6 Factors That Affect International Shipping Time

6 Factors That Affect International Shipping TimeWhen you ship something internationally, you obviously want to know how long it is going to take for the package to arrive, especially if your shipment is time-sensitive. The time in transit of an international mailpiece depends on many factors ranging from the chosen shipping method to various unforeseen circumstances. Here are 6 main factors that affect international shipping time.

Shipping Carrier

Unsurprisingly, the choice of the shipping carrier is one of the main factors affecting shipping time. Courier companies like FedEx, UPS or DHL tend to deliver international packages a little faster than national postal services such as the USPS (United States Postal Service). However, faster delivery speed usually means higher shipping rates because “fast” and “affordable” very rarely go together.

Shipping Service

Most carriers offer several international shipping services to choose from: some are more affordable but have lower delivery speed, while others are more expensive but guarantee fast delivery. For example, here are the main USPS international mail services:

  • Global Express Guaranteed (delivery in 1–3 business days)
  • Priority Mail Express International (delivery in 3–5 business days)
  • Priority Mail International (delivery in 6–10 business days)
  • First-Class Package International Service (delivery time is not guaranteed and varies by destination).

Shipments that need to be delivered fast are delivered by air, whereas affordable but slow shipping services use sea freight and/or ground delivery, depending on the country of origin and destination country.

Destination Country

With more affordable shipping services like USPS First-Class Package International Service, delivery time is not guaranteed and typically varies between 1 and 4 weeks depending on the destination country. Shipping to remote countries or countries with a less-developed local postal service takes longer than shipping to neighboring countries or major countries with a well-developed postal service and transport system like Australia, Germany, France, or the United Kingdom.

Customs Clearance

All international shipments go through customs to ensure that they contain no prohibited or restricted items and that all required fees have been paid. The customs clearance procedure usually takes up to three days, but packages might get held at customs for longer if there are any problems with them. To prevent your package from getting stuck at customs, you need to make sure that the appropriate paperwork (customs declaration, any permits that may be required, etc.) is in order, especially if your package contains restricted items, and that all the required fees are paid.

Peak Seasons

International delivery may take longer during peak seasons, when shipping carriers are overloaded. There normally are two main peak seasons during the year: during the winter holiday season in Western countries and around the Chinese New Year. Most postal and courier companies announce their holiday shipping deadlines in the fall so that customers can plan accordingly and have their packages delivered on time.

Delivery Issues Due to Unforeseen Circumstances

Sometimes packages get delayed due to unforeseen circumstances. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected international shipping, especially during its early months: lockdowns, cancellation of passenger flights that were used to carry mail, and other restrictions resulted in a global mail slowdown. Although the global shipping industry has mostly recovered since then, there are many factors beyond our control can affect shipping time. Other examples include postal and transportation workers strikes, natural disasters, etc.

So, as you can see, it can be hard to answer the question “How long does international shipping take?” because there are many factors that affect delivery speed, and some of these factors are beyond anyone’s control. If your international shipment is time-sensitive, you have to come to terms with the fact that fast delivery is rarely affordable, make sure all the paperwork is accurate and complete, and be aware of shipping deadlines if you’re shipping during the peak season.