Basics of Exporting

What are exports?

Exports are inputs, resources, goods or services that sellers in one country sell to buyers in a foreign country. Foreign goods and services may find a market opening when domestic producers do not produce enough of a product, the innovator has new offerings that domestic buyers want, or foreign sellers can offer their products at lower prices. 

What should I consider before exporting? 

Assess whether your company and products are ready to meet foreign demand and become globally competitive. At this stage, you should analyze the export potential of your products (See guide on export potential and the International Trade Centre’s (ITC) Export Potential Map) and you can consider undertaking an export readiness assessment to identify which areas your business might need further improvement to enter new markets (See guides on export readiness assessment  and assessing e-commerce readiness). 

Later in the process, you will need to develop an action plan that enables your exports to comply with domestic and foreign requirements and satisfy consumer preferences (see guides on tariffs and non-tariff measures).

What other steps can help me prepare for export? 

  • Identify your product’s HS code: One of the very first steps to take after you have decided to export a product is to identify its HS code (see guide on how to determine my product’s HS code). Identifying your HS code can help you understand any potential trade measures that might apply as well as to fully use export potential tools.
  • Gather key information on your target markets: Business support organizations, government agencies, and online platforms provide informative materials that can help you understand your potential markets. You can also access the Global Trade Helpdesk website to map out market demand, trade-related procedures, and certifications you will need to export overseas. (See guide on where can I find trade resources and get started). Additionally, Google provides a free course on Localisation Essentials for users worldwide.
  • Determine if your products are subject to trade measures: Your exports can be subject to trade measures. Understanding your trade requirements can help you to adapt your products to meet certain standards and regulations, such as local environmental sustainability standards, packaging and labelling requirements, and energy efficiency certificates if applicable (See guide on non-tariff measures and tariffs and taxes at the border).
  • Review whether your products are eligible to preferential treatment under free trade agreements: When planning to export, you can check whether there are any trade agreements in place between your domestic and foreign markets. If applicable, your products may benefit from preferential market access and lower trade restrictions in your desired markets (See guides on regional trade agreements and preferential trade arrangements and rules of origin ).
  • Determine whether your products could benefit from certifications such as Fair Trade or Organic. There are many certifications offered by governments and non-governmental organizations to indicate sustainability or other consumer preferences that may increase your product’s marketability.
  • Arrange the sale – The first step for international trade is to arrange the sale. Contracts need to be drawn up (See guide on Incoterms), finance needs to be arranged (See guide on Trade Finance), and shipping needs to be considered (See guide on  How do I transport my shipment).
  • Be mindful about cultural and linguistic challenges in foreign markets: Entering new markets entails working under different cultural and linguistic patterns for doing business. You can study attitudes that business partners and consumers may have in your desired markets so you can properly adapt your product designs and develop appropriate communications and marketing strategies. Learn more at Language Insight.
  • Manage risks, finances, and payments: Doing business globally can often expose your finances to commercial, political, or economic risks, such as high inflation, wars, and contract disputes. Insurance, financial tools, and even new technologies can help mitigate some risks (See guides on Trade Finance, and Trade-Related Insurance). 
  • Consider protecting your intellectual property (IP): Identifying the various types of IP that your business develops and which IP rights you can consider is an important step when eyeing foreign markets. You can consider undertaking an IP diagnostic to understand your IP value and identify your IP protection needs (See guide on What is Intellectual Property and Could I Consider it for My Business).
  • Select a distribution method: Selling your products abroad has considerable logistics and shipping requirements. To transport your products, you can consider air, sea, and freight options depending on the kind of goods you export and consumer demand (See guide on How do I transport my shipment).
  • Prepare your documents to comply with customs and border procedures: Before reaching destination markets, your products will have to undergo several customs and border procedures that control cross-border movements of goods, people and other loads in your country. You can check the Global Trade Helpdesk website to see which authorities and procedures you will have to address when your products get to customs (see guides on customs and border procedures and trade documents for exports). 

Where can I learn more? 

For information on who to contact on various trade regulations, see the guide on Enquiry/Contact Points