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How to Ship Samples to Russia without Getting Stuck in Customs

Some practical tips on how to send samples to Russia while avoiding headaches and excessive costs.


When we at Balalaika select a project or a product to promote in Russia, we often need to receive samples for purposes other than selling.

In this blog post, I will give you some practical tips based on our experience on how to send samples to Russia without getting stuck in customs, helping you and your partners in the Russian market avoid extra expenses and long waits.

Sending samples to Russia: What you need to know

  • Since the Eurasian Customs Union was established on January 1, 2010 (as we mentioned earlier in this bog post), everything you will read in this article applies not only to the Russian Federation but also to other countries such as Belarus and Kazakhstan.
  • You can easily send samples and other marketing materials to Russia and to other countries in the Eurasian Union as long as you comply with rules regarding the value, the weight and the quantity of each sample you are to send.
Major international couriers (such as UPS, DHL, TNT) do ship to Russia, but they are unfortunately not always prepared to assist you properly when it comes to sending goods to these countries.

Sending samples to Russia: The basics

Let’s suppose you decided to promote your company or products on the Russian market and have already found a partner to support you in this process. What should you do when samples are required of you?

Trust your partner in the market

The easiest thing to do is always to talk with your commercial partner and ask for advice: Russians (at least those who work with people in other countries) are well acquainted with the problems that can arise at customs and will be happy to explain to you in great detail how to send your samples. Some Russian companies also have a courier they trust, and if you are lucky enough, their couriers might even pick up your goods directly from your location.

Choose your international courier very carefully

Ultimately, if the shipping costs are on you and you are at your wit's end, get an international courier. Remember, never trust those who encourage you to send a bunch of samples but don’t warn you about the problems you could face at customs . Your samples will only get into Russia if they meet the Russian law’s requirements. An international courier worthy of its name should always be able to offer advice and make shipping to Russia an easy task.

Again, ask your commercial partner before choosing an international courier and sending your samples.

Shipping to other countries can turn out to be really costly, and one may be tempted to stuff as many samples, catalogues, and bags of product into one package as possible. Well, trust me: It’s not worth the risk!

Make sure that what you are sending to Russia is not on the Eurasian Customs Union’s list of banned or restricted imports.

Along with weapons, pollutive material and substances and dangerous products (you can find the full list in Russian here), starting in August 2014, companies may not import milk products, meat and fish products, or fruits and vegetables from the EU or the US. This means that even samples under these definitions would be confiscated at customs and destroyed.

Unfortunately, the sanctions against the import of these products have been extended till the end of 2017.

The three golden rules for shipping to Russia

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned three fundamental concepts you should stick to for ensuring safe shipment to Russia.

Let’s look at them in detail:

  • Total value: The total value of your shipment is defined as the value of the samples stated on the invoice + the cost of the shipment itself (that is, what you pay the courier for sending the items). In order to prevent your samples from being hold up in Russian customs, the total value of your shipment shouldn’t exceed 200 euros (or 200 USD)!
  • Weight: In order to be deemed as “samples” and smoothly pass controls at customs, the entire package should not weigh more than 50 kg. If it is heavier, your shipment has a good chance of getting stuck in customs.
  • Quantity of each item: Don’t send more than five samples of any one product. This is really important, and not only because it affects the weight of your shipment (as we have seen earlier). As with many other countries, a voluntary or mandatory certification is required to import certain goods into Russia, and if you are a newbie in the market, you probably don’t have one yet (you can always get one later on your own or jointly with your importer). By only shipping a maximum of five samples of each product, you’ll be sure to get through customs without getting stuck. If you send more than five, you’ll be asked for a certification (as for the Resolution of the Russian Government No. 53 of February 8, 2008). To learn more, see the article published by the daily newspaper Rossiskaja Gazeta. You can find it here).
Watch the date!

Before sending samples to Russia, make sure you are not approaching one of the long national holidays: the New Year (from December 31 to January 10 or 11) or the May Holidays (first ten days of May). In close proximity to these dates, many public authorities operate on reduced timetables , and customs is no exception. So avoid sending your samples in December or the period between the end of April and the beginning of May. There’s no point in taking a risk, right?

Your items may get stuck in your courier's warehouse for many, many days, and the cost in terms of time and money could be really high!

Uh-oh, your items are stuck in customs. What now?

When you entrust an international courier, it may happen that the people dealing with your shipment are little or not at all informed on Russian customs legislation and, therefore, you may unwittingly break one of the golden rules we talked about earlier. The result in such case is predictable: your shipment will get stuck at customs.

However, there’s no need to worry: With a little patience and goodwill, the goods will hopefully get to their destination within a couple of weeks. Your Russian partner will have to get a broker to import the goods (just as if he/she were buying them), pay customs clearance fees and produce an infinite number of documents for customs.

As for you, get ready to issue and re-issue a series of documents (which must be translated into Russian) and provide clear information and explanations about the characteristics of the samples as well as their destination and purpose.

Here is an example:

For an apparently "innocuous" bag with your logo on it, you will have to declare the size (length and width) and the materials it is made of, explain its purpose and use (seems absurd, but that’s how it is!) and obtain a certification in the event you have sent more than five samples of the same product (your partner in Russia will then have the task of translating all this information into Russian).

Be aware:

If the goods you sent are on the list of banned products, they will be destroyed without exception.

Shipping samples and advertising materials. To sum up:

Shipping samples to Russia often frightens companies, and there are many hidden pitfalls, but it is possible and safe as long as you comply with three simple rules regarding weight, total value and number of samples per item.

Have you ever shipped samples or other non-commercial materials to Russia? Which courier did you use? Did you encounter any difficulties?

Are you planning to send samples to Russia and this post has left you with doubts or new questions?

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