content descriptions and accurate values. General categories won’t be acceptable and will only cause headaches for your shipment’s transit with delays or even worse, refused entry. Gifts, documents and other shipment types are not exempt.

It’s a good idea to review all your shipment descriptions when shipping to any international destination so that the description is in plain language and precise enough for customs authorities to be able to identify the goods. When in doubt, be specific with your product description and include quantities and an accurate retail value.

❌Vague Description✔️Specific & Detailed Description
ApparelMen’s shirt, Lingerie, Girl’s vest, Boy’s jacket
GiftsScented candle, remote-controlled car, cashmere scarf
HandcraftDescribe the type: handcraft vase porcelain, handcraft beaded plastic necklace

Shipment Line Items

If you ship multiple items in one package, use semicolons to separate each item. For example: 1 men’s tshirt; 2 baseball caps

If you import shipments using our CSV template, reference this article that provides details on how to import multiple items easily with our advanced CSV template.

With the recent customs regulations put in place it’s important that you include specific information about your shipment. This makes sure that there are no delays or even worse refused or returned packages.

Harmonized System (HS) Codes

Harmonized System (HS) Codes are important because customs uses this as a reference to identify the goods in your package. The Harmonized System is a standardized numerical method of classifying traded products for customs processing. This allows shipments to move smoothly through the network and help decrease the risk of fraud and security threats.

As of March 1, 2023, all shipments to EU member nations will require accurate HS coding.
While HS codes are not mandatory for all international shipments we encourage and recommend adding an HS code.

Currently HS codes are only mandatory for:

  • Overseas military addresses (APO/DPO/FPO) and other U.S. territories (e.g. Guam, Puerto Rico, etc.) and
  • USPS International postage

Need to find an HS Code >> Canada Post: Find a Harmonized System Code

HS Code Format

  • minimum 6 digits for each item in your shipment
  • additional digits depend on destination of the shipment

Do you import your shipments using the Chit Chats CSV? Find instructions on how to import HS codes here

Do you import shipments with a store integration? Find details on how HS codes can be imported based on your ecommerce platform

Customs Tax Reference Numbers

Import One-Stop Shop (IOSS)

  • The Import One-Stop Shop (IOSS) was created as an optional program to facilitate and simplify the declaration and payment of the value added tax (VAT) for goods sold from a distance by sellers from either the European Union (EU) or from a non- EU country or territory.

Value Added Tax Identification Number (VAT)

  • A Value Added Tax Identification Number or VAT Identification Number (VATIN) is an identifier used in many countries for value added tax purposes. Each country has a slightly different format for their VAT number system.

VAT on E-Commerce (VOEC)

  • The VAT system for Norway. Similarly to the IOSS, it is used to declare the payment of the value added tax for goods sold from outside of Norway.

If you have an IOSS, VOEC, or VAT number simply provide this in the customs tax reference number field when creating your shipment. Reference numbers must follow the correct formatting. This ensures that the information is passed onto our partner carriers.

  • Maximum of 20 characters
  • Cannot content any special characters (i.e. -, !, #)
  • Not necessary to include the words ‘IOSS’ ‘VOEC’ or ‘VAT’

The IOSS VAT Identification Number contains a total of twelve (12) alphanumeric characters in the following format of IMxxxyyyyyyz (reference USPS IOSS FAQ). On the other hand, VOEC numbers are 7 digit reference numbers. Examples of correct formats can be found here.

Correct formatting Incorrect formatting
IM5280008075IOSS VAT ID: IM5280008075
GB375197855UK VAT ID: GB375197855
DE356983735VAT number, 356983735
IM3720000224Etsy IOSS IM3720000224
IM3720000224IM3720000224 11.26 euros
IM2760000742IOSS # – IM2760000742
1234567VOEC NO: 1234567

Find more examples in our support resource, “What customs information do I need to provide?”

If the incorrect format is provided this can impact the delivery of your shipment (potential delays,  the recipient may be asked to pay duties, shipment may be undeliverable).

Additional resources: 

International shipments can be a breeze and we are here to help! Based on our shipping experience we recommend that you provide: 

  • detailed shipment descriptions
  • HS codes for all international shipments.

These tips will help get your packages to move efficiently through international borders. Based on what we’ve seen in the logistics industry providing HS codes will become a standard requirement for all shipments. 

As always it is the sole responsibility of the shipper to ensure that shipment’s description is detailed and accurate. International shipping doesn’t have to be daunting. Our support staff is always available to help so contact us if you need guidance or have questions.