Whether you’ve made a permanent move overseas or find yourself on temporary assignment, chances are there’s something from home that you want. Online ordering is iffy: International shipping fees are astronomical and, in any event, the retailer may not ship to your location. This is a problem that hits expats, military personnel, and employees of international companies, and a driving force behind the development of the package forwarding industry.
A package forwarding service lets you maintain a U.S. address for package delivery regardless where you live. The company assigns you an address (i.e., the company’s warehouse, but your name) and a unique identifier, such as a suite number. Whenever you shop online, you input the new American address and the package is shipped to the forwarding company. Employees usually open the package to check for items that cannot be shipped abroad, have arrived broken, or don’t match the invoice. They snap a photo of the box and/or its contents and then forward it on to you.
Potential Savings.These services don’t come cheap but may save you money. Sign on with a company that offers an address in states without a sales tax -- Oregon, for example -- and you won’t be taxed on the transaction.
Package forwarding services also repack goods, which cuts down on final shipping fees. International shipping rates typically are calculated using dimensional weight (L x W x H), explains Keith Evans, communications director at MyUS.com, a package consolidation service. This means that a large stuffed animal, say, may cost more to ship than a bowling ball. "We pay for the space on the airplane,” Evans notes. A small item that arrives at a company’s facility in a large box may be repacked into a small box before being sent on.
Additionally, these services generally will hold packages for at least a few days at no charge. (After that, you’ll pay a daily storage fee.) For clients who have ordered several items, putting a hold on things means the company can package them all together and again, reduce your total shipping costs.
Tons of Fees.But as with any service-based business, the package forwarding industry is rife with fees. Some assess an initial set-up fee, a monthly membership fee, repacking fees, package storage fees, and so on. Tony Le, chief executive of Parcel Zoom, urges consumers to steer clear of companies that charge for each package received or sent and/or impose a fuel surcharge.
Of course, you also pay actual shipping costs, customs duty, VAT, and any other country-specific charges. Many forwarders assess an extra fee for shipping to you, which pads their bottom line. Absent a coupon code or deal for free shipping to the stateside location, you pay for that, too.
Personal Shoppers.For a fee -- often a percent of the item’s cost -- some package forwarders will serve as a personal shopper. The company will search for the best price on the goods you specify and buy them for you. This service is especially useful if you don’t have an American credit card or billing address, don’t want to spend the time shopping, or aren’t particularly savvy when it comes to comparison shopping online.
Photo by sxc.hu/swer_rock
Don’t Even Think About It.Don’t try to ship perishable food, hazardous chemicals or explosives, or live animals internationally (domestically, too, for that matter). But some prohibited items are less obvious -- vitamins, for example, toy guns, and even some sports drinks are restricted in most countries. Anything containing animal parts, such as belts or shoes made of leather, likewise sits on the taboo list in many places around the globe. Clients residing in Muslim countries cannot receive packages with political or pornographic material; even a woman pictured in a bathing suit on the packaging may prevent delivery.
Package forwarding companies charge fees for a variety of services. Here are several examples.
|MyUS.com||$10-$35||$0-$25/month||$0||$0||$2||5-30 days||3-10 percent||FL|
|Shipito||$0||$0-$10/month||$2.50-$8.50||$2/per||$0||90 days||$8.50 + 8 percent||CA, OR, NV|
|Parcel Zoom||$0||$0||$0||$0||$0||90 days||10 percent||NJ|
|Shipp Shop||$0||$0||$2||$4/per||$2||15 days||8 percent||FL|