How to navigate international shipping on Etsy
October 22, 2017 8:18 PM   Subscribe

I have an Etsy shop. I sell mostly blockprints on paper, as well as printed tote bags and towels. I need help being consistent with my international shipping!

Shipping has been the most complicated part of running this shop, in my experience.

The event that triggered this question: I sold a $36, 8x10" limited edition print today to a customer in Norway. Tracked shipping for prints this size to Europe is around $13, sent as a "package" in an unbendable cardboard mailer. The customer sent me a message asking me if I was able to send his print marked "gift", because he wanted to avoid paying the high import VAT in Norway (I think it's 25%). I decided against doing this because I'd rather follow the rules (even though 25% is ridiculously high and I feel bad that some peeps have to pay this).

However, I have several prints listed in my shop that are small 5x7" prints, and inexpensive, $8 or $10 each. If I were to ship these prints internationally as a tracked "package" with an unbendable cardboard backing, the shipping would also be $13, but no one wants to pay $13 shipping for an $8 print. So for these small prints, I send them in an envelope and plastic sleeve, with a thin piece of cardboard inside that can still bend (so the envelope is considered a "letter" and not a "package"). Shipping this way costs $1.15 (using a stamp for int'l mail) and is not tracked.

So, my small prints are sent internationally as a "letter", obviously without a customs form. Larger prints are sent as a package, with a customs form. After asking my boyfriend for advice, he found it interesting that I'm okay with shipping prints as "letters" and avoiding customs, while the idea of marking a larger print as a "gift" didn't feel right.

What would you do? Or what do you do, if you regularly ship internationally? I want my products to be accessible to customers worldwide, but my options seem to be either to 1) ship everything as a package and charge $13 shipping even for $8 prints, or 2) ship everything marked as "gift" and break the law and feel guilty and worried, as well as not being able to track packages. (Or just stop selling the cheap small prints, even though they are often bestsellers).

tl;dr: how can I be consistent when shipping prints internationally on Etsy?
posted by sucre to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Couple questions to start with:

Are you in the US?

What percentage (roughly) of your sales currently are international?
posted by jessicapierce at 9:53 PM on October 22, 2017

If you continue with customs forms- Don't mark it as gift. Not only is it against mailing/tax and Etsy regulations (which could shut down your shop) but it's unethical. If they don't want to pay import tax then they shouldn't buy from your shop. Make it clear in your policies that you don't do this, and that the buyer is responsible for applicable taxes, fees, etc.

Personally, even though I can ship my prints to the UK, Canada, and Australia (as I selected), I think I've only had one international sale. You don't need to discontinue smaller prints. It may very well be worth the $13 shipping (that means your print is only $21, which isn't very much at all.) I even had someone do Priority Express for like $22 on an $18 print in the US.

I focus on sales in general. It's great that you want it to be accessible, but international shoppers know shipping can be expensive. And if they love it, they will be willing to pay the shipping.

Now, if you wanted to go against advice and regulations, and send them as some other form of mail, you can set a shipping profile that will do "free" international shipping and add an international "handling fee" which will show up only as the single "shipping" price to buyers. You can put this profile on any listings you want. But unless you can also ship your larger prints for much less than $13, then you're still SOL on the consistency part.

I'm sure people skate around these rules all the time. (Hell, think about the online orders local tax issue...)But I'd rather be within guidelines as I'm using a third party (Etsy) service and be able to track orders for protection for myself, my postage fees, and the buyer.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:21 PM on October 22, 2017

Not sure if this is an EU-wide regulation or not but in Ireland you don't pay VAT or customs on things with a customs value of less that €22 and in the UK it's £15. I'd imagine it's similar elsewhere. Norway is not part of the EU.

I would just continue to do as you're doing.
posted by bimbam at 12:29 AM on October 23, 2017

Response by poster: I’m shipping from the US, and I would say about half of my sales come from outside the US. Thanks for the advice so far- ther suggestions also super appreciated!
posted by sucre at 9:39 AM on October 23, 2017

I've bought quite a few things internationally (mostly junk from China, but also inexpensive art from the UK and Canada), and a majority of them are marked "gift". Not all, to be sure, and I would never do that myself, but it is common. Several years ago I tried to find somewhere on the Customs and Border Protection site to report the sender, even called someone on the phone, but they didn't seem interested. I think the duty tends to be a very small amount of money in the U.S. Where I have heard complaints is when the receipient is in a higher tax, higher honesty country, like Canada.
posted by wnissen at 9:48 AM on October 23, 2017

In Slovenia, EU, we don't have to pay VAT or customs for values < 22€. BUT, if I want to receive the package, I have to send the customs a receipt or anything else that shows how much I paid. If the package is marked as a gift or the value written on the package is less than what I paid, I have to pay an additional fee to the customs office.

All the junk from China comes marked as "gift" or "sample" so several times I had to pay more than the item was worth in the first place to get it from the customs office.

Please do everything by the book and just say so on your policy page.
posted by gakiko at 10:27 AM on October 23, 2017

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