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Labelling for International Deliveries: What You Need To Know

Written by
Janio Asia
Published on
July 31, 2023
Updated on
September 11, 2023

In our earlier packaging guide, we discussed the best practices when it comes to packaging your goods. The next step, printing and attaching shipping labels to your parcel, is no less important.

Printing and attaching shipping labels and commercial invoices to your parcels seem like a simple exercise. However, getting it wrong could result in your shipments never reaching your customer’s doorsteps. Why exactly are shipping labels and documents like commercial invoices important? What kind of labelling best practices can we apply? Let’s find out more.

The Importance of Shipping Labels

The shipping label tells readers what the package contains, who the sender and receiver are as well as their addresses. This information is key for both international logistics service providers and customs staff as they need to know where and who the package needs to go, and in some cases how to handle it in the case of fragile or specialised products.

Shipping labels minimally show the following information:

  • Recipient’s name and address
  • Sender’s name and address
  • Item description
  • Item weight
  • Item quantity
  • Tracking number and/or barcode

If your eCommerce logistics provider or carrier offers real-time track and trace capabilities, the shipping label will have a tracking number or barcode affixed to it. At each step of the delivery, such as pick up or transferring it to customs, the delivery staff will enter the tracking number or scan the barcode to update their tracking system as to which stage the parcel’s delivery is at now. As such, the shipping label needs to be legible and easily scanned.

How about Commercial Invoices?

Commercial invoices are vital for your cross-border deliveries to clear customs and contain more detailed information compared to the shipping label.

Accurate commercial invoices prevent your parcels from getting stuck in your destination country’s customs. They ensure your items are classified correctly and the right taxes and duties are paid.

Commercial invoices at the minimum contain the following information:

  • The declared value of the shipment and its currency
  • Full descriptions of each item in the shipment
  • The consignee (recipient’s) name, phone number and address
  • Waybill Number
  • Shipper (sender’s) name and address
  • Shipping terms which mention if the shipper or the receiver is paying for delivery

Additional information:

  • Harmonised Code – a special code used by the World Customs Organisation to classify goods
  • Tax registration number (e.g. VAT number)

Labelling Best Practices:

The most important thing when it comes to shipping labels is ensuring that they can be read clearly and can be easily scanned.

If the label isn’t appropriately attached, it could get torn off or damaged during transit. Without all the information on the label, there isn’t a clue about what is in the package and where it needs to go. As a result, the parcel finds itself stuck in customs. The customer doesn’t receive their parcel in time and frustrations mount for both them and you.

Here are some suggestions when attaching your shipping label and documents to your parcel:

Use good quality shipping label material

Investing a bit more in the right printing material could save you the headache of your parcels getting lost or stuck because logistics staff or customs staff couldn’t read or scan the label.

Most of the time, labels are printed either using normal A4 paper using thermal paper. Thermal paper prints using heat instead of ink. This is achieved by the printer heating a special chemical coating on the thermal paper, which helps prevent ink messes and can speed up the overall printing process, saving your company valuable time.

Low-quality thermal paper might not be worth the investment when it comes to printing shipping labels. The lower quality thermal paper uses a poor coating on the paper’s surface and has a rougher paper surface, which can cause blurry prints.

Another factor to consider is the thermal paper’s heat sensitivity. Thermal paper with low heat sensitivity requires high-energy printers to achieve readable results. If the paper’s heat sensitivity is low and the printer isn’t powerful enough, the label could end up looking faded and hard to read.

Securing the shipping labels and documents on the parcel

When you’re attaching the shipping label, ensure the addresses and bar-codes on the label are in clear view for identification and customs inspection. Usually, these are placed on the top of boxes or parcels.

During delivery, parcels get packed together with lots of other packages and could rub against them during the journey, generating friction. All that friction could damage the shipping labels, either resulting in them getting torn or the print becoming faint and hard to read.

These labels and documents could also be subject to dirt and water, so you might want to give it a bit more protection. One way to do this is to place all supporting documents inside a clear plastic pocket and tape it onto the package.

Some polyurethane packaging comes with its own protective pockets
Protective pockets can be affixed to tops of boxes

Labels that are properly attached won’t get easily damaged or have their printing fade off during transit. These labels remain easy to read by both your logistics service partners so they’ll arrive at the right places and also by the customs staff to ensure that nothing goes wrong when your parcel enters the destination country.

Attaching Handling Labels

When shipping fragile items, always remember to attach fragile handling labels on your parcels. If you are shipping items that have a chance of spilling, such as items containing liquids like perfumes or certain types of cosmetics, place a ‘This Way Up’ sticker indicating which way the parcels should always be facing to minimise the chances of spillage during transit.

If you’d like to find out more about how we can solve your SEA e-commerce cross-border delivery needs, come and have a conversation with us.