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

Factors to consider when choosing export packaging

This page explains the packaging options you can choose from, and offers advice on packaging dangerous goods. You might need help deciding which option is best for you. A good place to start is by asking people with experience in this area, 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 below.


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.


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.


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 shrinkwrap, 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

Within the European Union (EU), food labelling and safety requirements are based on the same rules, so the rules UK exporters must follow for their dispatches are similar for all member states. Many foods, such as meat, have specific extra requirements. For instance, all organic goods must be labelled and fruit and vegetables destined for the EU must be labelled with their country of origin. Outside the EU, standards vary from country to country. The rules are complicated and you should seek specialist advice from your trade association or freight forwarder.