Cross-border e-commerce: Everything you need to know

Elle Kasser

Selling online is a great way to build or expand your business. And one of the great things about e-commerce is that you have the opportunity to reach customers all over the world - growing your market and connecting to a global fanbase.

However, cross-border e-commerce also comes with its own unique challenges as you need to think about how to convert your offering for other countries, market to a new customer, deal with shipping, organise customs process and pay fees, duties and taxes.

This guide gives you a starting point when researching how to expand into cross-border sales. We’ll take a look at some of the basic steps every entrepreneur will need to take, as well as how to protect your profits when selling internationally with a smart new account from Wise Business.

Table of contents:

What is cross-border e-commerce?

Cross-border e-commerce is when online buyers shop with retailers based outside their home country. The process is often so seamless that buyers don’t even realise they’re shopping abroad - with products delivered direct to the customer at home for convenience.

From the buyer’s perspective it means you can access all your favourite retailers globally without barriers - and for the seller, it means reaching an audience of fans all over the world. What’s not to love?

If you’re considering growing your online business internationally, it’s good to know that the general steps you need to take are similar for each overseas market. You’ll need to do your research and have plans and processes in place - but once you have expanded to one or two markets, you’ll likely find you’ve drawn up a blueprint for expansion in multiple geographies around the world.

Still not convinced about expanding into cross-border e-commerce? Have a look at these impressive stats:

  • In 2016, only around 15% of e-commerce sales were cross-border. By 2022, this is expected to be 22% as shoppers get used to browsing and buying internationally¹
  • Recent research shows that outside the US, 40% of online shoppers have ordered internationally - with overseas basket spends higher than domestic purchases²
  • International e-commerce sites are growing 1.3x faster than single country online retailers²

Online shopping via app

Benefits of expanding your online e-commerce business to new markets

If your online business is already up and running, you’ll be looking for smart new ways to grow - and selling internationally is a solid bet. Expanding your e-commerce business into cross-border sales is a good way to increase your reach while protecting your profits - you’ll already have good customer insight from your home country, so can target your marketing and choose the right niche products to start with. The set up costs are low, and you’ll benefit from getting into a growing market at a relatively early stage.

When choosing the markets to expand into, you have a few things to think about. Maybe your products are uniquely suited to some countries - you know there’s a demand and a market already there, making expansion a natural option. If the choice is not so simple, you might take another route to choose the locations you start selling in. For example, if your website is already set up in English, you may choose to expand initially to English speaking markets, choosing between options like the US, Australia and the UK based on the costs of shipping or taxes for your specific product.

No matter which market you choose, don’t forget to think about how best to localise your site. As well as any translation or language tweaks, that means setting the prices, times, dates, payment methods, address and shipping options and so on to the right format for your destination country. By making customers feel right at home on your e-commerce site, they’re more likely to spend.

You can reach new customers yourself or via global marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and Etsy - and even have the logistics of international retail taken care of by choosing a service like Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA).

Keep reading for more pointers on selling internationally from your own ecommerce site - or get Amazon’s guides to selling in their different global marketplaces, here.

Currencies and exchange rates: How not to lose out

Selling cross-border brings huge opportunities for entrepreneurs. But there are a few things to consider and get used to when branching out into international e-commerce. One key factor to understand is how using multiple currencies - and dealing with changes in the exchange rate - can impact your sale price and profit.

Before you set up an international e-commerce site or start selling abroad, you’ll need to think about how you charge for goods. This includes factoring in any costs associated with shipping and taxes - and most importantly, choosing the currencies you’ll charge in. Depending on how your business is set up, you may have different charging options:

  • List your prices in your own home currency
  • List your prices in the currency of the market you’re expanding into
  • List your process in a global currency like USD or EUR

Sell in your own home currency

Continuing to list prices in your own home currency means your customers will need to work out the cost to them by doing a currency conversion. They’ll also bear any costs incurred when converting the payment. This may be off-putting, and can push up the price for the consumer - but you’ll continue to receive payments in your own home currency for convenience.

Sell in the local currency in your chosen market

Customers are used to buying in their home currency, so may favour your listings if the prices are converted to their currency online. However, in this case, you’ll either need to be able to receive payment in a variety of currencies, or bear the cost of currency conversion yourself. As currency values move up and down all the time, this can mean you lose out - making less profit than you expected due to high fees and charges, and fluctuations in exchange rates.

It’s important to know that the costs you pay when converting your money between currencies aren’t always shown as upfront fees. There are also often extra charges which are wrapped up in the exchange rates used. By adding a markup to the mid-market exchange rate - the one you find on Google - banks and payment providers make an extra profit. This means you pay more, and your own profit margins are eroded. Unfortunately these costs aren’t easy to spot, which can mean a nasty surprise down the line. We’ll cover how to minimise the fees and charges associated with currency conversion - and get the best available exchange rates - in a moment.

Sell in a global currency

Finally, as an alternative you might consider launching an international website where goods are priced in a global currency most people can understand, such as USD or EUR. This may make it easier to reach multiple markets at once, as you don’t need to re-list products in multiple currencies - but you’ll still need to figure out how to receive payments cheaply in your chosen currency. Read on for a smart way to pay and get paid like a local - wherever in the world you’re selling.

Grow your cross-border e-commerce business with Wise

No matter how you choose to set up your cross-border e-commerce business, you could save time and money with Wise Business. Open a free online Wise Business account, to receive, send and spend dozens of currencies from the same account - and get business friendly perks like batch payment solutions, and a linked debit card.

See if you could save

You’ll get your own local bank details for major markets including Singapore, the UK, euro area, Hungary, US, Australia and New Zealand. That means you can receive payments easily, and then convert the money to whichever currency you need using the mid-market exchange rate with no markups and no hidden fees. There’s just a low transparent fee per transaction which can be much cheaper than your regular bank and up to 19x cheaper than alternatives like PayPal. You’ll also be able to sign up to selling platforms which require US bank details with your Wise USD account details - giving you even more ways to connect to customers.

Customs declaration form

Handling customs and tax

Customs and tax regulations and requirements vary from marketplace to marketplace. This means you’ll need to do your research before you start selling online in another country, to make sure you don’t fall foul of the law.

We’ve rounded up some tips to help navigate customs and tax in international e-commerce below - depending on what and where you intend to sell, you might also need to look into intellectual property rules, product safety regulations, export controls and environmental laws.


Different countries have different tariffs, duties and customs processes in place, which will also vary widely according to what you’re shipping. Any fees which are required will need to be paid before your items are released for delivery to your end customer. This means you need to understand the paperwork and costs, and make payment arrangements to ensure your products can get to their destination.

Because the processes involved - as well as the laws - are different from one country to another, it’s common to outsource customs procedures to a third party customs broker. In fact, shipping companies such as UPS offer this as a service which you can add on to your shipping.³ This means that the broker will help you complete the required paperwork for your destination country, estimate the costs and arrange payment - making the whole process as smooth as possible.

If you don’t want to use a customs broker, you can deal with customs requirements yourself. This may be simple - or very complicated - depending on what you intend to ship, and where your main marketplaces are. Or choose a service like FBA, where you may be able to ship all your product to the destination country in one go and have Amazon deal with shipping individual customer orders in the country. This can speed delivery times, and mean that you only have to worry about customs processes and charges once.


If you’re importing and exporting you’ll also need to understand the rules relating to tax both in Singapore and in your destination country. Make sure you’re clear on your duties for local taxes like GST⁴, as well as the equivalent - and any other - costs in the market you’re shipping to.

The taxes which are levied on your products can be paid by the seller or the buyer - but it’s more common in e-commerce to include the cost of taxes in the sale price, and have the seller cover this. It’s good to know that different countries calculate tax on imports differently - you might have to multiply the tax percentage by the cost of goods only, or by the total cost of the shipment which will also include freight costs, insurance and so on. This can make a significant difference, so make sure you know which terms apply in the country you’re shipping to.

Getting the taxes right is important - so taking professional advice or using a specialist broker is a smart move. However, you can also use online calculators to start to build a picture of the likely costs of shipping different item types and values, to further your research.⁵


If you’re considering selling to the UK it’s good to know that changes to international trade as a result of Brexit might impact your business. The UK’s trading relationships with Europe and the rest of the world are subject to some change - with negotiations about terms ongoing at the time of writing. Make sure you’ve checked out all the latest information if you think Brexit might impact your ability to sell overseas.

Different payment methods paying online

Common payment methods in new markets

How your customers will want to pay is one key final point to consider when setting up your cross-border e-commerce business. Online shopping can look quite different from one country to another - with different card providers, digital payment services, and offline payment options available from country to country. In fact, between credit and debit cards, e-wallets, pay-later options and more there are over 140 different payment methods in use globally. ⁶

You’ll want to make sure you’re offering the right options for the markets you’re expanding to, so your customers have no problems with paying you. Here are a few facts to get you thinking:

  • In 2019, there were 340 million Visa credit cards in the US, and another 800 million globally - and 244 million US issued Mastercards, with a further 700 million elsewhere in the world⁷
  • There were nearly 55 million American Express (Amex) cards in circulation in the US in 2019 - but the Amex purchase volume makes this one of the biggest cards out there⁷
  • WeChat Pay is one of the biggest payment methods for online and in person shopping in China and beyond - with 800 million users, and 1 billion daily commercial transactions per day by the end of 2019⁸
  • In Europe preferred payment methods vary with online bank transfers, Apple Pay, PayPal and others all chosen by shoppers alongside regular card payments⁹
  • Online bank transfer systems have different names in different countries - in Australia you might use POLi, in Germany Giropay, and in the Netherlands iDEAL for example. Choosing the right options and using the right language on your website will help customers shop and spend⁹
  • Pay later options are popular in some countries - check out Klarna as a popular pay later option in Europe¹⁰

Getting involved in cross-border e-commerce is a smart choice, no matter what sort of business you own. You’ll be able to scale and grow your business, reaching more customers and increasing profits - but you do need to do some research in advance to make sure you’re clear on your expansion plans.

Take some time to do your customer research, selecting the perfect products for your new markets, and finding the right platforms to use. Make sure you know how to clear customs and deal with local taxes to avoid nasty surprises and unexpected costs. And don’t forget to take a look at Wise Business to receive and convert payments from all over the world using the mid-market exchange rate with no markups.

  1. Statista - Global cross-border e-commerce share 2022
  2. Flow - International e-commerce: A comprehensive guide
  3. UPS - Understanding international customs and regulations
  4. Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS)- Exports e-Tax guide
  5. Easyship - Understanding shipping duties and taxes
  6. European Payments Council - Payment methods report 2019
  7. Fortunly - US credit card market share: Facts and statistics
  8. Business of Apps - WeChat revenue and usage statistics (2020)
  9. About Payments - eCommerce market facts + online payment methods per country
  10. Klarna International

Sources checked 29 October 2020

*Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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