Cheapest shpiping from Germany to USA?
October 2, 2006 9:23 AM   Subscribe

What's the best method for cheap, international shipping?

I need to mail small packages from Germany to the United States, usually Las Vegas or San Francisco and occasionally Chicago, and I'm trying to find the cheapest method to do so.

The packages generally contain at most three CDs and the time it takes for them to get there is not really a huge concern, as long as it's somewhat reasonable (under a few weeks).

For bonus points, I do also ship crates of 12" records once in a while, so a cheap way to do that would be excellent as well.
posted by atomly to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
If you can put the three CDs inside a book, try to ship with the USPS "M-Box". It's by far the cheapest way to ship things, though kinda slow.
posted by fake at 9:32 AM on October 2, 2006

You can't ship with the USPS from Germany. And trying to pass off CDs as books is probably illegal.

But I would imagine that ordinary Deutsche Post surface mail would be the cheapest way to do it. I don't think there's a big enough market for low-urgency tiny international consignments to make a market worth it to anyone besides the postal services.
posted by grouse at 9:37 AM on October 2, 2006

The best method for *CHEAP* shipping is USPS economy, but it's 4-6 weeks and do you really want it gone that long? Send it by USPS airmail, it's 4-10 days and about 10x cheaper than any courier service.

For large packages, find a dedicated shipper. They exist in all the major cities of America where there is a large immigrant population. I've used PolAmer to send large packages to Poland on the cheap. I'm sure there are similar companies that ship to Germany.
posted by jedrek at 9:38 AM on October 2, 2006

On posting, I realize I've mixed up directions as well.

So, shipping from Germany: send small packages via Deutsche Post and larger packages via a specialized company that ships stuff to the US. PolAmer ships both ways.
posted by jedrek at 9:40 AM on October 2, 2006

Call DHL, UPS, and FEDex. They all have offices in most cities in Germany. They will likely give you a discount if you open an account with them. Have an idea of what size packaging you'll use and how often you'll be shipping. They will come and pick up your packages and are often comparable to government shipping prices, if not cheaper.
posted by sulaine at 9:48 AM on October 2, 2006

Find a buddy at an Army base in Germany? They can ship courtesy of the Army for really cheap... I think probably the same as domestic.
posted by cusack at 10:12 AM on October 2, 2006

Find a buddy at an Army base in Germany?

It's hard to believe that this would be legal.
posted by grouse at 10:35 AM on October 2, 2006

If the buddy packed it up and sealed it, it would be his shipment unless someone could prove he was a third party. Yes, the U.S. armed services do get domestic rate to the U.S. (cheap) though customs forms are involved. It's a great idea but I'm not sure the OP would be up for social engineering; probably more trouble than it's worth.
posted by chef_boyardee at 10:56 AM on October 2, 2006

Just to add that nowhere did I say it was legal to do the above; I'm sure there are DoD regulations against that, but still it's a burden of proof issue and nobody will bother with it unless it attracts notice.
posted by chef_boyardee at 11:00 AM on October 2, 2006

Best answer: I've sent a lot of packages of 1 or 2 DVDs from Germany to the US. First of all, forget about Fedex and UPS; they couldn't care less about small customers and UPS also couldn't care less about large customers. UPS Germany pretty much just exists to make UPS in the USA look good by comparison.

In Germany, DHL and Deutsche Post are effectively the same company -- when you send a large package with Deutsche Post, DHL is usually the courier. But you don't want to send a package, because Deutche Post is really not that expensive if what you are sending can go inside something vaguely envelope-shaped.

The two envelope-based options are "Maxibrief International Luft" or "Maxibrief International Land". What I do is get an A4-sized envelope with bubble-pack lining, put the DVDs in a single good case with a lightweight cardboard stiffener, and fold the envelope in half (and tape the sides down). I haven't had one (out of 60 or so) show up broken.

A Maxibrief has the following dimensions/prices:

Minimum length is 140mm and minimum height is 90mm,
Length + width + height = no more than 900mm,
If weight is under 100g it costs €4 by land or air
If weight is between 100g-500g it will be €6 by land and €8 by air.

To stay on the safe side, keep the package width under 20mm. I think that just applies to national shipments, but it's best not to make the mail carrier think that he or she has to make a judgement call as to whether it's a letter or a package.

Packages with heavier weight and larger dimensions are considered a Päckchen or Paket and become more expensive (your LPs might be pricey because of the large dimensions and weight -- I think it will probably be €12.90 if you send it by land, 2x that by air).

You can verify this with the free handbook you can get at the post office, or online at The site also has an English option.

BTW, at the post office, they can give you a little green sticker on which you can declare the contents and value. I would definitely do this (or go and get a bunch of them at once so you can send them with the mailboxes later), since customs hangups are seriously annoying, and sometimes expensive.

If you need anymore details, drop me a line.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 11:50 AM on October 2, 2006

Avoid UPS. I've tried them on international shipments, and every one has gotten tangled up in Customs and incurred an unnecessary broker's fee.

A friend who makes many small international shipments says each country's postal service is invariably the best way to send and receive things.
posted by KRS at 12:01 PM on October 2, 2006

Whoops, didn't notice that the LPs were by the crateful. That's probably a DHL Paket Welt for €42 by land if it's between 5-10kg (10-20kg costs €62). Pricey, but vastly less than UPS or Fedex.

Pakete come with some healthy amount of insurance automatically IIRC, but I don't know the number off the top of my head. I think that the land shipments take about 10-21 days.

On preview, KRS speaks the truth -- I have personally had a deeply revolting experience with UPS and their customs-related shenanigans, the sharing of which is probably beyond the scope of this AskMe question.

I've just had the normal kind of customs annoyances with Deutsche Post, Fedex and the USPS (fat tariffs, filling out forms in triplicate, occasionally having to pick something up at a Customs office and explain what it is/why I bought it/if I will be re-selling it). Good documentation with realistic values will make things easier for you and for the person you are shipping to.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 12:55 PM on October 2, 2006

I shipped a G4 tower in its original package using UPS ground (sic!) from germany to los angeles in 2000. cost about DM 80 then. took about two weeks, no complaints.
posted by krautland at 1:49 PM on October 2, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help, everybody. I've tried using USPS a few times shipping various things (records, T-Shirts) from America to Berlin, but I've run into gigantic problems every time. I've had to pick up every single one of them at the customs office and explain why exactly I mailed myself a box of 100 T-Shirts (which I really wouldn't have thought was such a crazy concept) and one time a box of 50 LPs just disappeared somewhere over the Atlantic and I still haven't gotten any insurance money for it.

Looks like I'll give Deutsche Post a whirl, though. As a few people said, customs really is the hassle with government carriers, but the private ones seem insanely expensive-- I had to have a new credit card FedExed to me when my last one expired and it cost over $100, and that wasn't even overnight!
posted by atomly at 5:00 AM on October 3, 2006

« Older SW needed to track regulatory items   |   Advice on deck staining & bathtub caulking Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.