Saturday, February 21, 2009

International Shipping

I know a lot of shippers are scared of shipping internationally, and really, there is nothing to fear! In shipping overseas, there is only one extra step, and that is customs forms. Below is an over-view in shipping internationally. I realize this is a long article, but I'm trying to be thorough.
Also, I am trying to avoid using prices in order to not out-date this info.

1) Weigh your item. You have four options in shipping internationally, though you will mainly use the first two.
First Class International – if package is under 4 pounds
Priority International – if package is over 4 pounds, or you use a flat rate box or envelope
Express Mail International – If package must arrive fast (costly)
Global Express – if package must arrive fast (costly) and USPS website says Fed Ex ships it

Use the Shipping Calculator on the USPS website to see the rates.

Personally, I’ve only used Express mail once for international packages. Those services cost more and most customers don’t need their items that fast or want to pay that much. You really only need to know First Class International and Priority International.

Note: A few years ago, the international options were different. There was airmail, the equivalent of First Class and then Surface/Economy which like media mail and was very slow. They were replaced by First Class International and Priority International; I think to make things simpler, which is debatable.

2) Flat Rate info.
The post office provides free boxes and envelopes, and some are flat rate meaning that they have a flat cost to ship them. They are different sizes and usually have weight restrictions, but can be very handy and save you money. When you use the postage calculator on the USPS website, you can also see what the rates will be if you use a flat rate packaging. Usually if your item is small, heavy and can fit in the box or envelope, you’ll get a better deal using the flat rate. Even if the package is under 4 pounds, you can still ship it using the Priority flat rate boxes or envelopes.

3) Customs Forms.
Green Form (2976) is for packages that are going First Class international, under 4 lbs, value is under $400 and for the Priority flat rate envelopes.
White Form (2976) is for packages that are going Priority International (except for the Priority flat rate envelope) and over 4 lbs.
Express and Global need different forms, and since I lack experience with these two, I won’t go over them here.

Filling out a customs form is really easy. Starting with the green form, start at the left and you’ll need to write the contents and their value. So, for example if the box contains three cotton shirts and their total value was $30, you’d write: 3 cotton t-shirts $30.00. Onto the right or white side, you’ll need to put down your address and the address of who you’re shipping to.
On the bottom, you’ll need to sign and date twice, once on each side. Remove the backing from the green side and stick to the box or package. Keep the white half there; the postal clerk will remove it and they keep them on file.

The white forms just require a little bit more. They look complicated, but you do the same thing as above, just in different places. You’ll fill out your address, the receivers address, write in the contents and their value, the service being Airmail (the forms still have the old Airmail and Surface options), if you know the weight you can fill it in, or the postal clerk will do that for you, check the type of contents, if they are commercial goods, a gift, etc, and sign and date at the bottom.

An extra option you’ll need to check is to the right of the signature box, which are instructions for non-delivery, which you’ll probably want to mark “return to sender”.

More on customs forms can be found on the usps website here. (The info there is pretty intense!)

That's it! Your package is good for mailing.

-If you use online mailing programs, the customs forms are integrated into the software, so you won’t need to fill out paper forms. The postal service also has digital customs forms you can fill out on their website. It’s important that you know how to fill out the forms. They look daunting, but just fill them out to your best ability and truthfully. If you have questions, just ask your local clerk. Also, try to have these forms complete by the time you go to the window- you’ll save time for everyone and the people in line with you will be very happy. Take a handful of forms home so you can fill them out there.

-I also recommend that you keep the customs number, which on the green form starts with LC and on the white forms start with CP. They are documentation that you shipped an item, and in some cases can be used by internal postal staff to track your package. You cannot track it on the USPS website, as it won’t tell you where it went after leaving the country, but I have had a postal manager successfully find a package using the number.

-Give your customer the number. In some cases, when your customer hasn’t received the package, tell them to go to their local post office and give the clerk the number and tell them they are waiting for a package from the USA. In one instance, a customer gave this number and the package was in the back and for some reason hadn’t yet been delivered. Some customers also have to pay a customs fee and that’s why a package hasn’t yet been delivered to them.

International Extras

You can add the following services in some cases. They need to meet specific criteria, so if you want one of the following, ask your local clerk.

-Insured Mail
-Certificate of Mailing
-Registered Mail

I rarely use these services. I've only seen a couple packages go missing. Insurance is automatically included in some Priority international shipments, but you can purchase more for a nominal fee. If you're worried about the item(s) or want to be protected, you can buy insurance and include it into the shipping fee to your customers. More info here on extra services.

There's no way to cover everything about international shipping in one post and I will post further info on it later on. This post is a good starting guide and I hope will boost your confidence in shipping internationally.

There are millions of customers overseas- when the US Dollar is weak against another currency, these customers can get an amazing deal and are more willing to buy from the USA. It is a great way to expand your business.

For more on international shipping, view the USPS website.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sorry for the Delay!

Hello all,

I apologize for the delay of the International Shipping guide like I mentioned in the last couple posts...this week has been crazy!! Saturday is my new goal for my International Shipping article.

In the meantime, please feel free to post a comment on other topics you're interested in me covering.

Also, I'm trying to always include something new and helpful in each post, even if it is just a "delay" message so, have you heard of You can get quotes from all kinds of shipping services including USPS, Fed Ex, UPS, Canada Post and more. I don't use it much since I don't ship a lot of larger parcels, but if you are and want one place with all the rates, this is a great resource.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Freebie - Fragile Labels

Happy Sunday! If you ship fragile items, a handy tool to have is Fragile labels. You can easily make them in word and print them out on address labels and stick them all over the box so you don't have to write "fragile" a million times.

Well, I've saved you a step and made the labels for you. Just download them here, and print them out on labels with the code, 8160. You are more than welcome to customize them. I used a really generic font so they would work with any computer, so to change the font, size, etc, just select all and feel free to tweak them to how you want.

If you don't have the sticky label paper, you can always print on regular paper and just tape them on with clear tape.

Download Fragile Labels
- this is a word file -
(Just right click on a PC and select download file or save link as. Once it's downloaded, just open in word.)

If you have questions, feel free to comment!

For future reference, all freebies will be posted on the right hand column under "Freebies".

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Biodegradable Packaging

I have had multiple requests for info on biodegradable packaging. I myself have never ordered any, since I'm able to re-use gently used packaging. I did some google searches and poked around online. The places online usually want you to ask for a quote, so I don't know how different the prices are to purchase biodegradable materials than generic.

Here's a few places online that I found. Have you used any of these companies? Can you tell us about them?

And a disclaimer: I have never used these companies, but I'd love some feedback on them. Or if you're from one of these companies, I'd love more info.

Green Packaging Inc.
Eco Bags, boxes and peanuts!

Puffy Stuff
100% Biodegradable Packing Peanuts

You can also find "green" packaging at major retailers like Office Max and Staples, as well as from sellers on both Etsy and eBay. I'll try to do more research on this topic. If you are familiar with eco-packaging, I'm welcome to contributors for the blog!

On another note, I'm currently working on the International Shipping article, and I hope to at least get a section posted this weekend!

Thanks for following this blog!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reusing Packaging

As I mentioned in the last post, there is some dispute about reusing packaging, but I personally believe that recycling is less wasteful, saves resources and is totally acceptable when done right. As long as the packaging you’re reusing is still useable, for example, it’s not torn, full of holes or weakened by its previous mailing, you can use it. Not only do you save resources, but you save money as well and that’s becoming more and more important.

Bubble Mailers, if still intact, not torn, and most bubbles still inflated, are still useable. Just cover up or black out the labels, barcodes and stamps and you’re good to go. You can also customize the outer packaging by cover it with plain paper, a brown paper bag or wrapping paper. If not in good enough shape, you still have options! You can tear the mailer open or into strips to wrap fragile items, or use as extra packing material along with newspaper or packing peanuts.

As shown in the picture above, a damaged mailer can be opened at the seams and used to wrap an item before immersing in bubbles or another cushioning material.

Boxes can have a long life if they aren’t damaged in transit and are made of strong or thick cardboard. Cardboard boxes can be reissued whole, or cut up into pieces to reinforce boxes and protect items. (I’ll show how to reinforce boxes later on. It’s a cool trick!)

Packing peanuts, bubble wrap, and newspaper can all be reused as long as they aren’t damaged or the bubbles popped. If you think about it, these materials are IN the box or packaging, and are less prone to damage, and can be reused several times.

You don’t need a huge budget for shipping supplies. You can easily collect gently used materials and reuse them. The one supply you have to buy new is tape, and will probably be the thing you spend the most on.

1) Ask friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to save boxes, mailers, bubble wrap and peanuts and give them to you.

2) If your job has lots of left over boxes that just get thrown away (or hopefully recycled!), ask a manager or your boss if you can have those boxes or materials.

3) At my job, our UPS driver picks us up free packing peanuts at a local grocery store that they deliver to. The store doesn’t need them, so instead of throwing them out, we now get free packing peanuts. Ask around if you know someone who works at a grocery store or other business that receives a lot of packages, or maybe talk to a manager. They may feel better that the bubbles will be reused rather than thrown away and filling up their dumpsters.

4) A lot of other businesses like restaurants, schools and offices receive many packages and have many left over boxes. They can be used whole or as cardboard. You may have friends or family who work at one of these places and can get these leftovers for you.

Reusing materials is very resourceful, you slow down materials from heading to the trash and you save money which both benefits you and your customers as you can keep costs down. Saving on shipping costs is really important, which customers are very sensitive to.

There is a right and a wrong way to do this. You can show sloppy work and packaging by using unusable materials- bubble wrap with all bubbles popped, boxes with holes and weak spots, and mailers that are falling apart. This will make you look unprofessional, so focus on my points above. The most important thing is that the items inside the packaging are protected. You also want the packaging to look nice and be appealing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Start Shipping from Home

So, you’ve decided to sell some books online, get rid of old stuff or maybe you’ve started up your own online mail-order business. Congratulations! For the first article on the Snail Mail Shipping Guide, I’m going to post about things you will need to start shipping. Got questions? Please post a comment or send an e-mail.

Scale – Very important, and mandatory. You can get a simple mailing scale from an office supply store or online for under $30. Depending on what you ship will depend on what kind of capacity scale that you’ll need. Everything I ship is light, so I have a 5 pound scale. If you ship heavier items, you may need a 10 or 25 pound scale, or a bigger industrial one. If you don’t know- post a comment with what you sell and I’ll reply with a recommendation. A scale is helpful for getting shipping quotes for your customers, and you’ll need one if you decide to create shipping labels from the internet.
Packaging Tape – Another mandatory item. You’ll need tape to secure and seal envelopes, packages and boxes.
Black Marker/Sharpie – To mark out old barcodes, labels, writing, etc on reusable packaging.
Printer and Paper – Any kind of ink jet or laser printer is fine. You’ll need these to print out mailing labels, invoices, stickers, etc.
Computer – Since you’re reading this I assume you have one :)
Measuring Tape – If you ship larger boxes, you’ll need the measurements to be calculated in the cost if you ship online.
Cardboard – Great for reinforcing and strengthening boxes and protecting items.
Bubble Mailers – New or used. I endorse recycling and re-using mailers that are in good shape.
Box Cutter – Not mandatory, but very helpful in cutting up cardboard and opening packages.
Packing Peanuts, Bubble Wrap and/or Newspaper – To protect items.

There is some dispute about reusing packaging, but I personally believe that recycling is less wasteful, saves resources and is totally acceptable when done right. I'll talk more about this in future articles.

Upcoming Topics

Here are topics that I will be addressing in the coming weeks. I hope to update the blog at least 2-3 times a week.

  • Different shipping carriers (ex USPS, UPS, Fed Ex, DHL, etc)
  • Recycling mailing supplies
  • Shipping from home
  • Where to get mailing supplies
  • How to save money
  • International shipping
  • Shipping options
  • How to pack fragile items
Plus lots more! Please comment, or send me an e-mail if there are certain topics you would like covered.

New Blog!

Hello! I'm starting this new blog called the Snail Mail Guide. I've found that there is a lack of information online about how-to-ship. With so many people trying to make ends meet selling online, students selling textbooks, and those starting up small mail order businesses, I decided I'd like to share what I know about shipping. I have over 6 years experience shipping for a variety of organizations. In my current job I work in the independent music industry and I ship all over the world. I also have experience helping a non-profit ship thank-you gifts and publications. As a student I've also bought and sold textbooks online on Amazon and eBay and am also a huge fan of Like millions of others, I also enjoy shopping online.

I hope to answer common shipping questions, give you better confidence in shipping and share my knowledge. I'll provide pictures and illustrations and hopefully explain things simply.

Feel free to comment with questions and suggestions and I'll do my best to respond!

I've had the idea to start this blog for a while, so with the new year, I've decided there's no better time then now!

thanks for reading!