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Julia Wilkinson AuctionBytes Blog
Covering auctions, collectibles and marketplace selling.

Julia Wilkinson is Editor of the AuctionBytes Blog and is author of the "eBay Price Guide," "eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips and Tricks," "My Life at AOL" and numerous ebooks about selling online. You can also find her writing on Yard Salers.
Mon Mar 19 2012 13:58:01

What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons

By: Julia Wilkinson
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Lately I've seen a lot of discussion (and not a little hand-wringing) on the pros and cons of various methods to ship internationally, especially lightweight items that can easily go for the inexpensive First Class International rate, such as the golf shirts I ship frequently to countries all over the world. I've noticed an uptick in items either taking longer to arrive, or simply never arriving at all. A couple sellers I know even had problems with items taking a long time to arrive even when they used Priority Mail International. So this initiated a discussion weighing the various international shipping options; here's what I've been able to surmise:

First Class International or FCI: for the "Light and Cheap" But Can Be Slower than Molasses in January

Pros of First Class International: it's cheap; I rarely spend more than $11 on it. The USPS offers free envelopes. According to Stamps.com's detailed pdf about the 2012 USPS rate changes, the other pros, besides being the most affordable USPS international service, are it's "ideal for letters, big envelopes, and small packages." (This would include my lightweight golf shirts and a good deal of jewelry that I sell internationally).

Cons of FCI: There is no delivery confirmation or tracking service available from the USPS for this, and "exact delivery times are unknown and can be in excess of 21 days." Did you catch that last part - 21 days or more? That's a long time in the eBay buyer-seller world, and I am starting to get more "Where is my item?," or, as I think of them, "sweating bullets" emails.

But did you know you can buy insurance for FCI? While the USPS itself does not offer insurance for FCI, Inkfrog does offer it, starting at $.79 for a $19.95/mo plan; see the Inkfrog Shipping Insurance FAQ for more details. If you do a lot of FCI shipping, this solution may make the most sense for you.

Priority Mail International: Better But Not Problem-Free?

Pros of PMI: As per the Stamps.com pdf, delivery is much faster than FCI can be; from 6-10 days, according to the faq. Pricing can be either flat rate or by weight/distance. And -- this is a big one, it includes delivery info with the USPS "Track and Confirm" tool.

If you can fit your item (safely) into a flat rate Priority Mail Intl. envelope, this method can be not that much more expensive than FCI: e.g., Priority Mail flat rate envelopes to Mexico and Canada are just $12.95 to Mexico and Canada, and $16.95 to other countries.

For one seller who shipped a game to Australia via PMI, that tracking sure came in handy. The item took over a month to arrive, so she went to the post office and she said "they gave me a sheet called "instructions to initiate an inquiry for international mail" - the number to call is 1-800-222-1811. "They will look into it for you but you do need to give them the number from the shipping/customs form," she said.

Cons of PMI: Bigger, heavier packages can be quite a bit more expensive, and depending on the cost of the item you sold, this may or may not be worth it. Certainly, for the relatively inexpensive (but easy to list and ship) golf shirts I sell, this amount is cutting it close to the actual price on the item in some cases. A 3-lb. package is $28.35 and up; a medium Priority International flat-rate box is $47.95.

Then there's Express Mail International and Global Express Guaranteed, when you need a specific date or faster shipment; these options are of course more expensive. You can read about their rates, as well as their pros and cons, in the Stamps.com 2012 shipping guide.

What international mail methods do you most regularly use? Are you a fan of First Class International for the low price, and if so, have you had many problems with slow delivery or even items going completely missing? Do you buy insurance for your FCI items? Or do you prefer the more expensive international mail options, and if so, what problems have they caused you? Post a comment here!



Comments (27) | Permalink
Readers Comments

What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
This user has validated their user name. by: Ric
       
Mon Mar 19 16:25:49 2012
eBay's DSR system ended our cross border sales. The new separation of domestic and international ratings did nothing to change our mind. We have suffered our last loss because an item was stuck in customs and the buyer filed an INR claim only to be rewarded with a refund AND their order.

Once again, eBay becomes it's own worst enemy with one size fits all policies and the resulting automatic decisions in favor of buyers savvy enough to file claims while items sit in customs.

We know we lose some business, however, avoiding automatic PayPal refunds for INR cases offsets reduced profits from cross border sales which end up in a claim.

We receive regular questions from buyers about why we refuse to ship Internationally, and try to explain that eBay's feedback policy, DSR system, unavoidable customs delays, and the losses from automatic refunds simply do not justify opening our listings to International sales.

We also recommend that buyers who frequently purchase on eBay.com sign up with a package forwarding service. We have had many successful International sales to buyers who utilize a US based freight forwarding service.

eBay considers the package 'delivered' when tracking shows it arrived at the address shown in PayPal.

In the event the buyer does not receive their item, the problem does not bounce back to us but rather to the forwarding service to whom the Delivery Confirmation indicates the package was delivered to.


This is an opportunity for eBay which they have not capitalized on. They should open 3 packaging forwarding centers here in the US. One each on the east coast, west coast, and the mid west.

It also would not hurt eBay to have first hand experience in dealing with the frustrations and delays related to International package delivery. Acting as the middleman on International shipments would be an education for eBay which would hopefully filter down to more realistic policy and seller expectations with regard to International transactions.

eBay could charge International buyers a sign up fee just as the current services do. They would profit from the increased sales and the new revenue stream generated by the sign up fees.

What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: Duke This user has validated their user name.
       
Mon Mar 19 16:36:51 2012
I send the majority of my items using FCI since most of them are 1-4 ounce and inexpensive.  I'm having the opposite experience, with many of them are arriving faster than ever before, even over the holiday season.  But I'm not selling not jewelry, clothing, or high dollar/high fraud-type items, so maybe my packages slide through customs quickly because of that?

I don't get a lot of worried emails, either, but that may be because my customer base is used to buying overseas and the huge delays.  But, I always message them when their item ships and let them know that it can take 30-60 days to arrive, which seems to help.

Thanks for the insurance tip!  I've been using Shipsurance/Insurepost for anything over $20.  It's nice to have a lower priced option.
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: BetterThingsToDo This user has validated their user name.
       
Mon Mar 19 16:56:34 2012
We never ship international. Those flakes overseas think that they package they purchased today should have been on their doorstep yesterday.

Canadians are worst than that.  
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: forevervinyl This user has validated their user name.
       Web Site
Mon Mar 19 18:15:12 2012
We've been using 1st class mail international for all items under 4 pounds and under $250.00. Since Paypal.com doesn't require that we prove that someone has signed for it, there is no reason not to ship this way. In addition, we've been using Auctiva for insurance and they all cover the postage within the fee of $1.50 per shipment. Since we ship everything by weight rather then flat rate and charge for shipping materials, eating the insurance is just a good business practice for us.
We don't use priority.
We do use express mail for all deliveries over $250.00 because paypal.com requires proof of signature which Express gives us. The customer also pays for express mail. We'll decline the business otherwise. I will state, we cover insurance for all orders. We do this because items do arrive broken from time to time and we'd like to be covered for it.
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
This user has validated their user name. by: Al G
       
Mon Mar 19 18:16:02 2012
Perhaps 10% of my business is overseas - mainly Canada Australia & the UK. Most is via FCI & never had a problem with non/late deliveries.

I've used Priority Flat Rate envelops/boxes for books again with no problems over the last 16 years.

I've lost 1 letter in Mexico (undelivered) & 1 to Hong Kong (or was it Japan) in the same time frame.

The only time I had a major problem was shipping a hard drive to Sri Lanka via FCI (under 4 lbs). No delivery. We waited 4 weeks  & started a claim via InkFrog, ended up 8 weeks in total, but the buyer was made whole & I got reimbursed. The only fly in the ointment was faxing a copy of the documents to InkFrog without a Fax.

The rug was cut out from under me when the USPS got rid of surface international mail. Did much more business then via that method and using M-bags.

Canadians are just fine with me, too bad we need a passport to go there - maybe they don't want the rif-raf coming in.....
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous Annie
       
Mon Mar 19 19:01:26 2012
Ric writes: ''eBay's DSR system ended our cross border sales.''

Precisely! For me, the best option was NOT to ship internationally. The low-value items that I sell were hardly worth the comparative cost of shipping. And even if I were selling more expensive items (or multiple quantities of my low-value items), I would be exceedingly wary of shipping outside the US.

eBay and PP set the bar too high to make the rewards worthwhile... and they made the punishments too excessive with relation to whatever additional profit could be had. Those two facts, along with PP's scammer-friendly policies that ALWAYS put the seller at a disadvantage, were MORE than enough to solidify my decision.

I don't even need to elaborate on PP's idiotic policies with regard to mere allegations that something is a counterfeit item. Violin, anyone?
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
This user has validated their user name. by: Tula
       
Mon Mar 19 19:14:12 2012
I ship almost all international sales via FCI. Like Duke, my items are lightweight (2-5 oz) and usually under $50. I've had FCI packages get to Australia faster than domestic First Class makes it just 2 states away. The fastest international shipment ever was 3 days to Australia - I was impressed with that. The only time I had a problem was the one time I shipped Priority International (by customer request) to Australia and it took almost 3 weeks. I love the Aussies, by the way. They're the nicest of my international (and a lot of my domestic) customers.



What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: Harriet This user has validated their user name.
       
Tue Mar 20 00:18:11 2012
I sell on eCrater and do not advertise that I sell Internationally. However, if a person contacts me, I will get them a price and send a direct invoice. That allows me to have a pretty good back and forth conversation with them and helps me to evaluate the potential sale better. I've had no trouble, so far. I use First Class International whenever possible.
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: Harriet This user has validated their user name.
       
Tue Mar 20 00:19:55 2012
Should have also said that there are some countries I will not ship to, not because I don't trust the buyer, but because the country's mail service might be corrupt. I usually ask at the Post Office. They have a good feel for the countries that are troublesome.
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: exdwh This user has validated their user name.
       
Tue Mar 20 10:07:41 2012
@forevervinyl,

Have you ever actually tried to obtain a signature for Express Mail International? If so, what's the success rate?

The advantages of Express Mail International are speed, more reliable tracking, and cheaper insurance.
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: exdwh This user has validated their user name.
       
Tue Mar 20 10:19:02 2012
It's not documented or guaranteed, but FCI may get a delivery scan for some countries.

LN241997793US to France is a recent example.

Years ago, we shipped a Priority flat-rate envelope to England and the buyer claimed non-receipt. Surprisingly, there was a delivery scan.

It seems like the systems are in place to track delivery, but most foreign post offices don't bother unless it's a required service (or confused carrier).
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: unknown This user has validated their user name.
       
Tue Mar 20 10:42:26 2012
Ummmm....there are no free envelopes for FCI. But that's about the only downside to using FCI. But I do block certain countries.  
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless
       
Tue Mar 20 12:57:56 2012
I also use IFCM with InsurePost (UPIC is awful) for items costing more than $50. I won't sell to any uninsurable country for items costing more than $50.00.

I used to ship anywhere in the world but, like everyone else, had too many parcels that magically disappeared, etc.

If ebafia follows through on their threat of a centralized international shipping location, who will be responsible for "lost" packages? For SNAD complaints? How would a seller know whether someone at the ebafia international shipping warehouse didn't tamper with a parcel causing a SNAD or defective item complaint?

When a country becomes problematical, share it here so those of us who would want to either temporarily or permanently can.
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: Another Coin This user has validated their user name.
       
Tue Mar 20 23:30:35 2012
Light weight items I usually ship FCI but it is becoming too much of a gamble. Think we all know about not shipping to Italy and Spain. My post office agrees. They have a lot of 'Items Not Received'.

I have found when making exceptions, I regret it. Most lower (less than 5) DSRs seem to come from international countries. Since eBay started counting International DSRs, it is a roll of the dice.

I have found myself getting more and more stressed and hesitant to sell to any international country.

Also I have found the higher the price of shipping international packages, the higher your risk of getting low DSRs. Sure you can say just forget the DSRs but then eBay will lower your exposure (if that is even possible).

The risks are really starting to outweigh the benefits to selling internationally. The ONLY security (and a false one at that) I have is adding insurance to all my packages.  
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: dkkdolls This user has validated their user name.
       Web Site
Wed Mar 21 01:03:01 2012
I have shipped all 3 ways. Probably Priority Mail International is best overall. Express Mail International has tracking, but it is extremely expensive. I have had 2 items returned (Spain, France) because those countries add on excessive customs. The person in Spain refused it but paid to have the item sent First Class International or Priority International in a Flat Rate envelope. I used ShipSurance at the time. Spain added on Duties that were about as high as the $75 costed (equivalent of $60 plus), but only when the mail was Express mail was it so unreasonable. This was not an Ebay sale, but a direct website sale.  I sent it in a Flat Rate Priority envelope as the small box fits in those and the new padded flat rate envelopes. This is very good and since I use Endicia now, there's their insurance and Shipsurance to choose from if not the post office.

It seems like there is a pretty good record of Priority Mail International and it works best overall except it is too expensive and sales are much better with First Class International which is used most often with the outside insurance. I do not ship to countries the outside insurers will not insure. Sometimes insurance is only until an item touches down on the ground as Russia, so I avoid that. Some places like Spain and France seem to have a good record of First Class International mail, at least for telling if something went through Customs.
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: Paul This user has validated their user name.
       
Wed Mar 21 01:47:54 2012
I ship many FCI packages, low cost items and light weight, to any and all countries, including Spain, Italy, Russia and China.  Loss rate in a year would not equal the cost of insurance for one month.
 
Suggestion:  For South America and Mexico, use stamps and stickers with religious motifs on your packages.  I have not yet lost any such packages to those areas.
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: Tiffee Jasso This user has validated their user name.
       
Wed Mar 21 03:31:54 2012
There is no real protection for U.S. Sellers for International sales. We have basically quit shipping Internationally because of the tracking requirements. Insurance through the U.S. Post Office is for delivery only and not the contents. I don't think very many sellers realize that until after the fact, because even if you pay for Priority mail, if it shows the package was delivered there is no provision for the contents.  
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: Arch This user has validated their user name.
       
Wed Mar 21 07:06:21 2012
Run your numbers. It's worth it to ship FCI and insure the order $50 or more.  But be prepared to lose your top rated seller status if you have it due to inpatient buyer and sometimes a language problem. Things that help is to answer any questions right away and have standard copy prepared letting customers know that 4 weeks in average intl. shipping time depending on the country.  Also, include that info in the listing.  If you answer them right away though (within 24 hours) when they want to know where their package is that will handle the problem 99% of the time.  I do about 25% of my biz overseas with many large $$ value shipments that I insure.  99% of the packages make it just fine.  I am shocked I don't get more claims as it seems overseas scammers have not figured out how to scam claiming they have not received the package. Most people are still honest all over the world.  
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: Carol This user has validated their user name.
       
Wed Mar 21 11:15:46 2012
FYI - Inkfrog, Auctiva, and others are insurance ''resellers''.  The best rates are available directly from shipsurance.com and u-pik.com.  I have a shipsurance policy and pay a flat $40 per month for an unlimited number of domestic and international packages.  (I usually have 120 - 150 sales a month with an average price of about $60.)

Before I switched to a flat rate policy, I was paying Shipsurance $.85 per $100 for those packages I chose to insure.

EXACT RATES DEPEND ON YOUR VOLUME AND ON YOUR CLAIMS RECORD (A SELLER WITH A LARGE NUMBER OF CLAIMS OR A MUCH HIGHER VOLUME OF SALES WOULD NO DOUBT PAY MORE THAN I PAY).  To get a quote, you call Shipsurance or U-Pik at the numbers shown on their sites and talk to the sales department.  The process takes just a few minutes, but coverage isn't instantaneous.  Like any other business transaction, it is a process.

Although insuring international packages does give the seller good protection against financial loss, it doesn't help with the ''hassle factor''.  There's no help for that IMO.

Regarding the best way to ship - I'm often amazed that sellers seem to resist going to the source (usps.com) to find accurate answers for their shipping questions.  Virtually all the information that exists about rules and rates is easily accessible.  Hint:  The usps search engine isn't nearly as good as google, so I use google to locate info on the usps web site.

Any seller who relies on word of mouth for information about shipping services and costs rather than getting accurate info from shippers' web sites (usps.com, fedex.com, ups.com) is probably losing money.
What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons   What's the Best Way to Ship an Item Internationally? Pros & Cons
by: edneff This user has validated their user name.
       
Wed Mar 21 11:40:25 2012
Ink-Frog has a free service if you sell on eBay and it's $1.00/$100 international with no monthly fee. domestic is 0.76/100
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