It shouldn't be this hard when Toronto is barely 100 miles from Buffalo, OK?
December 19, 2012 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I want to change the world. Or at least make it easier/faster/cheaper to send my niece and nephew, currently living less than 500 miles from where I live, a flipping Christmas package. Who should I bother to help get this done?

(the first two paragraphs consist of a rant with illustration; you can skip to the first bolded line for the actual questions.)

Okay, fine. We live in a stupid bureaucratic nightmare world, where lines on maps create major hassles. I accept that mailing stuff internationally is a royal pain, as a general concept. Languages, treaties, blah blah blah, whatever.

But this is Canada and the United States. We speak the same language, and have a VERY long mostly-undefended border (and nearly everyone in Canada lives really close to that border,) and we signed a treaty (way back when Bill Clinton was less than halfway through his first term,) saying that commerce should be significantly easier in North America already. These are post-industrial countries! You can drive to Toronto from here in less than two days, and bring all kinds of gifts with you! So, why is it still so flipping hard to mail the junior members of my family some stickers and fake tattoos and Christmas cards - let alone books and toys?

This is the question part - What I want to know is, who do I bother to get some progress on this specific issue?

Should I set up a petition on Send emails to members of the Senate and House foreign relations committees/Western hemisphere subcommittees? Write to the Postmaster General? Harass the Universal Postal Union? File some kind of statement with the State Department? Rail about this in public and hope the media notices?

What I really want is for it to be much easier/faster/cheaper for a normal human being in the United States, Canada, or Mexico to send a package with not-dangerous stuff in it to other normal human beings in one of the other two countries.

I'm not even sure exactly who makes things this way, where the problem(s) is/are, or who could change the way it all works. Does the President of the United States even have any power over this at all? The US Postal Service is a relic of a bygone era mixed up with bizarre early twentieth century standard operating procedures, and apparently everyone and no one is in charge of this kind of policy stuff. I don't know a thing about Canada Post, and I had to go look up who does mail in Mexico just to finish this sentence (Correos de México is apparently the answer, and the article listing postal entities by country needs a lot of expanding.)

Anyway, again: I want to take some constructive action, and vent my spleen to persons in authority, and maybe help in actually improving this situation. Who do I turn to in my hour of need? I am prepared to devote at least 10 hours of my time this year to the effort, BTW, and spend upwards of 20 first-class stamps on a letter-writing campaign, if necessary.

(If there is an advocacy organization already devoted to this issue, I will quite possibly espouse you for sharing it with me, unless that disturbs you or I decide it's too creepy once I calm down. I'll heart you forever no matter what though.)
posted by SMPA to Law & Government (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
...Okay, can you clarify the problems that you specifically have had? I'm not clear on that.

In my experience, it hasn't taken much more than a week to get things from point A to point B, between the US and Canada. I also have a lot of experience getting things from the US to Ireland, which is a considerably further distance, and that has also usually only taken a little over a week. I'm not seeing where you've reported a different state of affairs, so I'm not certain exactly why you couldn't just...plan on things taking a week to get there?

Or do what I did for shipping to Ireland this year - visit the web site for the Amazon in the recipient's country and order it from there ( if your niece and nephew are Canadian and you're in the US, or if you're in Canada and they're here), because that cuts out all the issues; it's a local shipment if you do that. Stilll takes about a week, but for different reasons.

I mean, I get that bureaucracy is a hassle and yadda yadda, but I'm not seeing what your specific complaint is, nor seeing the pressing need for solving it when we're talking about only a week to mail things, and such easy ways of handling it. I'm just missing info, maybe.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:54 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Universal Postal Union (UPU, French: Union postale universelle) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that coordinates postal policies among member nations, in addition to the worldwide postal system.

Which is to say -- good luck.
posted by inigo2 at 10:55 AM on December 19, 2012

It's not a postal problem. It's a customs problem. And a Canada customs problem at that.

The solution is FedEx.
posted by unSane at 10:58 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, what is the actual problem you're having? Canada Post, in my limited experience, has been downright awesome, and the USPS, well, is the USPS. Why can you not put everything in an envelope, take it to the post office, and, er, mail it? If you're sending a package with books and toys, you'll have to do a slight bit of additional customs paperwork (not hard), but mailing cards and stickers and such is just a slightly more expensive version of sending domestic mail. Sending a large envelope First Class Mail from the US to Canada costs US$1.95 and you can send a four pound padded envelope for US$12.95. It should take on the order of a week, more or less.
posted by zachlipton at 10:59 AM on December 19, 2012

Actually, one more thing -- why do you need to look up Canada Post or Mexican Post's policies? Shipping international mail.

If the cost is the issue, keep in mind that mailing rates in the US are significantly lower than most other countries, so international shipping rates may seem high.
posted by inigo2 at 11:01 AM on December 19, 2012

You really need to be more specific here. Other than filling out the customs form, I'm not sure why mailing to Canada is any less easy than mailing in the US. It does cost more money certainly, is that the main issue? Or do you have a specific complaint about speed?
posted by ssg at 11:05 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Regardless of how close it is to you, shipping from the US to Canada is still shipping internationally and you're not going to get around customs. I guess I don't....totally get what your complaint is? That is takes too long? That you don't want to fill out the customs forms? I mail stuff from California to Canada all the time and it doesn't feel like that much more of a big deal than mailing anything else. You fill out two more forms and go on your way. It's not even that much more expensive. Honestly, I'm not sure how much easier/faster/cheaper it could get and still function.

I think sometimes we get spoiled by how fast email is and tend to forget that actual humans have to actually physically move the mail from place to place (and inspect it, in the case of customs, which is ostensibly for everyone's safety), and that just takes a little time.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:07 AM on December 19, 2012

Best answer: I ship things from the US to Canada frequently. It is a pain in the ass on a number of fronts, excluding the ridiculous costs involved in doing it via a courier service. If you do it by mail it doesn't take too long, in my opinion, but for me the pain point is the fact that I MUST go to a post office to do it. Filling out a crazy detailed customs form is one thing but even if you do that online you still have go into a post office during normal post office hours (which is basically the exact times you also need to be at work) and still they do a bunch of work there.

So that's my pain point. I don't really know though, what yours is? Certainly being able to do more from one's desk or home as an average citizen and not deal with the actual post office in person would be an improvement.
posted by marylynn at 11:11 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you told your story here (what you're trying to ship, the best solution you've found so far, the alternatives you've explored and discarded), you would at least be raising awareness of the issue :)

Also, I'm curious. We're listening!
posted by amtho at 11:12 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I ship packages and letters from the US to Canada semi-regularly. Letters seem to go fairly quickly. Packages, if mailed by US Postal Service (and then handed off to Canada Post) seem to hit quite a delay. If I instead ship the packages by FedEx or UPS, in both cases they arrive very quickly. I don't know for sure, but I suspect the USPS/Canada Post; and FedEx and UPS, have different customs agencies/agents. I've had a package take almost two weeks to go from here to Vancouver, BC (a distance of 90 driving miles), and shipping the same by UPS took two days.

Complain to the postal service all you want, but I think this is a case of voting with your dollar. If the private sector gets the job done faster and easier, and sometimes even cheaper, why not just go that way?

5 pounds seems to be the tipping point where UPS and FedEx become cheaper than the postal service for roughly equivalent transit times.
posted by xedrik at 11:14 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My issue is that this is absurd between these particular countries. It strikes me as pointless and inefficient and a barrier to making the modern world work the way it should and preventative of peace and harmony and economic/social equalization and I kind of just... find that offensive, honestly. 21st century, common sense, normal people sending normal gifts.

I can mail something for $4 to Los Angeles (from Ohio) and it takes on average three days to get there (that's actual experience talking; the USPS says it'll get there next Saturday, but it never seems to take as long as they say from this post office to that address, even the week before Christmas.)

Meanwhile, or me to mail something the same size and shape and weight (11oz, non-padded envelope, fits inside the slot thing) to Toronto (again from Ohio) it'll cost me more like $30 to get it there in three days. It was $5 to send it using the "7 to 10 days, maybe, we hope" rate. I expect that envelope to arrive in mid-January, from the tales I've heard from other people sending stuff (bigger than a single greeting card) to this giant metropolis which has a really nice road almost directly from here to there. Pleasant drive, very modern and so forth.

(This is based on what happened to me this morning in a post office here in town: the shipment to my dad's house and the shipment to my brother's house. And also the family trips to Toronto.)

I don't demand flying cars or self-drying jackets at this point in our development as a society, but the mail to a country that is essentially the same as ours and right next door really should get there just a little bit faster than I can physically drive it there myself, when it takes less than a quarter of the time to send it basically to the other shore of a very small body of water. And honestly? I'm not shipping anything different than what you can already ship in the US without the slightest hassle. I had to assign an official value to greeting cards and cheesy dollar store stocking stuffers.

I also had to create an account to get things to Toronto fastish for less than "holy heck are you kidding me," and doesn't:
  • Recognize my Prime membership (even when I made my email/password combo the same - it knows who I am, but I don't think .ca even has Prime shipping)
  • Show me prices in US dollars (silly, but it actually matters to me - I'm trying to find a setting or Chrome extension that'll fix that for me)
  • Have all the same stuff (some items I have to buy on .com, and then I have the aforementioned shipping costs)
  • Let me use the friends and family gift list feature
(I was under the impression that once a shipment gets from the US to Canada, it's in the hands of Canada Post, and their policies/procedures re: handling international mail are relevant; I'm willing/happy to be wrong on this.)

Maybe the whole issue is: who makes customs stuff as irritating as it is? When talking about freaking Canada and the United States. You can walk across the Peace Bridge with a bag full of gifts - I've done it. My adorable moose with the maple leaf sweater sits proudly in my car. He is exactly as hazardous as the stickers I mailed today, and both deserve equally "whatever" attention from people in charge of the border. The guys at the Peace Bridge didn't bother looking in the bag (they did scan my passport though, which was vaguely reassuring in a "oh for heaven's sake" kind of libertarian way.)

In any case, I don't really care whether anyone on MetaFilter thinks I should be annoyed by all of this, except in a sort of peripheral "consciousness raising" way.

What I would like to know is: Where should I lodge my complaint? Who actually passes legislation or writes regulations or calls the Postmaster General or State Department or whoever and says "do this differently?"

Perhaps I shall do the vote-with-my-money thing and mail my senator/congressman every time I do it? This would satisfy my need for vengeance/action and also solve my more practical problem...

Still, I don't know whether the senator/congressman would have any ability to do anything about it. Or the President, or whoever.

Part of my issue is that in the government agencies I've worked in, the legislators never wrote the freaking legislation. It was always someone else's idea - the agency, some lobbyist, whatever. At my job we write legislation and then ask the elected representatives to pass it; sometimes they ask us to change things before presenting it for a vote. Usually they (meaning elected officials generally) neither care nor have any useful knowledge about a subject till someone basically hands it all to them on a silver platter.

I want to know who would be distributing silver-plattered solutions for the "packages to Canada take a stupid amount of time/effort/money" issue, and to whom said silver platters would be delivered for action.
posted by SMPA at 11:26 AM on December 19, 2012

We are different countries. We do things differently here. You can't send us guns. We can't send you Kinder Eggs. We don't have Amazon Prime. You don't have universal healthcare.

Whatever you do, don't send using Fedex or UPS. Sure; it's no hassle to you. But at the receiving end in Canada, it's $30+ in brokerage charges and likely a trip to some awful stripmall or deadzone to go pick it up.
posted by scruss at 11:31 AM on December 19, 2012 [16 favorites]

My issue is that this is absurd between these particular countries. It strikes me as pointless and inefficient and a barrier to making the modern world work the way it should and preventative of peace and harmony and economic/social equalization and I kind of just... find that offensive, honestly. 21st century, common sense, normal people sending normal gifts.

But what specifically is making it "inefficient" in your eyes? The timing? The cost? The degree of paperwork? Are your things getting delayed in customs? If so, which country? Are you required to pack things a certain way?

"Who would I complain to" would be a different person in all those instances.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:31 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

You have to complain to Canada. The US is not responsible for the behaviour of Canadian Customs, and Canadian Customs are notoriously pernickety. I should know -- I import stuff all the time and it is not unusual for stuff to be held up for 14 days in customs.

The logic of why you think mail from the US should be handled any differently to mail from anywhere else escapes me.

Like I say, the answer is FedEx or other premium carriers, because I'm afraid the post gets dumped in the 'deal with it when we time' pile.
posted by unSane at 11:31 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Brokerage is included in some classes of FedEx service. Avoid UPS at all costs.
posted by unSane at 11:32 AM on December 19, 2012

SMPA I think you're talking about the need for a treaty to expedite the process of getting mail across the border - write your representatives.

Maybe also write a polite inquiry to the Postmaster General and their Canadian equivalent about how you could take political action here.
posted by zippy at 11:33 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is where I say "if you think it's bad shipping from the US to Canada, try shipping the other way." Honestly shipping internationally via the USPS is a dream compared to Canada Post. The answer to the question you didn't ask is "FedEx Ground".

The answer to the question you did ask is: your congressperson, whom if you can engage productively in conversation and convince that your issue is something they should put forward a bill to change policies, might make some changes someday in the future.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:09 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: unSane: "It's not a postal problem. It's a customs problem. And a Canada customs problem at that.

The solution is FedEx.

Not exactly. I sent a flat envelope overnight FedEx package from Seattle to Vancouver and it took from Monday to Friday to get there. FedEx is not the answer.

My mum just sent birthday and xmas cards. She lives almost exactly 100 miles from us (she's in WA, we're in BC) and it took eight and ten days for the cards to get to us. It's ridiculous that items like that should be held up in customs.

SMPA, the problem is with Canada Post/customs and since you're in the US I don't know that anything you do will be worth your time and effort.
posted by deborah at 2:51 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want to see someone really mad at Canada Post, Leonard Lee's The Lee Valley/Canada Post Problem is pure throbbing-temple-vein material.
posted by scruss at 4:12 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

to a country that is essentially the same as ours

I'm sorry, but I'm a gay American and I can tell you point-blank that Canada is not essentially the same as the USA.
posted by andrewesque at 11:05 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: (actually, we do have Amazon Prime now, but didn't at the time of the OPs query.)
posted by scruss at 4:36 PM on January 8, 2013

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