11 Questions a Logistics Specialist Needs to Ask

Preparation is critical for the success of your import/export movement

Bananas on a crate
 Getty Images

If you're ready to transport goods from one country to another, proper preparation is critical to the success of your import/export shipment. Before you reach out to a transportation specialist, you should have answers to the following 11 questions. Much of this information (and more) can be found in the book “Exporting: The Definitive Guide to Selling Abroad Profitably."

Importing and Exporting Internationally

1. What is your commodity? Is it perishable or non-perishable? There's a big difference between shipping bananas versus screwdrivers. A transportation company must know exactly what you are shipping, your point of origin, and your point of destination. They will also need to know if the shipment is hazardous or requires temperature controls.

2. What is your product's commodity number? You can look this up in the appropriate directory at your local international small business association office. A commodity number (generally known as an "HS/Schedule B product description") allows for easy classification by customs officials. It's important to be as specific as possible when determining your product classification because transportation rates vary widely, even among products you'd expect to fall in the same category. If you're unable to determine the appropriate number, the logistics specialist will calculate an accurate shipping quote based on your product description.

If your product is already a standard export, but you're sending it to a new market, a logistics specialist will take your commodity number and assign an appropriate tariff number. That number will be filed as the industry standard for all subsequent exports of that commodity to that location. Every time you export that product to that country, you must use the assigned tariff number to ensure you get the same rate. The same is true when you reverse the transaction and import the product.

3. Are you shipping by air or by ocean? There's a huge difference between the delivery time when shipping products by air, which can be delivered same day (even if it's fresh fish) from one continent to another. You'll need to know beforehand any expiration dates of products you're shipping.

4. How many cartons do you plan to ship? You need to make sure that everything that leaves point A arrives in point B, especially if you're shipping a lot of cartons of varying sizes.

5. What size cartons? This will need to be figured out both in linear dimensions (including height, length, width) and in cubic meters.

6. What are the net and gross weights of the cartons in kilograms? The net weight is the weight of the product alone. The gross weight is the weight of the product and includes the weight of the carton and any protective shipping material.

7. Do you plan to stack the cartons on pallets? If so, how many will be loaded on each pallet? Your logistics specialist should be able to guesstimate how much weight and cubic space each pallet will take up, and calculate the total weight and volume of the shipment accordingly.

8. Do you have enough product to fill a container? Full loads of cargo are generally known as "containers" and average 20 to 48 cubic feet. Once you have your total number of cases and total weight calculated, your logistics specialist should be able to tell you if you have enough product to fill a container. If you do, it's an advantage. Your product will be the only product loaded into the container (rather than consolidated with other companies' products in the container) and a seal will be put on the door. This means no one will have access to your goods by the time they arrive at the port of destination, except your customer or their designated agent. This safety measure guards against potential theft, pilferage, and product tampering.

9. From what location will the product be moved? Usually, this will be the manufacturer's (i.e., supplier's) factory door. Also, some countries require specific documents before shipping products to their ports and sometimes those papers need to be attested.

10. To what port do you or your customer want the goods delivered? While this sounds like a no-brainer, you must be as specific as possible and include all the details regarding the destination port. If unsure about the spelling, or any other detail, check with your logistics specialist. 

11. Will your shipment require an import/export license? It's best to make this determination as soon as you know what kind of product you'll be selling to avoid shipping delays.

Keep in Mind the Following

Once you've provided all this information, an efficient transportation specialist should be able to get back to you with a quote within a few hours. Be sure to ask them for a detailed analysis as to how they arrived at their rates. If there is anything you don't understand don't be afraid to ask. Also, ask for a rate confirmation number so that whenever you call them, they'll have their quote on record. Don't forget to ask the specialist how long the rates are valid for and don't commit to the first quote. Call a few transportation specialists, compare quotes, see who you're most comfortable with and then retain that one.

Photo Credit: chrisinplymouth