Don’t Let an Ill-Prepared Shipping Label Hold You Up

Sometimes it’s the easy things that can mess you up.  Take shipping to Canada.  Most businesses are so concerned about the Customs clearance process, and making sure that they don’t get slapped with hidden fees or unexpected delays, that they tend to overlook something as simple as proper labeling.  As many businesses can attest, overlooking the labeling process can be a surefire way to ensure delays in having your packages arrive on time.

Following is a list of six tips that certified international trade professional Curtis Cook pulled together.  Failure to follow any one of these suggestions can mean the difference between a successful delivery – and a happy customer – or a shipping nightmare.

1. Label boxes and containers with required information.

For export, this information includes, but is not limited to, the country of origin, shipper’s mark, weight and/or volume information, cautionary marks and handling instructions (for instance, the word “glass,” the symbol of a glass, the words “this side up,” or the symbol of arrows pointing upward), consignee’s mark, destination and order number, and the number of the package and size of the case if there are multiple boxes or containers.

2. Do not label boxes with extra information that is not required.

If there is no need to specify the content of the box on a label, avoid doing so.  Identifying valuable goods contained in a box is an invitation for thieves and vandals.  Use coded marks to identify export goods unless local laws prohibit this practice.

3. Do not use boxes or containers with old labels.

Recycling is admirable; however, all old marks, addresses or advertising must be removed or permanently obscured to eliminate confusion for handlers and carriers of your export goods.

4. Ensure labels are clear and permanent.

Labels must be large enough to read and information must be indicated in the appropriate language.  Labels for your export goods must also be waterproof and resistant to the elements.

5. Label more than one side of the box or container.

Consignee marks as well as destination and transfer point marks should be applied to at least three sides of the package.

6. Symbols have international appeal.

Exporters can purchase self-adhesive labels with international carriage symbols.  These are cautionary symbols providing carriers and handlers with instructions on the correct manipulation of your packages.  There are commonly seen symbols such as the wine glass (fragile) and the umbrella with the raindrops (keep dry).  There are also more obscure symbols, such as the penguin inside a box (keep frozen) or the penguin inside a box with a diagonal line intersecting it (do not freeze).  When an export shipment involves transfers through different countries with different languages, symbols may act as the universal language that protects your goods.

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