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The shipping estimate on the USPS website is lovely, but its not actually guaranteed for most shipping classes.  For First Class mail, estimating when it will ACTUALLY arrive vs when the the USPS says it will can be frustrating.  Having shipped hundreds of packages overseas, here’s how I estimate when the overseas customer should be looking for it. This doesn’t guarantee this is when it will turn up… but it gives a narrower range than the 4-20 the USPS lists.

This is the estimate for First Class.  Priority is usually a little faster, but not guaranteed. Start with one day.    You’ll  add days for where it originates from and where its going TO.  If you don’t immediately recognize the destination, look it up on the internet.  Keep in mind this is BUSINESS DAYS.  Make this clear to the customer as well.  Holidays don’t count as “days” for the estimate!

Add 1 day it its a city with an international airport.
- if not, add 2 if its a major city
- if not, add 3 if its an average town
- if not, add 4 if its a rural town in the middle of nowhere
- add a full 7 if its somewhere that the mail is not delivered every day (example, its delivered by plane or boat once a week)

BONUS DAYS!
- goes eastward around globe- add a day
- it passes through Los Angeles- add 4 days
- it passes through Paris- add 7 days
- it goes to Italy- add 10 days and be prepared for it to just vanish.
- add 7 days if its going to a ANYWHERE in a country that has large areas of unpaved roads, unless it’s going to a city or large town (example: Australia’s outback would qualify for the +7, but Perth or Sydney wouldn’t)

The average for most places if usually around 4 to 7 for most industrialized countries.

EXAMPLES:
You live in NYC and are sending to Tokyo. 1 day to start + both have international airports= 3 days.
You live in the middle of nowhere Wyoming and are sending to Tokyo. 1 day to start + 4 for you living in a very rural area + 1 for major city= 6 business days.

You live in LA and are sending to a game reserve in Kenya where they only get mail once a week. 1 day to start +1 for living by the airport +4 for LA + 1 for going eastward + 7 for weekly mail delivery + 7 for roadless area = 21 days

I’m not sure why LA and Paris seem to be sucking blackholes for mail, but they always seem to add a lot of extra time to packages. It may be the sheer volume of mail passing through produces backlogs, it may be understaffing, it could be any number of things.  But items passing through those hubs always seem to take extra time compared to other hubs.

The entire country of Italy is known for eating mail.  It’s either really slow or has a tendency to vanish.

LARGER items, actual parcels rather than envelopes, may take a bit longer. I’d generally add an extra day per half inch over 1″ on the shortest side.  Most books won’t be so thick as to cause a problem, but fat ones may not sort as readily though all machines, slowing their transit.

If it’s actually oversize or strangely shaped, DOUBLE the time estimate.  If they’re really heavy, they’ll get bumped out of First Class entirely which will change the time estimate, but you may have some oddly shaped items that fit under the weight limit.   If TIMELY delivery is your major concern rather than weight, double boxing to make it a regular shape may be a good idea.

 

This is not a guarantee that things will always follow this rubric.  Your local post office can shave days off … or add them on at your end.  Same issue at the other end.  Unless the customer tells you that their post office is terrible, there’s nothing you can do about that.  But this does give you a general idea of when you should tell a customer to be patient waiting for an item and when you should worry that its gone MIA.

Nora O'Neill

Nora O'Neill

Nora O'Neill

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3 Comments

  1. Nora, you got me chuckling. I love the USPS! They have never lost a book I’ve shipped with them in 18 years, and the estimates my postmaster gives me are usually right on the nose. But other countries? Aye, there’s the rub! I love Canada almost as I love the U.S. Postal Service, but I have to say that Canadian mail moves at a much S…L…O…W…E…R pace than American. Costs more, too.

    Kind of off the subject, but I still don’t like the term MEDIA MAIL as much as I liked the old term BOOK RATE. How about you?

    “Italy eats mail.” I’ll remember that!

  2. Thanks for this Nora. I used it to estimate a package to Germany from near LAX. 10 to 15 days First Class and 6 to 10 days (USPS numbers) Priority. Small 8 ounce envelope/package. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    I agree with you P.J. re: the name Media Mail but I understand it since tapes/CD’s and such are now covered under it. I too have never lost a book or box through USPS but I have had a box filled with lead letterpress type returned from, of all places, Germany. What had gone out in neat, alphabetized packets returned a rattling, jumbled mess of lead letters with most all the packing material removed. So it goes. – Paul

  3. Thanks for this Nora. I used it to estimate a package to Germany from near LAX. 10 to 15 days First Class and 6 to 10 days (USPS numbers) Priority. Small 8 ounce envelope/package. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    I agree with you P.J. re: the name Media Mail but I understand it since tapes/CD’s and such are now covered under it. I too have never lost a book or box through USPS but I have had a box filled with lead letterpress type returned from, of all places, Germany. What had gone out in neat, alphabetized packets returned a rattling,

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