How to find overseas suppliers for your business

What to consider when looking abroad for suppliers

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In your search for overseas suppliers, you must consider the big picture. Even if you find a willing supplier selling the product you need at the cheapest possible price, you have to consider the following: how far away the country is; whether there might be compromise on levels of regulation and protection; and how well you will be able to communicate with your chosen supplier should any problems arise. Issues of creditworthiness and reliability are even more important when your supplier is based abroad.

As a general rule, developed countries are easier to trade with than developing ones. If your supplier is from a country is in the EU, for instance, many key regulations and standards will be similar to those in the UK.

If a country has high volumes of existing trade with the UK, take it as a good sign. It likely means that other businesses have been successful in establishing relationships with traders in your chosen supplier’s country. If this is the case, inquire after good suppliers in your target country from other traders in your sector; or go on an overseas trade visit; or attend some foreign-focused trade exhibitions. 

There are a number of government agencies which can assist you in identifying reputable suppliers and establishing solid trade relationships abroad. For an overview, it’s an idea to go to the Business Link website, which has an entire section on international trade.

For hard and fast information about potential suppliers, your local UK Trade and Investment team should be your first port of call. The website also has many helpful features, including an online test to see whether your company is ready to trade with businesses abroad, tips from international trade advisers, and FAQ sections.

It’s also worth trying your supplier country’s embassy in the UK. Find contact details on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website. And you can find contact details for the Chambers of Commerce of your target country on the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) website.

Trade associations for your sector will most likely have information regarding suppliers for your industry too. You should be able to find details of trade associations for your industry sector on the Trade Association Forum website.

Once you find your supplier, make sure you research their reliability. Speak with experienced UK importers or trade associations in your sector so that you have an idea of what to expect.

For your own peace of mind, see if your supplier has any UK references they can supply you with. Whether you can source these or not, it is really best to visit them if at all possible, so that you can check out their work and their production systems first hand.

Make sure to carry out financial checks too. If your supplier cannot furnish you with a credit history, your bank’s international trade team may be able to carry out a ‘status query’ which will investigate the company’s financial standing for you. But no matter how clean your supplier’s bill of financial health, don’t sign a long-term contract straight off or agree to any advance payments until you have built up a relationship of trust.

If your supplier is overseas, the rule of thumb is buyer beware.


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