International postal shipping tips for your handmade items

International shipping can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tips to remember to simplify your international shipping task. It’s really very easy to ship internationally. I understand completely the hesitation, but I have to say that it was the smartest thing I’ve done. Without offering international shipping, I would have cut my sales in half.

* Invest in a postal scale. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive, or even a digital one. I went to Office Depot and bought an old-style, non-digital 2 lb postal scale for $15.00. It’s been dead-on every time. You can also find good deals on digital postal scales on ebay.

* Weigh your items INSIDE the packaging you intend to use. This includes the bubble wrap, thank you note cards, address labels, everything. This will give you a better idea of how much each package weighs, and what the range in weight is. This should help in setting your international shipping charges.

* Research shipping costs. The cheapest way to send anything is to use USPS, assuming that your items aren’t huge, super-heavy, or weird-shaped. Go online to www.usps.com, plug in different weights, choose a couple different destinations, and see what the costs are. I ship everything First Class and First Class international. Don’t let the postal worker try to talk you into doing Global Priority or Express – it’s their job to up-sell; First Class International is generally the least expensive option. It is about $0.92 cents per ounce to international destinations (that price does vary), but that equals about $3.00 for a 3 ounce package. If your items are heavier and cannot go First Class International, quote the actual shipping cost and let the buyer decide. You may be surprised and ship the item regardless of the higher cost. Note that insurance or tracking is NOT available with First class International. You can find shipping calculations by international zone here http://www.usps.com/prices/first-class-mail-international-prices.htm#cz

* Get a stack of First Class Customs forms from the post office or you can find downloadable customs forms here https://webapps.usps.com/customsforms/ You need to use PS Form 2976. I think the idea of a customs form throws a lot of people off, but it shouldn’t. The form asks for basic information, like your name and address, the ship to name and address, the weight of the package, the cost of what’s in it (Use the price you’ve charged for your item, not YOUR cost), and what is in it. That’s all. So, get a stack of them, and keep them next to your shipping supplies; this way you can fill out the form at home and save time at the post office. Do NOT falsify the customs form, such as stating ‘gift’ when it is a purchase. CUSTOMS DOES NOT PROVIDE TRACKING. Unless your package is shipped in one of the priority groups it can not be tracked if lost. Shipping priority does however, give you insurance at no extra cost. Flat rate priority is excluded. See details here. http://www.usps.com/international/intlspecialservices.htm.

* International packages have to be taken to the post office if they weigh more than 13 oz and have postage stamps on them . (From the USPS web site “Domestic and international mailpieces that weigh 13 ounces or less, with postage stamps affixed, can be dropped in a blue collection box, or handed to your letter carrier.  Mailpieces that weigh more than 13 ounces, with postage stamps affixed, must be handed to a Retail associate at your local Post Office.” )

There are online, print-at-home mail services that include the customs form in their postage label (PayPal Shipping is NOT one of those services), but those are monthly subscriptions and you have to pay a fee to use them. If you ship a large amount of items, it might be worth it to use a third party postage service (like stamps.com or endicia.com) These sites charge a small membership fee, but you can insure 1st class US postal service package for a small amount, like $1 or so. Both services allow you to print First Class international postage from home. Print the mailing address and your return address in all CAPITAL LETTERS especially when shipping to Canada.(Note: Fedex, UPS, etc. need a broker to clear customs. The broker costs are passed on to the package recipient. If possible, always ship USPS, as it does not require a broker. )

*  When you send any International package, I would highly recommend that you invest a bit more time in the wrapping and cushioning your items. Don’t use recycled food boxes. Some countries disallow entry due to food bourne disease fears. Keep in mind the distance that it’ll be traveling…

* Make sure you communicate with your international buyer about their local custom restrictions. You can find more information about that here http://pe.usps.com/text/imm/immctry.htm . I’d recommend adding some details around your international mailing policies in your shop policy statement. I have something to the effect that local customs are the buyer’s responsibility, etc. You should send an email note to your buyer once the item has been mailed.

Can you think of any other tips?

(Special thanks to Brandi of CatiesBlue, Nicole of Beadwright and Deb of Crysalliscreations for their suggestions and content in this post. You guys ROCK!)

Kristy from ShinyAdornments Artisan Jewelry


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Comments

  1. We sell a lot via eBay internationally and it can be daunting but usually everything goes smoothly. Some people will ask you to mark custom forms as “Gift” and not put full amount on form, but I never do that as it could be more trouble than it is worth.

  2. Wow. What a great post. There is a lot of very useful info here. I have shipped international a few times but I’ve never had to deal with a custom form since the weight was so low.

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