What's your experience with USPS international first class mail?

Whether in your sale or tea swap or mailing of other things, what’s your experience with USPS international first class mail?

In recent years, USPS has improved their services and now the sender gets a copy of the shipping label with a tracking number. That’s really great, even though the online tracking record for first class mail is not updated as frequently as express mails.

Most of the times, I ship an international package and pretend forgetting it – sometimes the shipping speed of some international packages could drive you crazy. But sometimes (not always though), amazingly, some lucky international packages could arrive in 1-2 weeks. Equally amazingly, some packages to and from Canada could take more than 1-2 weeks.

But since now we have the tracking number in hands, I sometimes track them, and occasionally am shocked by the tracking information. For example,

1. a bunch of international packages I shipped more than a week ago still only have the tracking record at my local postal office.

2. a package I shipped 3 weeks ago still only has the tracking record at my local postal office but thank god I know it has arrived to the buyer.

3. a package sent to Canada and has arrived a few weeks ago still has its tracking information as at US port. Similar situation for a package sent and arrived in Asia.

4. Basically none of my international packages shipped in the past month has their tracking information showed as “arrived”, even after they arrived.

So far in my experience it seems that it’s only the online tracking is not accurate, and international first class mail is generally safe. (fingers crossed!)

What triggered me to think more of this and want to learn about other people’s experience is actually not about tea. Recently a friend sold a camera of over $1000 to an international buyer, who turned down the option of priority mail and insisted using first class mail international without insurance. My friend complied (bad idea!). Less than 3 weeks later, the buyer started worrying about the package. The tracking record of the package is available online and shows the package is still in some postal office of our state (as showed in my previous experience, the tracking information may not be the most updated anyway). The buyer is so worried that he suddenly opened a “not receive the item” paypal dispute case. So now my friend has over $1000 in his account frozen.

So I would like to hear from more people and learn what your experience is! Thanks!

70 Replies
Excelsior said

USPS Priority mail is fast, consistent, and very reliable. USPS first class international is unreliable and inconsistent. When I had photo albums sent over from China, the shipment was lost and we thought the package was unrecoverable. It was delivered one and a half years later. I have had documents sent from Japan where it took 6 months for delivery. When I requested USPS to track this package, they discovered it was sent to a wrong address and someone at that address signed off on it. We finally got the package back six months later. I should have learned the lesson the first time. I will never use USPS first class international again.

That’s terrible and I feel for you! Imagine if it were my tea or teapot, my heart will break! So far I’ve been using primarily EMS to ship things from China to US. But I remember the last time I use shipment by sea it took about 10 weeks. I literally forgot what I ordered 10 weeks earlier.

kibisu said

eee i bought a watch in united states on may 2015 but up to date August i have not received my watch worthy of $600.but the tracking says its on its way to the destination,so worried any help out there?.

AllanK said

Does the tracking say it is in the ISC Sort Center? Packages have been known to stay there for more than a month. All international mail goes through an ISC sort center and they are incredibly slow at times.

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ssajami said

I have received many packages to Israel from the USA using USPS first class international. True, the tracking really is unreliable and transit time is not consistent, but it has always arrived. I’ve had packages arrive in a week and others in three . However, I am not sure how much of the delay is because of the post or because of Israeli customs.

That’s my experience too most of the time. I think it’s ok if the tracking is not updated frequently. What frustrates me the most is, the tracking shows it’s in our local postal office even after the package arrives in destination country after a few weeks. I hadn’t paid much attention on the online tracking but if I had, I could get super nervous about the packages that are showed to stay on the US side forever :-p

NofarS said

I agree, and let me just add that for an international tea shopper, all other shipping options are just too expensive for me to make it worth my while to buy the tea. If the cost of shipping equals or surpasses the cost of the package – I’m out.

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darby select said

I sell on ebay and ship international ALL the time! Seems more so than in the USA lately. The ONLY way you are covered with paypal is if you ship EXPRESS International. You may get a “confirmation” number with first class or priority, but with paypal the only true tracking is with EXPRESS.
Unfortunately your friend will probably lose out unless the buyer is honest about getting the item. Many foreigners now know that they can do a “charge back” and get their money because of paypals policies.

That said, when sending to friends or swapping tea – I would ship first class.

Wow! Thank you darby for the input. Now I’m going to let my friend know about this and I think he would get more nervous about this matter. I already told him it was a bad idea to ship such an expensive item without insurance and on regular mail.

Indeed it seems the tracking won’t be updated even if the buyer receives the package. So basically there is no way to prove the package arrives. Let’s hope the buyer is honest and is just panic about the package. But that’s really an important lesson to learn!

So do you think priority mail bears less risk than first class mail? It seems the online tracking situation is much better for priority mail.

I sometimes sell teapots and other small items on ebay. But most of them are around $50 so I haven’t been worrying too much. Besides, I feel tea people are generally very nice people and don’t create dramas. But for more expensive items, there is a lot more to worry about!

darby select said

No problem! Here to help!

Well, being that there have been SO many problems reported lately with international, I just don’t want to take the chance. I would only ship first class or priority if I’m willing to lose the money if I get a charge back. I wouldn’t trust priority any more than first class.
I’ve actually seen a huge increase for shipping to the UK and Australia and sometimes the shipping is $50-60…more than the item itself! If they want it bad enough, they’ll pay. Those buyers are usually really happy that the item arrived so quickly too!
Also, if shipping in the USA always get delivery confirmation no matter how you ship as that provides proof of delivery for paypal….insurance DOES NOT. So even if I ship something media mail or first class I ALWAYS get delivery confirmation so that I’m covered with paypal.

These are good tips. Thanks!

I’ve noticed too there has been a big jump of international priority prices to various countries. Also nowadays by printing shipping label online (instead of mailing at a postal office), you would only save less than $1on a label of $30-40, but the saving used to be a lot more.

darby select said

OH! Sorry, I meant a huge increase in shipping international not the prices

No problem. The postage indeed increased too :-p

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Cheryl said

I think the tracking issue comes down to each individual usps employee who may handle the package (and is responsible for scanning it into the system). Some are diligent, and some are not and may miss one here and there. At least that’s my own conclusion, watching tracking over time, but mostly within the US only.

My only experience with USPS international first class went smoothly, but I may have gotten lucky? You can see the tracking here:

(Edited to take out tracking specifics)
It was scanned at the key points at least, although I think there was one more sorting point between NY and Columbus that was missed (was in limbo for few days). I think someone (just one) didn’t scan it. I’m lucky that my local PO office is very good on the issue (both incoming and outgoing). People are people, and even the best may miss something though.

As far as eBay goes, I hope your friend’s situation works out, but I’ve heard too many stories to feel hopeful. I used to sell, but eBay and Paypal has changed to not be a seller’s friend. One sale (10 years ago by now) went badly. It was a package sent to France, and luckily I did insure it, or I would have been out $300. This was before Paypal was quick to do chargebacks at the drop of a hat though. Biggest pain was filing the papers with USPS, waiting (weeks) for refund so I could refund buyer. And I still think he got the package : )

Let us know how it goes for your friend….

Thanks Cheryl for the input! I’m not optimistic about the camera case either, but wish him the best. Indeed, I was surprised (or shocked) in this case that paypal immediately withheld his money and showed no sign yet to return the money after the tracking number was provided. But the buyer had the tracking number to begin with.

In the cases of my tracking numbers of the past month, it almost seems that USPS stopped scanning any packages :-o On the other hand, a package sent to Asia arrived in about 2 weeks. That’s pretty fast!

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Since this is a tea forum, I will limit the talk about my friend’s camera case :-p Good news is, the buyer receives the camera. Bad news is, he immediately changed the “not receiving item” case to “not as described” case. I know little about camera and don’t know if his complaints are valid. My friend thinks he is either devil or stupid :-p But my friend is glad enough that the camera would be returned. Let’s hope the buyer doesn’t simply put a brick in the return package :-p

As for international first class mail, it turns out again that they don’t show the tracking record (the tracking still shows the package is within our state) but they do send the package to the destination :-)

Another of my package sent to Europe by first class mail actually arrives in just 10 days. That’s impressive, but not routine, I guess :-)

Cheryl said

Thanks for the update about the camera. Your remaining fear may be spot on (as that is what a lot of people do, to scam eBay sellers these days … or just send an empty box, or break the item etc). Fingers crossed! : )

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Alphakitty said

Shipping USPS definitely has more to do with the specific branch you are sending stuff to than to the company overall. I have a lot of experience with USPS, most of it at my house which is in a small town (~2,000 people). The workers are SO nice, and I often get stuff earlier than estimated, i.e if a package gets to them at 3pm they’ll rush out to deliver it. They also know me, my mom, dad, & bf by sight and will bring out boxes we come to pick up right away when we have to actually go to the office. Overall, they’re amazing.

I recently moved to NYC, and let me tell you, I have never wanted to strangle someone more than our current post office workers. They REFUSE to leave boxes outside of our door (we’re on the 4th floor walkup) or even in the mailbox if they are small. You’d think an envelope with one sample could just be put IN THE MAILBOX but nooo, they leave a slip and make you pick it up. And even if you have the slip they give you a hard time—you can’t pick up something for someone else in your apt even if you have a copy of their ID and the lease. They also hold our boxes “hostage” and the tracking will say the box has been there for 3 days before they actually attempt delivery. And half the time they totally lie about delivery—they say they buzzed (but didn’t) and just leave a slip. We found out they don’t even bring the boxes with them, just the slips, because they don’t want to walk up. >.<

I’ve found for both branches, tracking lags a little—it won’t update as having gotten the box info until a full day after they are shipped, I’ll get a notice that my box was delivered 2 days after it actually WAS delivered, etc. I’ve had literally hundreds of boxes of all sizes shipped USPS though and not a single one has been lost, so overall they’re very reliable. 70% of my boxes are sent internationally as well (mostly from Japan) and I’ve had no issues… except for the one time where customs held a box for 2 months.

I feel for you! I currently live in a small city and our postman and other postal office clerks are like our friends. But last summer I stayed in Boston for 2 months and the clerks in the postal office near where I stayed were very unfriendly and even rude. They don’t talk in a way like they serve people, but rather as if everybody owed them $200 :-p I wonder if it’s because in a large city, kindness wears out easily when they have to deal with many, many people each day, including all kinds of odd people.

I got packages sent to NYC returned in the past because they only left a notice at the door and the recipient either didn’t see the notice or didn’t have time to go to the postal office to pick it up. On the other hand, it might be better to leave notice than leaving the package at the door. My friend told me packages could be stolen sometimes.

Alphakitty said

I actually just had UPS send back a box of mine because they delivered it wrong. >.< I think delivery services in the city are just really rushed and assume that everyone they are dealing with is a jerk (which is true of a lot of their customers, I suppose). I’ve seen people in my post office screaming at the workers for the tiniest things, I feel bad for them but at the same time I am always so nice, I wish they’d just deliver my stuff. It’s just very frustrating, I’ve taken to shipping boxes to my house and just taking trips to pick them up. Also then I get a whole lot of tea at once!

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Hi all,

No experience what-so-ever.
I am the one who bids on EBay and win; the price of item is .99 cents and the shipping is $19 or more and receiving time end of month; a good two weeks or more.

I should have started and say that I am not seller but buyer when there is money or appears to be…I live in the red; not Korea or China. ;-)

Zeks said

I am afraid I cannot make sense of most of your posts :(

I’m not sure where “the red” is :-p But I think what seule771 means is the seller uses 0.99 cents price to attract buyers but make a domestic shipping as high as $19 (probably it’s not a bulky item anyway). This kind of things sometimes are annoying. But I guess it still depends on whether the final total cost is worth it.

But I suspect the seller is not well-informed of the new ebay policies. Nowadays ebay charges transaction fee even on shipping. So the seller won’t skip any fee charge by making shipping charge high. There is no way to beat the system :-p

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I am sorry, I do not ever make sense.
I am unemployed with no income but I make purchases on line from time to time; EBay is a favorite. I buy small trinkets from Asia that is why the shipping cost is so very high; since it is so far away in China.

Being in the red, just means that I am broke/bankrupt/collectors are after me and sending me crude emails etc. Life is difficult.

I am reviewing tea on my own and this is costly as well. What can I say, dumbo is me.

Oh I see! My poor English :-p
But there is no need to say sorry. Now we understand what you meant :-)

Missy said

I have to say I followed you because I read your responses in discussions here and they are different. I like that they create a different rhythm when I read them. I do not have trouble understanding you. :D

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Since I started it, I will give a quick report about my friend’s camera. It was returned by air mail (I guess equivalent of first class mail international) and arrived in a few weeks in the original condition. My friend thinks the buyer is annoying but not malicious. So I guess this counts a neutral experience of ebay, and the postal service seemed to work fine both way. But I do think what darby said about express mail for expensive items is good advice and passed it to my friend!

Phew! When I originally read this situation I thought, “Oh no!”

Glad to hear she got her camera back. : )

IMHO, very few people are actually malicious. :p

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Jason select said

Let’s try to keep this related to tea, thanks.

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