Saturday, September 7, 2013

Beware If You Ship Packages Overseas Using USPS Priority Mail

I have been using the US Postal Service's package shipping service for the past few years, and they are generally great.  You can ship items that are 13 ounces and below via First Class Mail, which gives great rates and even provides tracking (tracking, as far as I can tell, is available only if you use Ebay or Paypal to create the First Class postage label).  Anything over 14 oz must go as a Priority Mail package.  You can ship very small items in a Priority Mail Small Flat Rate box; I've shipped internal hard drives this way within the US and have had no problems.   I've found that if you order Regional Rate A boxes from, you can use these boxes for your packages and they give great rates, while fitting most items that I ship out. 

The best things about shipping via USPS Priority Mail is that the post office will send someone out to pick up the package at no additional charge, or you can leave the package in your mailbox for your regular mail courier to pick up.  Also, unlike Fedex and to a lesser extent UPS, you won't get an estimate of shipping charges on the web, then get dinged repeatedly for things like excess fuel surcharges, residential delivery, rural delivery surcharges, signature confirmations.  If you send a 1 lb item in a Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box to a friend in rural San Diego, it will cost $5.50 or so.  That same package might be quoted on the Fedex site as $8, but the many various charges could bring the actual final cost to $18 or more!  As someone who is in business, I need to be sure that a package gets to a destination with proper tracking information, and just as importantly, I need to be sure that the estimated costs of shipping that package match the actual cost.  I am amazed that Fedex continues to get away with quoting one price on their website and then charging more when the package is delivered. 

Anyway, if you ship overseas, beware of using the Priority Mail Small Flat Rate box.  I attach a couple of screen grabs from the USPS website.  I shipped a hard drive to Germany and assumed that the Priority Mail Small Flat Rate box would give me tracking information.  Surprise!  It turns out that Priority Mail provides tracking information and insurance EXCEPT for Small Flat Rate boxes and Flat Rate Envelopes.  You aren't told of this on the USPS website unless you search for it. If you are not aware of this technicality, you will prepare a label at, pay for that label, and assume that the package is insured and tracked -- as all Priority Mail packages were in the past.  Very quietly and without any notice, USPS changed the rules, so suddenly you are no longer provided tracking information for Small Flat Rate boxes and envelopes.  It turns out that you are also not provided tracking information for other types of boxes that the USPS deems "small" such as the International Large Video Flat Rate box or the International DVD Flat Rate boxes. 

Here are the choices you will see if using to ship a package internationally.  Note that all of the choices below and including "Small Flat Rate Box" do NOT provide tracking to the destination and do NOT provide insurance for your package! 
I learned this the hard way.  The buyer in Germany evidently knew that USPS does not provide tracking all the way to Germany.  I could only provide proof that I delivered the package.  He insisted that he did not get the package (I am fairly sure that he got it).  I had to refund his money, and the postal service refused to refund me for the postage of $25 or the cost of the hard drive. 

If you use to ship a package internationally, be sure that the page above, giving you the choice of buying insurance, comes up.  Otherwise, if you do not specifically choose and purchase insurance, your buyer can claim that he never received the package, and you will be out the cost of postage and the item -- usps will NOT even refund your postage!
I only ship internationally now using a service like UPS International, and yes, Fedex International.  Both of these international shippers do provide tracking of packages all the way to the destination.  I like UPS's international shipping services in particular, as they seldom surprise you with overcharges. 

Here's the fine print that states that tracking information is not available for International Small Flat Rate Priced Boxes or International Flat Rate Evelopes.  Note that other "smallish" flat rate boxes also won't provide tracking or insurance.  Buyer Beware!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's based on International policy, not USPS policy.