Can You Ship It? A Guide to International Shipping Restrictions

Are you running a small business that needs to ship items to Canada, Mexico, or another country? Or you have family in a foreign country you want to ship a care package to?

You’re about to find out that shipping items internationally can be tricky.

Figuring out the difference between banned goods and what’s okay to pack up and send is tricky. Even a few simple details or the wrong label can get your package stopped and confiscated.

If you need to ship something out of the country by air freight or another delivery service, keep reading. We’re breaking down the international shipping restrictions you need to know.

Items You Can’t Ship

It is important to learn about specific international shipping restrictions. But first, there are a few items that are always illegal to ship that you need to know.

Many of these items are obvious. You can’t ship anything that could be a danger in transit.

This includes explosives, ammunition, and gasoline. If these items were to come in contact with a spark, caused by a car accident or other incident, they could be deadly. Airbags also pose an explosion risk. Don’t bother trying to ship these either.

Other items restricted from domestic and international shipping aren’t always dangerous. But instead violate shipping or state and international laws.

Guns and marijuana are two such items. The laws on both items vary from state to state and country to country. Because of that, they are illegal to ship.

Each of these items require a certified, commercial carrier to get them from one state to the next or to an international destination.

International Shipping Restrictions

The list of banned items for non-commercial mail within the United States is short. But there is a much longer list of internationally banned items.

First off, items shipped overseas from the U.S. must have labels printed in English. Or they need an FDA-approved label if it the package includes cosmetics, food, or non-prescription meds.

Items that are perishable can never get mailed. Besides the dangerous items that can’t listed above, you also can’t ship fire extinguishers, BB guns, stun guns, pepper spray, or related items.

Weapon accessories and military supplies, like handcuffs, shields, or batons, are also prohibited.

Diseases and pests carried by wild animals or plants vary from country to country. Keeping those pests and diseases from spreading is an international goal.

For that reason, you can’t ship plants, live or dead animals and insects, or any other items related to agriculture out of the U.S.

Any items that are illicit or illegal are also restricted. This includes counterfeits, contraband, lock picking devices, or the skin of snakes or alligators.

Other Items Restricted from International Mail

Besides the above categories of items you can’t ship to an international destination, there are plenty of other items that you can’t mail. These include:

  • Brazilian Rosewood
  • Stem cell treatments, human growth cells, or steroids, including synthetic versions
  • Pesticides and fungicides
  • Self-balancing boards (hoverboards) or other self-propelled vehicles
  • Damaged batteries
  • Lottery tickets
  • Items related to gambling
  • Toxic or poisonous substances
  • Coral
  • Meals ready to eat (MRE)
  • Beluga or sturgeon caviar
  • Any items that are difficult or impossible to identify

These aren’t the only items that you can’t mail overseas. Some countries have restrictions on what you can and can’t import into their country that may not be on the list.

For instance, Mexico prohibits used clothing from importation. This is true unless it’s part of an individual’s personal luggage.

Check with the country you’re shipping to find out if your items might be restricted.

What to Know to Ship Food Internationally

Perishable items are illegal to ship to a foreign country. But there are food options and ways of packing food that will allow you to ship them overseas.

For instance, items that have a shelf life of at least 6 months can ship if they are in their store-bought, sealed packaging. The food can’t be something that needs refrigeration if you’re going to be sending it through normal, non-commercial mail.

It’s also important to realize that your packages may get exposed to changes in temperature, as well as occasional rough handling. If your item needs to stay upright, like cupcakes, to remain in good condition, its best not to ship them.

While any store-bought items that aren’t perishable can ship from the U.S., there may be restrictions from the country receiving them.

You can’t ship homemade foods. But there are other ways to cheer up a loved one overseas. Consider shipping store-bought ingredients and a recipe for your favorite homemade treat. That way they can make it themselves!

Mailing Prescription Drugs Internationally

Another big category of items that can’t be shipped internationally are prescription drugs.

In order to ship medications that are prescription strength, you need to go through a number of complicated procedures. The drugs will also need to be shipped commercially by an approved carrier.

If you’re an individual, you won’t be able to ship prescription medications.

Finding the Right Carrier for Your International and Domestic Shipping Needs

Need to ship something out of the country, for business or personal reasons? You need to be aware of international shipping restrictions.

Once you’ve followed the guidelines mentioned above, the next thing you need to do is find the right carrier.

Before you trust valuable or time-sensitive packages with the postal service, consider a carrier.

Where the postal service often has slow shipping times and plenty of lost parcels, a private carrier service is a great solution. You’ll get fast shipping that fits your schedule, as well as door-to-door freight service, so no long lines at the post office just to drop off your package.

In some cases, you may even be able to choose same-day shipping for domestic destinations. Some locations in Canada and some international cities are also available.

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