Understand customs documents, deadlines, and everything else required to have your package shipped across a country's borders.

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Packing a gift box to send to family.
Credit: Bryan Gardner

Shipping holiday gifts to friends and family, in general, can be complicated. If you ship the item too late, it won't arrive on time—and delays in delivery are all too common during the pandemic. That's why it's important to plan ahead of time and send them out into the mail soon.

But what if you're shipping to Mexico, the United Kingdom, or halfway around the world? International shipping has more requirements than domestic shipping and following these requirements will ensure the best delivery outcome for your packages. Here, we offer a breakdown of what you need to know about shipping your gifts internationally this holiday season.

Check the country's rules and regulations.

When you ship internationally, it's advisable to read into the requirements of the destination country. Depending on where and what you intend to ship, your package may be subject to restrictions on weight and size. Some countries even have restrictions on the value of the gift, so you may have to pay duties or taxes on the gift if it is valued above the maximum amount. Research customs-related costs and insurance coverage options—it's important to know these fees ahead of time, so you can factor them into your budget.

Package the gift properly.

Ask a representative of your chosen shipping carrier; they will walk you through what is needed for your package whether it be FedEx, the United Parcel Service (UPS), or the United States Postal Service (USPS). By their very nature, international shipments often require more handling than those going shorter distances. According to FedEx, for instance, the documentation that you include with your package must say "unsolicited gift—not for resale" and include a detailed description of the item. Comparatively, the USPS states: "If your mail item can't fit through automated processing equipment, it is considered non-machinable and costs more to send."

Send by the carrier's deadline.

The earlier you send your package, the better chance that it will arrive on time before Christmas—and this is true whether you're shipping across state lines or overseas. As a rule of thumb, plan to send your gifts as early as possible in the season—think after Thanksgiving and at least two weeks before Christmas.

For the USPS, the deadline depends on where you are shipping your gifts. You can see the full list for each country on the USPS Holiday Shipping Deadlines. The earliest shipping deadline is November 30 for First-Class Packages or Priority Mail International to Africa and Central and South America. If you are shipping to the Caribbean, Asia/Pacific Rim, Australia/New Zealand, Europe, Mexico, or the Middle East with those services, the deadline is December 7. Global Express Guaranteed Service has a later deadline of December 17, 19, or 22, depending on the destination country.

If you plant to use UPS, know that the carrier will ship to 220 countries and territories. You can plan on pickup for Air and international Air services only if prearranged by December 18. Standard shipping to countries like Canada and Mexico is cut-off by December 15 and 16, respectively; but they have higher-rated shipping services—Worldwide Expedited and Worldwide Express—that run up until December 23.

With Fedex, the carrier offers different services based on the destinations of Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, or elsewhere. To Puerto Rico, packages can be sent by December 22 as International Economy or Christmas Eve as International Next Flight (depending on the time to clear customs, commodity, origin of goods, and destination). To Canada and Mexico, there are comparable services. For all other international destinations, go to their Get Rates & Transit Times calculator.

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