Today, we’re going to discuss shipment by the US Postal Service options, Express Mail International and Priority Mail International, and what it means for your international forwarding.
First, to dispel a popular misconception: USPS shipment is NOT less expensive than private courier shipment like DHL. There are two main reasons for this:
1. As US Post is a government agency instead of a private company, it’s much harder for OPAS to negotiate with them to reduce rates.
US Post has increased the cost of their international postage fairly dramatically over the last few years.
So, believe it or not, US Post costs more per lb. than a private courier like DHL, and generally provides slower and less complete service, like less accurate tracking.
You may ask, why would I want to ship anything with USPS? The answer is that you might be charged for fewer shipping lbs. than with a courier.
USPS doesn’t bill based on dimensional weight, only scale weight. As we’ve previously discussed, the size of an international shipment is just as important as the weight. Let’s look at a shipment of pillows that weighs 5 lbs., but occupies a box of dimensions 24” x 16” x 12.” The dimensional weight for this package (determined by H x L x W /139) is 34 lbs.
So for USPS shipment, you’re paying the scale weight of 5 lbs., but with DHL you’d be paying the dimensional weight of 34 lbs. Even though USPS is more expensive per lb., they’ll still have the better rate. If the two numbers were closer together, it’d be different. Supposing the same box size, but instead of pillows it’s clothing you’re shipping – 24 lbs. of clothing, let’s say. This 32 lbs. for DHL vs. 24 lbs. for USPS comparison will likely favor DHL.
This also, of course, depends on where you’re shipping to. Private couriers maintain lower rates for the regions they have the greatest shipping volume to: Asia Pacific destinations like Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Mediterranean region and the Middle East, or the UK and Western Continental Europe because they have a more complete logistics infrastructure there. USPS may be able to provide a better (or matching rate) than the courier when shipping to regions that have lower shipping volume, because it relies on local agencies. This may be the case for parts of Africa, Eastern Europe, South and Central America or some smaller island nations.
You can always check our shipping calculator to determine how the price comparison breaks down for you – just click “shipping chart” after selecting your country and OPAS membership level to see a complete chart of costs by lb.
Another major factor to consider when shipping USPS is that because they do not bill based on dimensional weight, they have strict limitations for package size based on length, weight, and a combined factor of length + girth.
These restrictions vary by country, but length restriction is either 42” or 60”, weight is usually 55 lbs. or 70 lbs., and length + girth is either 79 or 108.
To determine length + girth, there’s a mathematical formula you can use: 2X + 2Y + Z, where X is the smallest dimension of the package, Y is the second smallest, and Z is the largest. So a package at 26” x 20” x 12” would be: 2(12) + 2(20) + 26, or 90 total. It’d be fine if you live in a 108 limit country, but not for those in a 79 limit country. To determine which total limit is used in your country, just send us an email at email@example.com.
USPS EMI and PMI both offer tracking, but it’s not as complete as courier tracking. Once the package leaves the US, scanning it for tracking is handled by the local postal authority in your country, as is delivery. OPAS at present does not offer tracking-free postage options for our customers like International First-Class or Airmail. These methods of shipping have even more limited weight and size restrictions, and tracking and insurance are not options. As such, we’re not comfortable offering these oft-problematic shipping methods for our members.
There are some other things to keep in mind when shipping via USPS, such as their carriage restrictions for items being somewhat different and more limited than a courier – for example, shipment of Dangerous Goods like perfume is not an option – these items can only be shipped by a licensed courier. Also, because of the fire hazard that Lithium Batteries pose, USPS will only ship them when they are properly installed in the devices they’re meant to power. We’ll be addressing this in a future blog post.
Additionally, because collection of import and duties is handled by local governmental agencies when shipping via USPS as opposed to private corporations and their brokers, you may find collection of these duties to be more lax when shipping with USPS. This is only observable on a case-by-case basis, and of course, as OPAS is not a customs brokerage, please do not consider this to be a professional opinion but only anecdotal commentary based on our experience. If you have any questions regarding your country’s import regulations, please contact the appropriate agency.
So now, hopefully you’ll understand the primary differences between US Post and courier service, and can choose which would be best for your shipment based on destination and content.