In today's world the distinction between the United States Post Office and US Small package carriers is not as clearly defined as it once was. The US Post Office is now offering broader international services including discounts for larger shippers. All three small parcel carriers offer international mail services: UPS as UPS Mail Innovations, FedEx International Mail, and DHL Globalmail-Business. 

The advantage of the small package carrier mail services of the ease of processing and lower cost than standard small package rates. If you are already shipping with a small package carrier you may want to check the rates and service levels to the destinations you ship most often. Perhaps a mail solution can meet your delivery commitments and reduce your costs. If you decide the savings are there, you can just identify a portion of the shipments you are making as international mail and turn the shipment over to the small package carrier picking up your standard small package shipments. The carrier will sort them, stamp them and turn the shipment over to the mail service for final delivery. All three carriers offer a standard service and a premium service. The premium service includes tracking until the package is turned over to the local delivering carrier. The following are some excerpts from the USPS and the small package carriers about their mail services: 

USPS International Shipping Instructions

International Service               Average Delivery Time   Starting Price
Global Express Guaranteed                1-3 days                       From $31.95
Express Mail International                    3 - 5 days                     From $25.95 
Priority Mail International                      6-10 days                     From $10.95 
First-Class Mail Intl.                             6 days to 2 weeks        From $0.75
USPS - Priority Mail International
... The weight limit for the flat-rate envelope* is 4 pounds.

USPS - Express Mail International
.. The weight limit for boxes is 20 pounds or 9 kgs. ... Weight limits vary by country. ... Weight limits vary by country. - Individual dimensions may not exceed 36inches in length, 79 inches in length plus girth combined

USPS — Global Express Mail International
... Individual dimensions not to exceed: Length = 46 inches ... Weight: Total weight not to exceed 70 pounds. ... In a limited number of situations, customs documentation is required.
UPS, FedEX, and DHL mail services

UPS Mail Innovations
See website for details. Service restrictions are similar to those for UPS domestic packages. 
Mail Services shipments may only consist of letters, letter packages, post cards, and printed matter and certain dutiable items valued at US$150 or less. They should not weigh more than 50 pounds and cannot be subject to import or export restrictions in any origin or destination country. Dutiable items valued up to US$400 may be shipped with prior written approval from FedEx.
Mail Weight: ≤ 2 kg
≤ 5 kg books, brochures, catalogs and leaflets
Dimensions: Min: 140 x 90 mm
Max: L+W+H ≤ 900 mm
each side ≤ 600 mm
Weight: max. 30 kg –or 66 lbs
Dimensions: max. 60 x 60 x 120 cm
Transit Times: Depending on destination: Slower than courier, at least as fast as the priority service of local PPOs

In the past, mail shipments were mainly business documents checks catalogs or brochures. Today all four companies above are accepting packages up to 50 pounds and more in some cases. All of the carriers have a lot of information about the services they are offering. Here are a few key things you should consider, whichever company you choose to utilize for international mail services. 

1. Mail shipments are not exempt from compliance with export and import laws though they sometimes slip through without the collection of duties and taxes.

2. Mail shipments from the US to a foreign country are exports and must comply with US Department of Commerce 15 CFR and 22 CFR US Department of State rules. Look for details at: Failure to comply with export laws could result in heavy fines. In general high technology, nuclear and military related technology and products are those excluded from export. We cannot export to Cuba, North Korea, and Iran. There are also lists of persons and companies to whom exports are restricted. 

3. Every shipment other than "documents only " should have an invoice-either a Pro Forma invoice or a commercial invoice identifying the shipper, the consignee or receiver, the items shipped, the value, the country of origin and the classification.

4. The value should be the cost to purchase or the cost to produce the item shipped plus the normal profit per International Transaction Value law. (Numerous websites are available for this information but the addresses are really long!) 

5. The country of origin of the item shipped should be stated in the export documentation. The country of origin is often marked on the item and refers to where the item was produced and not just where it was shipped from. 

6. The description should be more than just the product trade name. The information necessary to arrive at a classification is a good guideline to use.

7. The harmonized classification of the item should be provided. If the value of an item shipped is $2500 or more the export classification must be reported in the Automated Export System. The US Dept of Commerce provides a database for ease of classification. 

8. There are also several mail consolidation services available such as Brokers

This is the first in a series of articles on the growing interest in the use of mail shipments rather than standard small package shipments. Our next article will discuss examples of the cost differential and service levels of small package and mail consolidation or direct mail options. Good luck with your shipments!
Thomas M. Stanton
International Analyst
Deron Kohl 
International Analyst