What You Need To Know About International Selling



Shopping internationally has gotten more accessible, but selling products across the world remains a challenge for most online businesses. International shipping has complex caveats, but it’s become more accessible. New tools and resources have allowed small online companies to sell internationally, thanks to worldwide shipping and exchanging currency innovations.

Start With A Simple Plan

Selling internationally doesn’t have to be complicated – regular people do it every day. With their Global Shipping Program, platforms like eBay make it easy to trade internationally. eBay takes care of currency exchanges and assumes all responsibility in the event of a lost package. Your customer will pay more for international shipping than domestic shipping – otherwise, the transaction works identically to a domestic purchase.

The downside to eBay’s Global Shipping Program comes when products must be returned. eBay doesn’t directly handle the returns, so you’ll need to communicate with your buyer to arrange returns. However, eBay can give you an accurate idea of your market overseas before investing in any expensive tools. You can’t be sure overseas customers will want your products without running a trial, and eBay is a fantastic way to size up your international market.

Optimize Your Business to Prevent Returns

Returns and chargebacks are unavoidable, despite how unwelcome they may be. There’s no way to prevent returns, which are particularly frustrating for overseas transactions.

Returns are indeed unavoidable, but you can reduce their frequency. Keep a database of returns, and list reasons for the return. Focus on problems, such as shipping and packing or inadequate product descriptions. Identify ways to improve your products, shipping, and accuracy. This will reduce your number of overseas returns, ultimately saving you time and money.

Understand International Tax Implications

When you ship a product internationally, it becomes an “import” for your buyer. They assume all responsibility for product imports, so you won’t have to worry about their local taxes.

That being said, there are situations when you will be affected by local taxes and international duties. Often, international customers aren’t aware that taxes and duties are their responsibility. When customers don’t pay import duties, they won’t receive their product – they’ll receive a bill.

International customers who haven’t paid their import duties often claim their product never showed up – even though it’s waiting in customs. They may leave poor reviews or hound your customer service department for a refund or re-shipment. It’s best to clarify your customer’s import tax liabilities in your shipping description to prevent misunderstandings.

Once your company crosses a certain VAT threshold, international taxes and duties will become your responsibility. You’ll need to research global VAT thresholds to determine when you should register to avoid significant international shipping headaches. It’s also important to note if you’re operating in the USA that you make sure you have a legitimate US company formation.

Invest in Proper Translations for Your Products

Have you ever shopped from an international business, only to find that the product descriptions make little sense? When you copy and paste your product description into an online translator, you get a “literal translation” of the text. Literal translations don’t sound natural and usually make little sense to your customer. They also say lazy because it’s clear you used an online translator to create the content.

Your product descriptions are essential, so work with a native speaker to create compelling product descriptions in other languages. Freelance translators usually offer their services online – a quick Google search should yield several results. Work with a native speaker who understands your goals to create compelling multi-lingual product descriptions.


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Steve has entrepreneurship in his DNA. Starting in the early 2000s, Steve achieved eBay Power Seller status which propelled him to become a founding partner of VisionPros.com, a contact lens and eyewear retailer. Four years later through a successful exit from that startup, he embarked on his next journey into digital strategy for direct-to-consumer brands.

Currently, Steve is a Senior Merchant Success Manager at Shopify, where he helps brands to identify, navigate and accelerate growth online and in-store.

To maintain his competitive edge, Steve also hosts the top-rated twice-weekly podcast eCommerce Fastlane. He interviews Shopify Partners and subject matter experts who share the latest marketing strategy, tactics, platforms, and must-have apps, that assist Shopify-powered brands to improve efficiencies, profitably grow revenue and to build lifetime customer loyalty.

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