Shipping logistics

Shipping items internationally can be a daunting (and sometimes frustrating) task.  There can be varying levels of complexity depending on the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How’s of a shipment.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

Every International Shipment is an Export - Regardless of whether you’re selling something or not, every time you ship internationally from Duke you are exporting from the U.S.  This includes items imported for temporary use in the U.S. that are returning to origin.  As discussed elsewhere on this site you may need to meet certain compliance requirements before you may legally export.  This requires time and careful coordination so plan accordingly and contact us well in advance.

Every International Shipment is also an Import - Your items will need to be properly imported once they reach their destination country.  Customs clearance will take place at the foreign port/airport of entry and can add a day or more to the length of your shipping time. 

  • You will need to prepare a document called a “Commercial Invoice” (aka "Customs" or "Proforma" Invoice) for foreign customs’ review.  See “Resources” for a template in MS Word format.
  • There will need to be an entity overseas to act as the legal importer (known as an “Importer of Record”).  Do you know if your intended recipient can act accordingly?  Do they have a customs broker in place?  Note: certain countries will allow a foreign entity to act as the Importer-of-Record if the recipient is unable. This is called a "Non-Resident Importer"
  • There may be special permits or documents required from the destination country’s government to import the items in question.  Best to check with the recipient that they have these in place before shipping

Generally, the Shipper Pays All Charges – Most international shipments from Duke are sent on a prepaid basis; this means you’ll be responsible for all charges including:

  • Door-to-door delivery (based on shipment weight or cargo dimensions)
  • Customs clearance
  • Storage (if applicable)
  • Repackaging (if applicable)
  • Duties and taxes
  • Temperature-controlled solutions for perishables

If you want the recipient to pay for any of these charges, arrangements usually need to be made in advance.

Consider a Carnet for Temporary Exports – Depending on the destination country and the length of time the items will be out of the U.S. for, an ATA Carnet can be a great way to avoid paying unnecessary duties and taxes.

Choose Your Shipping Method Wisely - Couriers such as Fedex or UPS may be more cost efficient but often fail to provide the level of customer support needed by unseasoned international shippers.  Sometimes you need a more hands-on professional to guide you through the logistics of shipping internationally.  A freight forwarding company can be a good alternative in such cases but bear in mind they generally charge higher rates.  Contact us if you have questions.  The Office of Export Controls works with the following approved vendor for freight forwarding services:

Details Matter - The shipping company you choose needs to know many important details in order to effectively handle and deliver your items.  Always provide the following details:

  • Size? (exact weight & dimensions)
  • How is it packaged?
  • What is the commodity and what special handling needs does it have?
  • When does it need to be delivered and where?
  • It is permanently leaving the U.S. or will it return?
  • Are the pick-up and delivery locations equipped with a loading dock?
  • Service Level (General vs Expedited)?

Material Transfer Agreements May Be Necessary - Please contact Curtis Bradney ( in the Office of Research Contracts to determine if a material transfer agreement may be required for the transfer of materials from Duke.

Bottom Line:  Speak up, ask questions, consider carefully what your needs are, and never wait to the last minute!