Understanding International Shipping & Its Calculations

International shipping services offer a shipping calculator on their websites. These calculators vary, here is a guide that will help you understand why these results vary.

Based on each parcel forwarding service’s relationship with the respective courier company, the charges and calculations vary. And, aside from the variations in cost, you also need to understand the method for shipping calculations.

Methods of Shipping Calculations

There are two ways of calculating weights:

  • Dimensional weight (of package)
  • Actual weight (of package)

Shipping companies charge on whichever weight is greater.

Dimensional Weight / Volumentric Weight

As the name suggests, it’s the size of the parcel which matters in this methods. Calculated as Length x Width x Height, and then the total is divided by dimensional weight factor (166 for all carriers except DHL worldwide express that uses 139).

So the bigger the box of your package, the more you pay for shipping; this is also known as volumetric weight.

You may understand now why some international forwarding services claim to use the ‘right size’ of box for your shipment. They are indicating at how well they understand the situation we as customers are in and hence, will use the appropriate box fo us.

Actual Weight:

This one doesn’t need any clarification, but the weight of the parcel regardless of its size when put on a weighing scale, is what matters.

There are very few parcel forwarding services who charge customers based on this method instead of dimensional/volumetric weight. There is an upside to calculating shipping cost via actual weight (in case you are wondering), there is less hassle and no mystery into what the shipping cost would look like when you are set to foot the bill for shipping.

Factors Involved in Shipping Calculations

Whether we want to or not, we have to accept that international shipping will cost a lot. The only ‘wow’ factor in getting parcel forwarding services to handle shipping, is the ‘consolidation’ and ‘repackaging’ of your items (and in reality, it is why the shipping cost becomes less than half of what it would be if there not to combine our parcels). But there are still other factors involved in your shipping cost when international forwarding companies display the result in their calculators.


Forwarding services like to display ‘insurance’ apart from the shipping cost and they also give us the option to check or uncheck ‘insurance’ option. There is also some insurance included for each shipment depending on the courier service you choose. You should also always, take a look at the shipping calculator before you signup with a service and send over your purchases to them (because then it would be a hassle to move the goods to another parcel forwarder).

You should always ‘check mark’ for insurance if the value of your item is $100 or over. But as a practice, be sure to take a look at the shipping calculators before you signup with any service (and send over your purchases to them), because if you realise they are including ‘insurance’ on their own and you have no say in the matter.

Fuel Surcharge

A fuel surcharge is a fee added by all shipping carriers. These charges are passed on to the customer. Some parcel forwarders pay for these charges themselves in order to provide the best value to the customer. However, some forwarding services add fuel surcharge fee to the total bill of shipping cost.

You should double check with the customer support staff of the forwarding service you want to use before sending your items to their warehouse.

Bonus Tip

To get an idea about shipping calculation according to volumetric weight, take a look at the package dimensions listed on Amazon, BestBuy, etc. for the item you are ordering. You will get a close enough idea of what your intended packages may end up costing you.


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