Eastern Europe Shipping Blog

Expert tips on smarter shipping between the U.S. and Eastern Europe, including shipping of heavy goods.

International door to door shipping: a single source is best


An international shipment goes through many stages. There’s loading, drayage, maybe a ride on the rails, and then the ocean crossing. On the other side there’s Customs, more land transportation and then, finally, unloading.

So many chances for something to go wrong!

international door to door shippingIf you’ve seen a trapeze act, you understand the importance of a handoff. Acrobat A hooks her knees over the bar and swings toward a second swinging bar and the outstretched arms of Acrobat B. The two grab hands and continue along the arc as one unit, high above the circus ring.

It’s the same with international door to door shipping. Ideally, your load should pass seamlessly from the care of one service provider to the next. But every transition brings opportunities for a poor handoff and a painful fall.

For example:

  • No one tells the drayage carrier that your supplier can load a container only from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. When the driver arrives with the container at 3 p.m., he’s told to come back tomorrow, wasting time and creating extra costs.
  • Your supplier doesn’t communicate clearly about the dimensions of your load. When the trucker arrives, the load is too tall for the 40-foot container he brought. He’s forced to return that container to the steamship line while someone re-books the cargo to secure a 40-foot high-cube, which the trucker brings the next day.
  • A document required for Customs clearance hasn’t arrived by the time your vessel reaches port. Your load sits in the terminal while you, your supplier and the Customs broker hunt for the missing paperwork.
  • You rely on the steamship line to arrange for drayage at the destination. At the last minute, the line informs you that this won’t be possible. While you scramble to arrange transportation yourself, you run out of free time and start incurring storage charges. You also pay a premium for the truck.
  • Your cargo arrives ten days late, creating costly problems for your supply chain. Someone owes you an explanation. But everyone you call—your supplier, the overseas trucking company, the steamship line, the Customs broker, etc.—points a finger at someone else.


Read our International Shipping for Small Businesses Survival Guide


A better solution for international door to door shipping

To avoid missed connections, the surest strategy is to eliminate the handoffs. That is, put one service provider in charge of the shipment from start to finish.

An experienced international freight forwarder will manage every stage of your shipment, including ground transportation at the origin and destination, ocean transport and Customs clearance.

When you rely on one company to manage your international door to door shipping, you gain:

  • Time: Once you sign a contract with a provider of international door to door shipping, your work is largely done. They handle the pickup, freight booking, tracking, customs clearance, delivery, and other details. You can focus on your business and leave the shipping and trade compliance details to the professionals.
  • Peace of Mind: You don’t need to stress over who gave the trucking company which information, or whether the Customs broker is doing its job. You still rely on different service providers to execute different stages of the shipment, but your forwarder oversees every transaction, making sure nothing slips between the cracks.
  • An expert who asks all the right questions: An experienced international freight forwarder knows all too well what can happen when you’re missing crucial pieces of information. Do the freight dimensions you provided include the crating? When is the dock available for loading or unloading? Did you double-check the specs your trucker will use to get a permit for an oversized load? A forwarder who’s seen it all knows just what to ask to keep you out of trouble.
  • More leverage with carriers: When capacity gets tight, you might struggle to find a truck. But a forwarder who does business every day with an extensive network of carriers can usually find the space you need. And because that forwarder moves so much volume, it gets lower rates than you could on your own.
  • Logistics expertise that can save you time and money: There’s usually more than one way to a move a load from Point A to Point B. A knowledgeable partner that manages your shipment door to door can recommend various alternatives and help you analyze the tradeoffs. It can, for example, offer strategies to reduce total transit time or reduce international shipping costs, depending on your priorities.
  • Customs clearance expertise: Your partner for international door to door shipping will check documents and coordinate a smooth customs clearance process, without your help. This provider will also take care of tariff payments.
  • A single point of contact: Need a quote right now? Or an ETA? Have a question about Customs clearance in Norfolk? Need to reroute a shipment from Warsaw to Krakow? Work with a single source, and there’s never any doubt about where to turn for help.

You could rely on the steamship line for global door to door shipping, but….

Instead of leaning on an experienced freight forwarder for international door to door shipping, some companies rely on the ocean carriers to manage the entire trip, including overland transportation at origin and destination. That’s OK for huge shippers like Walmart and Home Depot, which get personalized service. But below that top tier of importers, most shippers struggle to get the attention of the carrier should problems or questions arise.

They encounter automated phone systems, clerks who have no stake in their success, and tough competition for transportation capacity. Here’s an example:

Recently, a customer called a steamship line with whom they had shipped for over 10 years. They spent an hour on hold before the system dropped the call and they had to dial in again and start the wait all over.

Here's another real example of why relying on steamship lines for global door to door shipping may not be wise for small to mid-sized shippers.

A company contacted its steamship line and booked a set of containers from Poland to Indiana. The shipment arrived in Halifax and traveled on the rail to Chicago. Then the steamship line was supposed to dispatch trucks to transport it to the consignee. That was in August. By late September, the containers were still sitting in Chicago. The shipper didn’t have to pay storage charges – those were the ocean carrier’s responsibility. But imagine what it cost the shipper to have crucial product sitting idle in a rail yard!


What Incoterms apply to door-to-door shipping?

Depending on the agreed terms of sale for a global transaction, having one party handle international door to door shipping may or may not be relevant. Check out this Incoterms Reference Chart. Following are the primary incoterms in which the pre-carriage, main run and on-carriage shipping details are mostly handled by one party.

  • EX Works (EXW): Seller only has to provide the buyer with the goods. Buyer is responsible for costs and insurance, from pickup to delivery.
  • Free Carrier (FCA): Place determined in advance where the goods are to be made available. Since this could be the seller's warehouse or factory, this Incoterm could also be used in shipping door-to-door cargo, with the buyer assuming the risk and cost of transport.
  • Delivered at Place (DAP): Place of delivery is determined before the sale. Since this may be the buyer's warehouse, this Incoterm could also be used in door-to-door shipping. Up to the time of delivery, the seller bears all risks and costs.
  • Delivered Duty Paid (DDP): DDP and DAP (above) are similar. The difference is that, with DDP, the seller bears the customs costs for importing and exporting the goods for door-to-door freight.



Questions to ask potential providers of door to door global shipping

Not all freight forwarders are qualified to manage international door to door shipping. To help vet these the freight forwarders, here are some questions to ask:

  • Do you have customs clearance services and expertise in-house?
  • Do you have offices and local experts in the markets to which I am shipping? (For example, I.C.E. Transport – headquartered in New Jersey – has offices in Poland and Lithuania to provide expertise in shipping between the US and Eastern Europe.)
  • Do you have strong relationships with air, ocean, and ground carriers to secure freight capacity at good rates when I need that capacity?
  • Can you provide warehousing, transloading, packaging and other value- added services, if needed?
  • Can you handle oversized cargo shipping?
  • Will I have a dedicated logistics specialist working with me every step of the way?

How much stress can you handle?

It is possible to manage international door to door shipping on your own. But you’ll have to watch every single detail, from before the cargo is loaded until it reaches its destination. You’ll coordinate with multiple service providers and then pay their individual bills. And when something goes wrong, you’re the one who will have to fix the problem. Do you have the time, staff and know-how to take all that on?

The safest, most cost-effective way to manage international cargo is to put one trusted source in charge of the shipment, from door to door. For more on the advantages of this kind of partnership, contact the international shipping experts at I.C.E. Transport.


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