Moving Canada to US; UPS or Fedex?
August 8, 2014 7:40 AM   Subscribe

We're about to move from Toronto to San Francisco. (Yay!) But we have to move our things. (Nightmare!) We live pretty lightly, and aren't moving furniture, so we're thinking the best thing to do is ship a big pile of boxes using UPS or FedEx. Any thoughts on which is preferable? I have the impression that FedEx can be a bit nightmarish when borders are involved, but have zero experience with UPS international shipments.
posted by kaibutsu to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
My personal experience is that UPS breaks things. A lot. And then denies your claims even when you insured the shipping because of "inadequate packing materials" apparently under the logic of the self-fulfilling answer: "if it was packed well enough it wouldn't have gotten broken."

My antique-dealer inlaws swear by FedEx Ground, and I've had good experience with them but haven't done much shipping with them.

I have no international experience, other than issues with duties at the border.

If you have a lot you might want to look into a shipping service like Yellow, who may charge by the pallet instead of the box.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:53 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had no problems (breakage, et cetera) with UPS and things being shipped to me in the US from other countries, however, I haven't received many packages.

In one case, however, I got a shipment from Mexico which I was told would be duty free, and later got a bill in the mail for "customs charges" for US $9. No idea what that was about.

Do you have time to drive? It may be more cost-effective to just rent a U-Haul. (It may not be; U-Haul has usurious per mile charges that they don't advertise. If, however, you're renting a trailer that you tow versus a truck, you won't have per mile charges.)
posted by tckma at 8:09 AM on August 8, 2014

This is something that may or may not be useful to the planning depending on where you are in the process, but my old man did a similar move a few years back (GTA to West Coast) and found shipping worked out to almost precisely one dollar per pound. He said it helped clarify choices as he would heft something and think, "Hmmm... worth eight dollars now for some possible future use or no?"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:09 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I moved cross country, I moved clothing and shoes via UPS. It wasn't that expensive, but thank goodness there was nothing breakable because UPS trashed my boxes!

My UPS guy bitched up a STORM about my boxes. Also, I sent something to my parents overseas via UPS and the item went halfway around the world and was returned to me because it couldn't be delivered to an APO (military post office box.) I asked about it about 1000 times, and the guy swore up and down that it wouldn't be a problem. Fat lot he knew.

A shipper or a mover will be more invested in getting your package across the border and will likely be able to provide better service in that respect than UPS.

Rather than a mail-type carrier, think about a cargo handler. Greyhound Package Express is an option. You can do door-to-door, or counter-to-counter.

ABF U-Pack is another option.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:59 AM on August 8, 2014

I think you should be really really careful that you don't end up with a ton of brokerage fees. I've only had experience with shipping things US to Canada and both companies charge an arm and a leg if any customs fees are assessed. Also both companies are notorious for not disclosing the fees up front. However, the US has a much higher personal import limit than Canada so it may not be an issue but its something I would try to be aware of.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:08 AM on August 8, 2014

When I made the exact same move, I drove boxes to Buffalo and shipped UPS from their own facility (not a general shipping store). From Toronto was more expensive than from Buffalo, gas and time included. I didn't ship anything valuable and packed things like I was preparing for total annihilation.

The UPS drivers I've had in SF (small town, believe it or not, I know both of them) have been great.

That said, if anyone else has feedback about cross border shipping, I'd take into consideration their feedback. It's the customs brokers who I'd worry about in terms of wear and tear on your stuff. My family has sent many packages over the years that have arrived having been opened and repacked. Oy.

Good luck and welcome to SF!!!
posted by mamabear at 9:09 AM on August 8, 2014

I've had no problem with either company. Just pack your stuff well.
posted by dfriedman at 9:09 AM on August 8, 2014

If you don't need it to more than a week or two, we've had awesome luck both ways with the public mail services.

Of the two courier companies, we use FedEx at work as much as we can. I've done many (dozens? hundreds?) parcels Canada to the US. Few breakages (none that come to mind), no significant problems in more than a decade of shipping fragile samples around.

CP/USPS is the cheapest option on brokerage fees. FedEx is reasonable. UPS can charge the earth.

For breakables, pack much better than you think you should have to. Both companies require a 2m drop test, and a 200 psi crush test. If you have really fragile objects, coolers make excellent shipping containers. We ship glass bottles this way all the time.
posted by bonehead at 9:11 AM on August 8, 2014

Best answer: If you can, it will save you a lot on cost to drive your boxes to Buffalo and ship them from there. I think Amtrak cargo is going to be cheaper than courier or mail.
posted by ssg at 9:13 AM on August 8, 2014

Best answer: I don't know about CP, but USPS has an option for books etc. called "media mail." It is slower, cheaper, and great for shipping books. Books are heavy.
posted by aniola at 9:27 AM on August 8, 2014

I had to ship a large, bulky saddle from the US to Canada last year. I used an online broker who got me about a 50% discount on Fed-Ex, and everything went perfect. It took less than a week from the East Coast of the US, through customs and to the extreme west coast of Canada.
posted by COD at 10:01 AM on August 8, 2014

Response by poster: Cool, thanks, all. Neither of us have a driver's license, but I might look into hiring someone for the day to take a pickup across the border. My main experience with FedEx for cross-border stuff involves getting lots of random invoices for brokerage fees that they didn't disclose upfront, and it sounds like that's common...
posted by kaibutsu at 12:19 PM on August 8, 2014

Response by poster: For others who might stumble on this in the future, we ended up doing a mix:

Drove to Buffalo with some friends one day and a truck full of stuff, including all of the books. We sent everything possible via Media Mail (which is really really cheap post office shipping for anything that qualifies) from Buffalo, and then used all remaining room in the truck for things (including a couple bikes) that we shipped with fedex from Buffalo, as it's still a lot cheaper than fedex across the border. (Even including buying a nice meal and beers for the friends with the truck!)

The remaining stuff we shipped with Fedex from Canada. This ended up requiring a bunch of phone calls with the FedEx brokerage people to actually get things across the border, which was unfun.

Overall, I think it was a lot lot cheaper than using a POD or such would have been, but then we also didn't have any furniture we were really attached to. (And the couple pieces we were wanting to keep we left with some relatives.)

Our main nightmare outcome was pretty unforseeable: When we arrived in California, it turned out our new roommate had sent us the wrong house number, and all of our things were hurtling towards the wrong address. Fedex was able to recover pretty quickly, but the media mail stuff was more difficult. We managed to catch a couple boxes at the local post office on the day they were supposed to get delivered, but the others ended up eventually going to the dead letter office in Atlanta, and the last box arrived about a month later... But we did get everything in the end.

As a couple notes, the lady at the dead letter office will be super sweet to you if you aren't antagonistic, and will basically be your therapist while you try to recover your shit. Also, it turns out that media mail is at this point in history just code for 'subsidized mail,' and travels just as as fast as anything else sent by the post office, which is to say, pretty quick.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:58 PM on July 5, 2015

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