Getting a Handle on International Shipping

Go To Great Panes, Kathryn Maloney ©2011-2015
This post is copyrighted–you do not have permission to repost this content elsewhere but you are welcome to link to it if you’d like to share the information.

Before we get to postage there are two important things about packaging your international shipments:

1. Always use a customs form, and if it is something you sold you should check the box for ‘merchandise’ or ‘other’, whichever your form has on it. The “gift” option on a customs form is only for when you are sending a gift free of charge from yourself to someone you know, both buyer & seller can get in trouble if they are caught using it inappropriately–see FabricOverspill‘s post here.

Customs forms are easy to fill out so don’t let them scare you away from international shipping–to & from names, addresses, package contents, monetary value & then you sign it. More help for customs forms here: Do I need a customs form?

When paying for your postage at the post office counter, the clerk will need to manually enter the info that you wrote on the customs form into their computer so allow a little more time for going to the post office.

When using electronic/online postage (like through’s Click-N-Ship or Paypal & Etsy’s labels services) the customs form will be automatically generated & electronically submitted when you create the label, so you can just sign it (you can also set your accounts to automatically sign the customs form for you) & drop it in any mail receptacle or take it to the counter where the clerk should just scan it in & the customs form data will already be in their system.

For First Class International (which includes Priority International Flat Rate Envelopes and Priority International Small Flat Rate), the online postage’s customs form & label will all fit on the half-sheet label (or a half sheet of paper if you don’t use labels).

When shipping all other services you’ll need the more complex customs form–just as easy to fill out, it’s just that it is in triplicate (carbonless copies) when you fill it out at the PO so it prints out on several sheets of paper when you generate it at home on your printer.

You’ll need to secure the pages in a sleeve on the outside of the package that customs can open if they see fit. The PO supplies them free–you can get them at the counter (even before you need them) or order them online to be delivered free to your home (just like you can get Priority Mail boxes delivered to your home for free): Customs Form Envelope

2. Always include a receipt that reflects the contents & the price as seen on the customs form (having the recipient info there is good too–both for customs and in case the package/label gets damaged in transit).

I know a lot of folks don’t bother with receipt of any kind when mailing out their goods, but with international packages it is important to have it in the package–and required by law in some countries. If you are shipping to Germany–be sure to include 2 copies of the invoice on the outside of the package in an accessible sleeve/envelope. More on that here.

If customs decides to stop your package (they do random picks), they will try to confirm the package value, and if your package has supporting documents inside that match what the customs form declares, they will usually go with that. If you don’t have the price & description of the goods inside, or are missing a customs form and/or receipt all together, they can guess at the value, and it is usually a much higher guess than what was actually paid causing a hassle for your customer.

Pricing Your Shipping

We struggled with setting prices for international shipping, but after some research we came up with this breakdown of the rates–one for domestic packages & three for international destinations:

• United States (on Etsy you’ll also need “United States Minor Outlying Islands” and US Territories each as its own entry at the USA rate, shipping USPS the rates are the same as domestic zone 9 shipping)
• Canada
• Mexico
• Everywhere Else

(There are easy to read charts further down the page–after all the details of why this is how to easily set it up with reasonable accuracy…)

A lot of that decision was based on this info, looking at shipping via International First Class:

• Packages up to 4 pounds
• No more than 24 inches long
• No more than 36 inches in combined length, height, and depth
• At least large enough to accommodate the postage, address, customs form, and other required elements on the address side.

Source: USPS International Mail Manual
From the “240 First-Class Mail International” page, from the “241 Description and Physical Characteristics, 241.242 Dimensions” section:

(There’s more info there about other packaging too if you need it.)

I took a look at the country list here:

Country Listing:

and saw that for First Class International, Canada and Mexico were the only countries in zones 1 & 2 (respectively). All other countries are in zones 3 through 9. Then I looked at this chart:

First-Class Mail International:

and saw that for packages up to 2 oz, the rate was the same anywhere in the world.

For packages over 2 oz, zones 1 & 2 are significantly less expensive than other zones–that’s Canada and Mexico respectively, our North American neighbors. We give them each their own rate in our listings.

Everywhere Else: For packages over 2 oz shipping out of N. America, there are only two price groups for First Class. All other countries fall in zones 3 to 5, and zones 6 to 9 but the rates for those two groups are pretty similar, with less than $1.00 difference between the two groups for all weights up to 4 lbs.

Since there are so many countries with rates that are nearly the same for zones 3-5 and 6-9, I just lump them together as Everywhere Else and charge based on zone 3-5 rates (the higher of the two groups). That way we’re never shorting ourselves on shipping charges, and the over-charge is never more than $1.00.

If you look at the chart below, you can see how the zones compare (rates effective May 31, 2015):

~~~ Click image for a larger view–opens in a new tab or window ~~~

International First Class Packages

(Click for a larger view)

You can confirm those rates–as you should all info you get from unofficial sources–in this official PDF download from USPS: or on their official website here: USPS Price List.

What if someone buys 2 items???? See these posts:

How Etsy’s “Secondary Shipping” works

Figuring Out Your Secondary Shipping

Now that you have a feel for the international shipping zones & package size restrictions, you don’t even need the USPS website’s shipping calculator to estimate your shipping costs, which often hides the First Class rates.

If you don’t have a scale to weigh your packages you can take them to the PO and get weights for items that you’ll typically ship, but a scale is really worth its weight in gold for the convenience of printing out shipping labels (through Paypal Shipping, USPS Shipping Assistant, or other services from home).

Need to insure your International First Class package?

USPS doesn’t offer insurance for this service but you can insure through third-party insurers for less than USPS charges for domestic packages. See the “Shipping Insurance” post on the main Shipping page of this blog–link on the right in gold under “Pages”, or click here:

Shipping Basics

Go To Great Panes, Kathryn Maloney ©2011-2015
This post is copyrighted–you do not have permission to repost this content elsewhere but you are welcome to link to it if you’d like to share the information.

38 thoughts on “Getting a Handle on International Shipping”

  1. Denise–wow–that’s a big item! I’m betting the price would be high via USPS because of the size and weight of the box. Maybe look into local freight shipping companies? It will probably be a lot slower, but more affordable.

    1. Customs fees/taxes are charged by the receiver’s country, and only once the package is in their country’s customs office (packages are picked at random–not every package gets hit with fees/taxes). The receiver is responsible for the fees and there’s no way for the sender to know what they will be before the package is sent.

  2. I’ve been reading lots of information on International shipping and still struggling to choose the best option. Lately, I have had requests from Greece and the UK for orders ranging from $75-$150 in costume jewelry weighing more than 1 pound and less than 2 lbs. What do you suggest for shipping? Can I still ship First Class International and add insurance through sites like U-pic? Or should I go via Priority Mail Flat Rate box or envelope? I know flat rate is not tracked so is that not a good idea? I have lots of questions as you can see. Thanks for your help.

  3. I just found information on your site about 3rd party shipping insurance for USPS First Class International and I see that U-pic doesn’t cover jewelry but shipinsurance does. This looks like it might be a good option for me. Would you agree?

  4. I’ve been trying to figure out the international first class rates and the customs fees too. Thanks so much for ALL the important information needed now as I’ve just begun to sell online. I appreciate your sharing. Jan

  5. You are just wonderful for sharing your research. As you know, most people on the internet try to “charge” for knowledge. Thanks a million for just wanting to ‘help’ others!!! Kudos!


  6. I have done all the research you have mentioned, however I am blown away by how much it costs for me to ship internationally. Is someone really going to pay $34 ( for example) to have one of my purses shipped to them? I wonder if it makes any sense to offer international shipping at all.

    1. It would only cost $34 if you are shipping it Priority Mail or a faster service. You can ship up to 4 lbs First Class International anywhere in the world for $31.40 or less, and I’m assuming the purses don’t weigh 4 lbs.

      First Class usually takes less than 3 weeks to arrive, most international buyers know they will have to wait a little longer for an international purchase to show up.

      That said, lots of other countries have much higher shipping than we have in the US and what seems pricey to us is often close to what they normally pay for having items shipped from within their own country. I say list it and let the buyer decide!

  7. Hi, thought I would ask here because you have been so helpful to me in the past. I’ve been printing and shipping priority mail intl using PP for over a year now. Now, all of a sudden I only get the *black* screen. I could have accidentally uninstalled Java. But, if that was the case I’ve unistalled/reinstalled several times, cleared cache and cookies, rebooted (a period of 2 weeks trying several things) and still nothing. I even tried calling PP. They had no answer other than it must be a JAVA issue. I’m using W7 with Firefox, although I’ve tried it using IE also. Any thoughts? I’ve had to void several labels, the last one was $41.85. Yes, I get reimbursed but not for 15=21 days! And even worse, it costs more plus no free tracking! Help!


  8. So I read in another post that you ship jewelry. When I went to the USPS manual you linked to and then to Great Britan, jewelry is a prohibited item. Do you ship jewelry to GB and if so, what do you do special to make it happen? Thanks.

    1. Were you reading it here:

      Can I ship jewelry through International First Class Mail?

      See the “Valuable Articles” part about what constitutes jewelry–many sellers are shipping what is considered costume jewelry/fashion accessories and not fine jewelry which is where restrictions usually come in. Some of the info on USPS about what is restricted/prohibited is arguable–sometimes you go to the country’s website and find that there really isn’t a restriction on items USPS says are, or it gives you more specific details.

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