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To Russia, No Love. 5 Tips for Shipments to Russia

July 21, 2010

After conversations with merchants and tips from our network of global shipping carriers, we are now recommending to our merchants who use us for supply chain management to think twice before shipping to private individuals in Russia. One of the biggest issues we have seen is that the carrier gets the shipment to Russian customs only to have it stuck…for a long-time.   As anybody who sells online knows, some overseas buyers will say that is the shipper's problem and will start canceling orders, initiating charge-backs, or causing a large support hassle.

Currently Russian customs authorities have a restriction on dutiable shipments sent to private individuals. What does this mean?   Almost any product subject to tax and duties being sent to a private individual in Russia will be held and inspected by customs. This can take days and even weeks, where they are being looked at with extraordinary scrutiny in an effort to improve the accuracy of accompanying shipping documentation. Why? Foreign country, different laws. Even after this process has taken place, there is still no guarantee that the package is going to be shipped out. In the event that it isn't shipped out, it will often be returned to sender, forcing the merchant to pay for the return shipping — expensive and not fun.

This situation is so bad that some carriers, like UPS, have “suspended acceptance of dutiable shipments sent to private individuals in Russia until further notice.”

If you decide you would like to go ahead with your shipment to an individual in Russia; we would like you to consider a few options in your logistics:

  1. Do not ship anything that is automatically dutiable or needs to be declared. Here are a few USPS thoughts on their Russian country “conditions” help page.
  2. Make sure you know the 6 digit HS number (Harmonized Tariff Schedule number) to speed things through customs.
  3. Ensure the retail value is less than $100.00 USD (Standard insurance).
  4. Do not include any prohibited items and it's best to eliminate any questionable items per the Russian Federation (e.g printed matter may be prohibited, which would require a more detailed inspection).
  5. Send the package via USPS mail, which has simplified forms (but no tracking).

We don't have a guaranteed solution for ensuring prompt accurate shipping to private individuals in Russia.

If you sell on eBay and value your eBay ratings, really think twice. Same goes for any public marketplace allowing Russian buyers and has feedback forms.

And remember, even with all this it could get stuck in customs, sent back or both. You and the buyer will be waiting for two weeks while the shipment clears customs, not having access to information and potentially in a losing situation. A good thought is to modify your returns policy and make explicit to Russian buyers that they take the risk of shipping. Get it in writing if you take credit cards (another concern).

A great way to prevent your orders from shipping out to Russia without your approval or review, is to first look into your shopping cart and change your settings to hold all international orders for review in your fulfillment centers. If you are a Shipwire user, there is a setting in shipping preferences to hold international orders.

The good news we found is that Russian customs says you can still do fulfillment of commercial shipments addressed to businesses. Take that with a grain of salt and ship at your own risk.

Jeremy Rudolph