Best Practices for International Trade Show Shipping: Ship Your Booth Materials Safely

Jaime Ortiz
January 30, 2024

International trade shows provide valuable opportunities for businesses to showcase their products or services to a global audience. However, shipping booth materials for international trade shows can be a complex process that requires careful planning and execution. In this blog post, we will discuss best practices for international trade show shipping, with a focus on ensuring the safe transport of your booth materials.

1. Start Early and Plan Ahead

When it comes to international trade show shipping, time is of the essence. Start planning and organizing your shipping logistics well in advance to avoid any last-minute complications. This includes determining the shipping method, whether it's by sea, air, or ground transportation, estimating the size and weight of your booth materials, and understanding any customs regulations or documentation requirements.

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.

2. Choose The Best Transportation Option

Ground: Ground transportation for international trade show shipping offers several benefits. It provides a cost-effective option for transporting booth materials, especially for shorter distances. Additionally, ground transportation allows for easier coordination with pickup and delivery logistics, ensuring a smoother overall shipping process. The main drawback is that this method is reserved for neighboring borders only.

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.

What’s your best option?

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.

3. Choosing what to ship

When shipping heavy equipment overseas for a trade show, it can be costly and burdensome. Instead, consider making other arrangements for certain materials, such as printing them at your destination.

Similarly, when the show is over, carefully evaluate which items are worth the expense of shipping back home. The decision to ship or not should be made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the location of the show.

Should You Ship Your Full Trade Show Booth?

Choosing what to ship may involve decisions about the exhibit itself. Here are some reasons not to ship your full booth:

  1. Shipping a full booth can be logistically difficult, especially if there are large pieces that can't be disassembled. Shipping smaller components is safer and easier to replace if damaged.
  2. Shipping a full booth can be more expensive than expected, especially for heavy equipment overseas. Opting for a smaller booth footprint or leaving heavier components behind can reduce costs.
  3. While items are in transit, they are not available for use. If a trade show exhibit is frequently used in national and local shows, consider having a backup plan like renting an exhibit from an overseas company or building a basic booth for international shows.

4. Properly Pack and Label Your Materials

Ensure items are packed carefully for international trade shows, regardless of fragility. Use high-quality packaging materials. Consider the method of transport and potential exposure to elements. Pack in a way that allows for easy unpacking. Avoid shrink-wrapping or any methods that can't be repacked.

Shipping Hazardous Materials

Items that are considered dangerous must be packaged and labeled according to strict regulations. This applies to items such as:

  • Perfumes
  • Lithium batteries
  • Aerosols
  • Oxygen cylinders
  • And more

For all dangerous items, a qualified consignor must complete a dangerous goods notification. If you are unsure whether a specific item is considered dangerous, please consult the manufacturer.

Please take your time with this step: It is crucial to ensure accuracy, not only for safety reasons but also to avoid potential delays in your trade show shipment due to hazardous materials.

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.

5. Paperwork and ATA Carnet

When shipping items overseas, there is paperwork involved. This can be time-consuming, especially for items with unique identifiers like electronics' serial numbers. However, it is crucial to be thorough and accurate, as any minor issue could delay or prevent the shipment from reaching the trade show on time.

Use an ATA Carnet

An ATA Carnet, also known as a "passport for goods," is a document that simplifies the transportation of goods that will return to their country of origin. It allows tax-free and duty-free transport of goods in and out of approximately 80 participating countries within 12 months from the date of issuance.

The ATA Carnet applies to:

  • Exhibits
  • Demonstration equipment
  • Product displays
  • Other exhibit items

It cannot be used for consumable items or goods intended for overseas sale.

6. Check Customs and Overseas Shipping Requirements

When shipping internationally, it is necessary to deal with Customs agents in the destination country. This involves providing accurate and detailed information about the contents of your shipment. Any discrepancies between the information on the shipping documents and the actual contents of your crates can result in delays and financial penalties.

Fortunately, obtaining information about customs and shipping requirements in different countries has become relatively simple thanks to the internet. The U.S. International Trade Administration offers valuable resources such as the Country Commercial Guides, which provide details on customs regulations, prohibited and restricted items, and more.

7. Arrange for Overland Transport

Once your shipment arrives in the destination country, it needs to be picked up by a freight carrier for transport to the venue.

Choosing the right freight carrier is crucial to ensure effective communication regarding any issues. Opt for a company like Protrade Logistics that offers 24/7 live customer service. This guarantees that there will always be a live person available to assist you outside of show hours and in any time zone.

It is also advantageous to select a company specializing in trade show logistics. This way, you can have the same company handle transportation from the port or airport all the way to the venue loading dock and exhibition floor.

Alternatively, you can consider hiring a freight forwarding service. This service takes care of all freight arrangements within your destination country, including transportation from the airport or port to the venue. Some freight forwarders even offer additional services such as customs clearance and paperwork. Depending on the country where you are exhibiting, using a freight forwarding service can range from being a convenience to an absolute necessity.

Preparing for International Shows Takes Time, But It Can Pay Off

Exhibiting at an international trade show may appear daunting at first, but rest assured, it can bring significant benefits to a growing company. It presents an opportunity to reach a whole new audience and expand your global network. With careful planning and thorough preparation, you can set yourself and your company up for resounding success.

If you find all of this overwhelming, you have the option to partner with an exhibit company that is part of an international network of certified partners, such as the Experiential Designers and Producers Association (EDPA). Protrade Logistics takes pride in being a member and sponsor of the esteemed EDPA. We are fully equipped to assist you in managing the shipping of international freight to an overseas trade show, as well as any other trade show logistics needs you may have. Feel free to contact our team to help you select the optimal trade show freight shipping solution and ensure that your trade show display is delivered precisely where it needs to be.

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