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Cheap International Shipping

Timely and cheap international shipping is hard to come by. Shipping even a 5-pound package from New York to London with UPS or FedEx can easily exceed $100.

The cheapest international shipping option we found was the Postal Service's international flat-rate boxes, which cost much less than half what the other carriers charge but can take an extra few days to arrive.

The Postal Service charges as little as $40.95 to send medium flat-rate boxes to Canada and $59.95 to any other destination but limits the maximum weight to 20 pounds. Still, sending a 20-pound box from New York to London using the cheapest international shipping option at FedEx costs $262.63. The quickest option for frugal consumers is the Postal Service's Priority Mail Express Flat Rate box for $79.95. Again it has a 20-pound limit, but it arrives in the U.K. in three to five business days, which is about the same time it would take the much more expensive FedEx package to cross the Atlantic.

Shipping internationally is generally more complicated than sending a package to a U.S. address. You must fill out a customs form declaring the items you're shipping and their value. Depending on the contents, your package may be subject to duties and taxes on top of the cost of shipping. There are also country-specific restrictions on what can be shipped. The Postal Service provides a list online.

Shipping Large/Heavy Items.

Cheap shipping may be a relative term for especially heavy, large, or oddly shaped packages. In general, consumers can expect a higher weight to correspond with a higher rate. One notable exception is flat-rate shipping from the Postal Service. Consumers can ship anything that fits in a flat-rate box for the same set price, regardless of weight, up to the Postal Service maximum of 70 pounds for domestic shipments. Priority Mail Express Flat Rate boxes measure 13 5/8 x 11 7/8 x 3 3/8 inches and 11 x 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches. Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes are available in two additional sizes: small (8 5/8 x 5 3/8 x 1 5/8 inches) and large (23 11/16 x 11 3/4 x 3 or 12 x 12 x 5 1/2 inches). The maximum dimensions allowed for other packages are 108 inches (length plus girth, or the distance around the thickest part of the parcel) for Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express and 130 inches for Standard Post.

UPS and FedEx accept packages up to 165 inches and 150 pounds (70 pounds for FedEx Home Delivery). However, oversize and overweight packages are subject to a variety of surcharges and additional handling fees, including an $8.50 charge for parcels over 70 pounds. UPS and FedEx levy a large package surcharge of $55 for parcels that exceed 130 inches (although they don't charge the additional handling fee on top of that). Both companies offer freight service for packages that exceed 150 pounds, although a provider that specializes in large and heavy shipments may be a better bet. Check rates through an online freight price comparison site such as Freightquote or FreightCenter.

Properly packing a heavy box increases the odds that your shipment will arrive undamaged. Aside from affixing "heavy package" stickers to the box, UPS recommends using stitched or stapled boxes that are new. The company also notes that packing peanuts or crumpled paper won't keep heavy objects safe; instead, surround them with dense cushioning material or foam enclosures.

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Alternatively, FedEx Office Print & Ship Centers and select UPS Stores will pack your goods for you. This can be especially handy when shipping fragile or oddly shaped items that need special boxes and packing materials. The cost of this service starts at $4.99 at FedEx and varies at UPS. If the contents of a shipment packed by FedEx or UPS are damaged or lost, the shipper will reimburse you for the value of the items and the cost of packing and shipping the package.

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