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International Shipping Hurts!

I’ve been looking at options for shipping to locations outside the United States. Wow, the choices are terrible! For comparison purposes, I’m assuming an 8 x 4 x 3 package that weighs 4.5 ounces (about 125 grams). I calculated hypothetical shipping charges to Canada, the UK, Norway, and Australia using the US Post Office, UPS, or Fed Ex. The results were not encouraging.

UPS and Fed Ex provide detailed tracking info for packages, but the costs are through the roof. The cheapest option through UPS is $104, and with Fed Ex it’s $84. These are both for 5 business day delivery – they don’t seem to offer anything slower. Hello? $100 for a four ounce package the size of my hand? Forget it.

US Postal Service Priority Mail Express International (I love these names) looks a little better, but it’s still bad. It provides package tracking information, with a cost of $33 for Canada and $48 for the other countries. Delivery is promised to be 3-5 business days. That’s a lot better than UPS and Fed Ex, but it still seems like too much money to ship a little lightweight box.

US Postal Service Priority Mail International (non-express version) is cheaper still, with a cost of $20 for Canada and $24 for the other countries if you use their small-sized flat rate box. It promises delivery in 6-10 business days. But for reasons unknown, the small-sized box is ineligible for package tracking. You have to step up to the medium-sized flat rate box for that, which then costs more than Priority Mail Express International. Thanks, but no thanks.

That finally brings us to lowly First Class Mail. This is just plain old mail, with no fancy features, and no promise of delivery speed – though anecdotally the speed is essentially identical to Priority Mail International (6-10 business days). It’s just $8.55 for Canada and $12.75 for the other countries, but there’s no package tracking or insurance. If your package disappears into a black hole in some foreign mail sorting facility, too bad.

I’m thinking that the best option may be to self-insure, charging something like $20 flat rate for international delivery and shipping via US Postal Service First Class Mail. Then I could make good on any lost deliveries out of my own pocket. Of course there’s the risk that some unscrupulous person could order 20 units delivered to Burkina Faso, then claim they never arrived, and I’d be out a lot of money.

Or I think it’s possible to get delivery confirmation with Priority Mail International, but only for some countries. And delivery confirmation isn’t the same as package tracking – if the package gets lost, it’s still lost. But at least it would protect against the guy in Burkina Faso claiming he never received his delivery.

This stuff is hard. Now I understand why real businesses use shipping logistics services!

Read 16 comments and join the conversation 

16 Comments so far

  1. Syd Kahn - December 8th, 2013 5:54 pm

    I am just curious how they ship from china so cheaply???? a 2.99 item shipping for free?

  2. Andrew H. - December 8th, 2013 9:18 pm

    USPS has flat-rate First Class and Priority Mail boxes about the size of a VHS tape that cost (I believe) $6 and $14 respectively – the flat-rate boxes are much much much more cost effective than bespoke packages. And don’t even bother asking UPS/FedEx/DHL unless you want to ship thousands of packages a month, their rates are obscene for casual users.

  3. Andrew H. - December 8th, 2013 9:20 pm

    Also don’t bother with package tracking internationally – it’s just not worth the time or money on packages under $100. They show up almost all the time to almost all destinations, failure rates are low enough that self-insurance is much more economical.

    (i live in Australia and get things shipped in all the time)

  4. Owen Shepherd - December 8th, 2013 11:38 pm

    Also, anecdotally, “tracked” international shipments have a ~50% chance of dropping off tracking the minute they go international

  5. Felix - December 9th, 2013 5:21 am

    There’s only a flat rate for priority USPS, not first class. First class is slower internationally but very good overal and quite speedy domestically (even faster than UPS ground). You still depend 100% on the destination country to deliver, some countries have anal customs. I choose to filter out the noise countries where I get no orders anyway. First class is fully tracked only in a handful of countries at this point, nothing anecdodal about it, it either is or not. And yes still wondering how china ships so cheap…

  6. Steve Chamberlin - December 9th, 2013 7:42 am

    The USPS flat rate international Priority Mail box is $24 ($20 for Canada), not $14 unfortunately. Since it doesn’t provide tracking info, the only possible benefit over first class mail is that it might be faster, but at least within the USA it’s not.

    If you live outside the USA, and have received shipments by both US Priority Mail and US first class mail, did you find a significant difference in delivery time between the two?

  7. Steve Chamberlin - December 9th, 2013 7:44 am

    I’d like to know the secret of cheap Chinese shipping too. I’ve noticed that a few things I bought from China were re-shipped from a US address. I’m not sure how that works. Maybe they ship a whole crate filled with a weeks’ orders to an assistant in the US, who then re-mails them individually to their destinations.

  8. Andrew H. - December 9th, 2013 3:31 pm

    Damn, I swear the Priority Mail boxes used to be cheaper. Maybe it was a padded envelope I was thinking of?

    “If you live outside the USA, and have received shipments by both US Priority Mail and US first class mail, did you find a significant difference in delivery time between the two?”

    First class tends to take 7-10 business days (to AU), Priority has sometimes been as quick as four business days – they’re pretty much of a muchness, though, in my experience – the 4 day Priority was definitely an outlier.

    And yeah, that’s exactly how the chinese companies manage cheap shipping to the US – they crate it all up, send the crate bulk, and then re-mail.

  9. Andrew H. - December 9th, 2013 3:34 pm

    Oh also, while you can’t get tracking on First Class you can (to most countries) get delivery confirmation, which is really all you need to stop people claiming stuff didn’t show up.

  10. Shannon - December 9th, 2013 6:10 pm

    If you ship internationally there are package forwarding services that you can use. Since they ship a lot they negotiate pricing with companies like Fedex, DHL, UPS, etc. for better rates. You buy your item and ship it to the package forwarding company’s US address and then they consolidate or repackage so it is more economical and ship it to your international location. provides a rate of USD $33.89 for Fedex International Economy and USD $.34.62 for Fedex International Priority for a 8 x 4 x 3 package that weighs 4.5 ounces (about 125 grams) and is valued at $50. Tracking is automatically provided.

  11. Dav - December 10th, 2013 5:49 am

    I don’t know if it is relevant, but last time i buy from ebay, the vendor uses the services of to send my package from US to France. For $15.99/ month, the service _seems_ to me to add tracking to priority mail. Look at and

  12. Stephen - December 14th, 2013 10:25 am

    If it’s not too complicated, offer your customers of cheap-but-uninsured and more expensive options, and make shipping be at their risk. Then you don’t have to try to assess the risk of loss for every country.

    This is a fairly standard policy. Have you seen “FOB” I’m terms and conditions before? It’s not the greatest customer service, but there’s a trade-off between service and risk.

  13. Syd - December 14th, 2013 3:51 pm

    i took a look at a few of the ebay sellers and kept seeing ePacket. Seems that is a USPS program – and on their website it says you get to it by setting up with a “Wholesaler” and they have quite a few links. Don’t know your volume – but if people want cheap shipping – this could be an option.

  14. Alan Parekh - February 19th, 2014 9:00 am

    I am running into the same issues in reverse. Shipping from Canada is getting more expensive each year and the lack of tracking as an inexpensive additional option is irritating.

  15. Steve Chamberlin - February 19th, 2014 9:22 am

    I agree… we should start our own international shipping service! 🙂

    The unfortunate reality is that the shipping companies are all geared towards making high-volume shippers happy. They don’t really care much about people who ship a few dozen packages a month, because they don’t make enough profit from them for it to matter. So those people are left with the post office as their only option, but that’s a government bureaucracy with no real incentive to please customers.

  16. Peter - August 16th, 2015 1:49 am

    International shipping can cost a fortune. Have you considered using a parcel forwarding service?
    It’s worth considering how couriers and shipping companies calculate the cost of shipping i.e by volumetric weight rather than the actual weight. You can shave quite a lot off the cost of shipping by having a parcel forwarding company repack and consolidate your delivery.

    Picking the right parcel forwarding company can be a bit of a minefield so I’ve created a comparison table breaking down the costs

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