International transport and distribution

Assessing your transport needs for international trade

Your choices for international transport and distribution include road, rail, air and sea.

Various factors will influence your decision on which type of transport to use - including your business' requirements, the destination country, and the type of goods you are importing or exporting.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you want to distribute? Size and weight will affect the cost.
  • How quickly does the product need to reach its destination? This will affect which type of delivery service you use and the cost - sending goods by air is quicker but significantly more expensive than by sea.
  • How would transport costs impact on your overheads?
  • Where do the goods need to go? For example, Europe has a large rail and inland waterway network, but you may encounter problems if the destination is especially remote.
  • How valuable are the goods? Get quotes from insurance brokers before deciding on the appropriate insurance level.
  • Do your customers have any special requirements?

Consider all the methods of transport available. You should aim to balance service quality, cost, organisation and time. You will often use more than one mode of transport.

How your type of goods may influence your decision

Match the transport mode with the goods you're moving. For example, if you import fresh fruit or other perishable items, speed is important. Transport by ship or road may not be quick enough.

Another issue is whether or not your goods need to be kept refrigerated during transport.

If you are transporting animals, you must follow specific rules and regulations. Find out about animal health and welfare on the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) website and see our guide on using TRACES to trade in animals and animal products.

Other regulations or special requirements may also influence your transport choice. For instance, if the goods you are transporting are classified as dangerous, you must comply with special rules. Find guidance on transporting dangerous goods on the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website. Also see our guide on moving dangerous goods.

You can also find details on certification of packaging and intermediate bulk containers for transporting dangerous goods on the Vehicle Certification Agency website.

You could use a freight forwarder to manage logistical issues for you. See the page in this guide on choosing and managing a freight forwarder and see our guide on using brokers and forwarders.