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U.S. Flat-Rate International Shipping


charles popp writes:

I have had issues with USPS when I ship stuff using these boxes. They xray stuff sometimes and I have had stuff returned because all they could see was a large mass of metal.



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26 July 2009page first published

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Here's a quick guide to using the Flat-Rate International option when shipping through the U.S. Postal Service. In theory you can get the same information from your local Post Office or their website, but in practice I've never found anyone at my local Post Office who knew exactly how it worked!

There's one thing about miniatures: they're heavy. So when you're sending an army to an overseas painting service or selling an army abroad, you should consider using the Flat-Rate International option.

You have to use the Priority Mail Flat-Rate boxes, the ones marked "For domestic or international use." Fortunately, the boxes are free - just ask for them at the counter of your local post office. Alternately, the Post Office has a website where you can sign up to get a "starter set" of boxes brought to your home or office - I'm still waiting for my starter set...

Flat-Rate Boxes

The cost* and weight limit depends on what size of box (or envelope) you go for:

Priority Mail Flat Rate Envelope or Small Box
4 pounds - $12.95 USD
Priority Mail Flat Rate Medium Box (two types)
20 pounds - $41.95 USD
Priority Mail Flat Large Box
20 pounds - $53.95 USD

* Prices are slightly lower to Canada and Mexico - see here for details.

However, you should also look up the shipping information for the country you are sending the package to. An individual country may set a smaller weight limit than the U.S. does, or apply special rules to what can be sent.

The best way to find out what the various countries' rules are is to use the Post Office's online international mail guide. Look for Individual Country Listings in the lefthand column, find and then click on the country you need. At the top of the webpage are the general restrictions, and scroll down to Priority Mail International Flat Rate to see specific rules.

For example: the entry for Ukraine explains that you can't include "written communications having the nature of current and personal correspondence" in the Medium or Large boxes. This is a fairly common restriction... but would that include painting instructions for the army you're sending? I don't know.

Another example: The listing for Sri Lanka prohibits leather items, canned fish or chalk.

One more thing: You are going to need to fill out a customs form. There are two kinds - PS Form 2976 (the small green-and-white form) and PS Form 2976-A (the thick white form). You can pick these up ahead of time at the post office and fill them out at home. In general, you will need 2976 for the envelope or Small box; 2976-A for the Medium and Large boxes - but check to see if the individual country has specific requirements.

You will be asked to declare the value of the contents, estimate their value, and whether this is a gift. When sending figures overseas to be painted, I usually mark them as "toy figurines for painting - to be returned" to discourage customs officials from mistaking the package as a gift and applying a heavy fee to the receiver. (I don't know if this works, but it's what I do and nobody has ever complained...)

So at this point, assemble the flat-rate box, stuff it full, weigh it to make sure it is less than the maximum, address it, fill out the customs form, and take it to the Post Office. Or buy postage online, and request a free pick-up service (I've never tried this myself...).

How much you save (if anything) depends on the weight of the box. For example, I recently sent a 10-pound Medium Flat-Rate box to Ukraine. That cost the standard rate of $41.95 USD. But going to the online calculator, I can see that if I hadn't used the flat-rate box, I would have spent $57.25 USD to ship a 10-pound box. So I saved almost $16 USD.