Attending an international trade show or corporate event is a great way to raise your brand or company profile. But there’s a lot to know about packing, freight, and heavy equipment shipping overseas. These best-practice tips for international trade show shipping can help you make sure all your equipment gets to its destination safely and on time.
1. Choose a Method of Transportation
When considering international trade show shipping for your freight overseas, you have two shipping methods: boat or plane. Both have their merits and potential drawbacks.
Boat: Ocean freight is much more affordable than international equipment shipping by plane, it offers more capacity, and it has a lower carbon footprint. The main drawback is that it takes a lot longer. Depending on the destination, it may take anywhere from two to eight weeks for items to arrive by boat.
Plane: Transporting goods by plane is much faster and more reliable. Your trade show display will arrive at any destination in the world in a few days at most. The flip side of this shipping option is that transporting goods this way is more expensive, especially for heavy items.
Know Your International Trade Show Shipping Options for Freight Management
Breakbulk trade show shipping: This technique is used to transport cargo that doesn’t fit in a shipping container. Items get stowed individually in barrels or crates and come with more than one bill of lading.
Container trade show shipping: Your heavy equipment is loaded into an enclosed shipping container, which is loaded onto a boat by a crane. This is a good shipping solution for equipment that can be disassembled.
Roll-on/roll-off trade show shipping: This shipping option is for equipment that has wheels or treads that allow it to be driven on and off a transportation vessel.
Flat-rack trade show shipping: If your equipment can’t be driven, it’s loaded onto a rack.
Which International Freight Option Is Best?
There are several ways to consider this question.
Time: How much time do you have? If it’s already too late for a boat to ship your trade show materials on time, then air transport is your only option. If you have plenty of time to spare, consider cutting expenses with boat transport. For heavy equipment, shipping overseas is always cheaper by boat than by air, and exhibit components tend to be heavy.
Cost: Air freight is typically more expensive than ocean freight, but not always. If your ultimate destination is a city that’s far away from the ocean port, the extra freight costs of getting goods from the port to the venue could ultimately make shipping costs higher than air freight directly to the city.
Goods: You must also consider what you’re shipping. For instance, air freight has certain hazard restrictions that don’t apply to ocean freight. This includes anything flammable, corrosive, or toxic, along with gases, magnetic substances, and biochemical products. If you need to ship such items, you’ll be restricted to ocean freight.
2. Confirm Your International Trade Show Shipping Deadline
Before your trade show season, check with overseas event venues about equipment deadlines. This is particularly important if you opt to transport goods by boat. You won’t have as much leeway as you would with air transportation, so it’s vital to get the dates right.
Once you’ve confirmed the date by which the venue needs your equipment, contact the applicable international delivery service to confirm how long it will take to transport your trade show exhibit from the destination port to the venue. You can then figure out when your goods need to be shipped to reach the venue before the deadline.
3. Use Appropriate Address Labels
In some countries, you may be required to add two address labels to your packages: one in English and one in the official language of the destination country. In general, this is required for any country where English is not an official language.
When this is required, make sure to place the labels side-by-side, so there’s no confusion about the delivery destination.
4. Choose What to Ship
It may be convenient to send as much as possible along with your booth, but shipping your heavy equipment overseas adds both weight and expense. For some trade show materials, it can be more cost effective to make other arrangements. For instance, rather than shipping printed materials overseas, it may be more affordable to print them at your destination.
This one goes both ways. Once the show is over, do you need to ship every single item back home? There may be some items that aren’t worth the extra expense of a return shipment. This is something you have to decide on a case-by-case basis, as whether it’s cost-effective to ship home or not may depend on where the show is.
Should You Ship Your Full Trade Show Booth?
Choosing what to ship might also mean making some decisions about the exhibit itself. One important decision is simply whether or not you should ship your full booth—the one that you use for local and national shows. There are a couple good reasons not to do this!
- Shipping a full booth may turn out to be logistically difficult, especially if there are large pieces that can’t be disassembled into smaller components. The larger any single piece is, the more vulnerable it is to breaking and, most likely, the harder it is to replace. Shipping several smaller components is a safer bet. And if one small piece is damaged, it’s easier to replace or even simply remove from the booth.
- It may be more expensive than you anticipated. Trade show booths can be heavy, and heavy equipment shipping overseas is expensive. You can lighten the load—and the expense—by opting for a smaller booth footprint or leaving some of the heavier components behind.
- While items are traveling across the ocean, they are not available for use. This is especially relevant for ocean freight because one international trade show can eat up several weeks of transit time each way. If you have a trade show exhibit that’s in heavy rotation in national and local shows, can you afford to have it out of commission for that length of time? If the answer to that question is no, you need a backup plan. That could mean renting an exhibit from an overseas company, or it could mean building a bare-bones booth for those international shows.
5. Pack with Care
Everything you send needs to arrive in show-worthy condition. Regardless of whether those items are fragile or not, it’s always important to pack carefully. Whether you choose ocean or air freight for international trade show shipping, your items will be handled multiple times during their journey. Invest in high-quality packaging and packing materials to ensure they reach their destination intact.
Even trade show materials that are relatively sturdy might still be vulnerable to moisture or dust, even if they’re not breakable. For all items, consider the method of transport and what elements they might be exposed to, and pack accordingly.
It’s also important to pack in a way that makes unpacking easy. If Customs agents decide to inspect your goods, they’re not necessarily concerned about unpacking in the right way or order. If goods are shrink-wrapped, for instance, they won’t hesitate to tear into the wrapping—and that leaves those goods exposed and potentially vulnerable. Make sure your goods are easy and intuitive to unpack and repack and that they can be repacked. Try to avoid shrink-wrapping and any other methods that can’t be repacked.
Shipping Hazardous Materials
Items that are classified as hazardous need to be packaged and labeled according to strict regulations. This includes items such as:
- Lithium batteries
- Oxygen cylinders
- And more
For all hazardous items, a dangerous goods notification must be completed by a qualified consignor. If you’re not sure whether a particular item qualifies as hazardous, check with the manufacturer.
Take your time with this step: It’s important to get it right—not just for safety reasons but also because problems with hazardous materials can potentially delay your trade show shipment.
6. Take Your Time with Paperwork
Everything you ship overseas has associated paperwork. This can be time-consuming, especially when shipping items with unique identifiers, such as the serial numbers on electronics. But it has to be done, and it’s important to be thorough and accurate—so don’t rush through it. Any minor issue might delay your shipment at some point during its journey and even prevent it from arriving to the trade show on time.
7. Obtain an ATA Carnet
The ATA Carnet—or “passport for goods”—is a document that facilitates the transportation of goods that are destined to return to their country of origin. It lets you transport goods in and out of about 80 participating countries, tax-free and duty-free, within a span of 12 months from the date of issuance.
The ATA Carnet applies to:
- Demonstration equipment
- Product displays
- Other exhibit items
It cannot be used for any consumable items or any goods that are intended for overseas sale.
8. Check Customs and Overseas Shipping Requirements
When you ship internationally, you’ll have to deal with Customs agents in the country of destination. In all countries, this means providing detailed information about the contents of your shipment. It’s vital that all your customs documents are as accurate as possible. Any discrepancies between what the shipping documents say and the contents of your crates can result in both delays and financial penalties.
Thanks to the internet, it’s relatively easy to find information about customs and shipping requirements in different countries. In addition, the U.S. International Trade Administration is a valuable resource, with Country Commercial Guides that include details on customs regulations, prohibited and restricted items, and more.
9. Arrange for Overland Transport
Once your shipment arrives in its destination country, it must be picked up by a freight carrier for transport to the venue. Depending on the trade show, you may be required to choose the official show carrier, or you may have the option to choose for yourself.
Your choice of freight carrier is important, mainly because you want to be able to communicate with the company about any problems. With that in mind, choose a company that offers 24/7 live customer service. That way, you can be sure there’s a live person at the other end of the line who can provide service outside of show hours and in any time zone.
It’s also helpful to choose a company that specializes in trade show work. This way, you have the option to have the same company manage transport all the way from the port or airport right through to the venue loading dock and the exhibition floor.
You also have the option of hiring a freight forwarding service. This is a service that handles freight arrangements in your destination country. They’ll make whatever arrangements are needed to get your trade show freight from the airport or the ship container at the port to the venue. Some freight forwarders provide an expanded range of services, including customs clearance, paperwork, and more. Depending on the country in which you’re exhibiting, using a freight forwarding service ranges from “nice to have” to “absolutely essential.”
Preparing for International Shows Takes Time, But It Can Pay Off
Exhibiting at an international show can seem like an intimidating prospect, but it can be hugely beneficial for a growing company. Attending international trade shows can open your company up to a whole new audience and let you expand your network to include people all over the world. Careful planning and thorough preparation are the best ways to set yourself and your company up for success.
If all this seems a little daunting, you could opt to work with an exhibit company that’s part of an international network of certified partners, like OSPI. ProExhibits is proud to be a member of OSPI. When you work with us on your overseas show, you can design the booth alongside us, then have it built in the country in which the trade show is located.
Otherwise, we’ll help with the project logistics of shipping international freight to an overseas trade show and any other trade show logistics needs you have. Contact our team for the experience to help you choose the best trade show freight shipping solution and get your trade show display where it needs to be.