Working with international suppliers

How to find an overseas supplier


The key to identifying overseas suppliers is comprehensive research. You should examine and carefully analyse the potential countries to trade with, as well as individual suppliers within those countries.

Decide where to set up a supply base overseas

You can import most goods and materials from a wide range of countries. Expect a trade-off between prices and levels of regulation and protection. Suppliers in developing countries may be cheaper, but it may be more difficult to resolve any problems.

Factors that should influence your decision include:

  • familiarity with the country - knowing your target country and having contacts within your sector there makes doing business easier
  • communication - if you (or your employees) don't speak the local language, check that English is widely spoken by businesses, or that translators and interpreters are available
  • membership of the European Union (EU) - in EU countries, many key regulations and standards will be similar to or the same as in the UK
  • development level - it's generally easier to trade with developed countries than developing ones
  • distance - this affects shipping costs, the length of your trading cycle, and the ease of visiting suppliers, if necessary
  • levels of existing trade with the UK - high volumes suggest other businesses have successfully chosen the route you're considering

Find the right international supplier

There are many sources of information about potential suppliers and markets, including:

It is vitally important that you look into potential suppliers to assess and verify their performance. You should also evaluate their technology, products, reliability, solvency and commitment to quality, to ensure that you choose the right overseas supplier for your business.

Trade-services suppliers

You may need secondary suppliers, such as freight forwarders, to help with the trading process, or import agents to handle shipping and customs-related formalities and documentation.