How to label and package goods being shipped out of the UK

Checklist of export packaging considerations


A good place to start is by asking people with experience in packaging, such as business contacts, your packaging supplier or trade association, or a freight forwarder if you're using one.

Factors that will influence packaging decisions are explained in this checklist:

  • Protection - Avoiding damage to your goods is the main purpose of export packaging. One of the reasons that containers and pallets have become so standard is that they combine efficiency with excellent cargo protection.
  • Security - You need to take steps to prevent goods being stolen or tampered with. 'Containerisation' helps with this, and using container seals makes tampering even less likely. Shrink-wrapping and secure straps also act as deterrents. Export packaging should be kept as plain as possible - providing details of the contents, eg brand names, encourages theft.
  • Mode of transport - This may influence your packaging. For example, bulk ocean shipments of liquids, grain and ores don't need any packaging. And goods transported by air generally need less protective packaging than those sent by ship.
  • Cost - It's a false economy to try to cut costs by using sub-standard packaging. The standard options (eg cartons grouped on pallets and then loaded into containers) have become the standard because they're reliable. Unless your goods require special care, you're unlikely to gain much by opting for above-standard packaging. You can buy, lease, or hire most types of packaging (eg shrink-wrap, pallets or containers), so it makes sense to shop around. You can also commission custom-made packaging, and hire a packing firm per consignment to make sure your goods are packaged correctly, which may work out less expensive.
  • Waste legislation - Many markets abroad have waste regulations that favour packaging which can be easily recycled or has a minimal impact on the environment when disposed of. In many export markets, there are stricter rules on packaging waste and collection, eg the 'green dot system' in Germany.
  • Wood packaging requirements - International regulations and wood packaging standards exist to control the spread of forest pests and timber diseases. You may also need an import licence from your destination country to import packaging that is made of, or contains wood. You may find it cost-effective to consider alternative packaging.
  • Dangerous goods - Regulations for moving dangerous goods are very specific on acceptable inner and outer packaging.
  • Food and perishable goods - Read about trading and labelling organic food from 1 January 2021 and food labelling: country of origin.