Shipping. When it comes to reviews, two-way freight coverage is one of the costs manufacturers have to bear. Whilst you'd think that someone in the business of selling stuff abroad would have an automatic grasp on that, routine experience suggests something very different. So here are some basics to help perhaps newer manufacturers to cross international borders without subsequent heart aches.

1/ you can't just write on your label "no value, review sample, to be returned". If you do, your shipment will be held in customs until you provide a formal invoice. You cannot ship without an attached pro forma invoice. If you do, your shipment won't be delivered..

2/ shipping a 60kg 80x90x100cm carton with an attached €100 invoice won't fool any customs agent at least not in the developed countries our writers work out of. Such shipments will be quarantined until a believable invoice is submitted. Undervalueing your shipment in this extreme fashion to save money is nothing but a waste of time.

3/ the only way to avoid VAT or other import tariffs with relevant destinations is to have the shipment accompanied by a temporary importation ATA carnet or merchandise passport. This complex paper work creates a bonded guarantee whereby customs can debit your account if your shipment doesn't again leave the country after a predetermined period. With that guarantee in place, VAT is waved.

4/ the amount of VAT or import fees varies from country to country. It is assessed as a percentage of your declared value. The same declared value also becomes the insurance value should your shipment get lost or damaged.

6/ it's most common to declare a value between raw build cost and dealer cost.

7/ in nearly all cases, customs clearance, VAT and related border-crossing fees cannot be prepaid by the shipper. They must be paid by the recipient, i.e. reviewer. Hence manufacturers must expect to be billed back for those fees.

8/ using the postal service for international shipments usually means there's no tracking of your shipment once it's left your country. If anything happens to it thereafter including being stuck in the destination country's customs for missing or incorrectly issued paper work, neither you nor us will know. Solving such issues gets messy quickly since you must do it from your country, with another country's customs agents who may not speak your language. The most secure professional way to ship is via couriers who offer complete tracking and handle all customs clearance issues on your behalf including trouble shooting when things go wrong.

9/ if anything about 1-8 isn't clear, check with the writer before you ship. If you don't know and don't ask, don't complain after the fact. We cannot know what you don't know.

10/ hand deliveries are an alternate option. Of course crossing borders with review goods in the boot of your car unaccompanied by formal paper work is at your own risk.

11/ nearly all reviewers work out of their homes, not warehouses. Upon conclusion of a review, it is imperative that the review goods be retrieved in a timely manner. Asking reviewers to sell your loaners on your behalf just to save return ship fees or a second drive is not appropriate. Neither is abandoning your gear.

12/ the quality of your packing determines in what condition your goods will be received. It must be sufficient for at least a 2-way trip. Sub-standard packaging reflects poorly on you and how you treat your customers.

To reiterate, just because you own the product and will get it back does not free you from the obligation of paying import/export fees and VAT on said property unless the two countries in question had specific trade agreements in place; or you organize for proper formal temporary importation papers. If you drive 1'000km to hand-deliver your loaners and bypass a regular freight carrier, you will have to make the same trip again to retrieve them. It's not acceptable to cry wolf and stall on this second trip because it's really inconvenient. The reviewers will have told you beforehand how long they need your loaners. It is expected and important that you retrieve them in the agreed-upon time frame or make alternate arrangements. Telling us that your driver isn't available; that the freight company has declared bankruptcy; that your budget to retrieve a 60kg amp is €100 and that until you can find a courier willing to do it for that, the writers remain stuck with your kit... none of that is professional or acceptable. It should be obvious but reviewers are consumers by proxy. Anything and everything in the process—beginning with your original solicitation or response to ours and ending with the retrieval of your property—creates data that flow into the review. We can only work with what we're given. If you treat us in a manner that's less than satisfactory, we must assume that you'd treat a paying customer just the same. Then it's our job to say so. Save us and yourself embarrassments and be sure that you know how to handle international shipments in ways that conform with all the legal requirements this entails from country to country. Thank you!
PS: For a detailed rundown on what's involved in obtaining a temporary importation carnet, here is one German shipper's first-hand experience: "You get the paperwork from your local chamber of commerce. It is 12 pages with another 9 or so on how to fill it out, plus an addendum giving a third party like UPS the right to do border inspections on your behalf. You first have to fill out the paperwork, then the Chamber of Commerce will put stamps and numbers all over the documents and put a little strap with a metal seal on top. Then I headed to the local customs office to present the amp there. I should not have packed it beforehand as the custom’s officer needed to verify the serial number on the unit itself. Thus it needed unpacking and repacking. I was lucky that he was OK to do that on the parking lot instead of in his office. Now the amp will go to Switzerland and on the German border it should get another chop on the carnet. When you re-ship to us, the colourful carnet documents need to stay on top so that they can collect two more chops when leaving Switzerland and coming back into Germany. Once we get it back, I have to return all the filled-out paperwork to the Chamber of Commerce to get my deposit for importation charges back. The funny thing is that both the clerk at the Chamber of Commerce and the custom’s officer told me this made things so much easier!"