Best Shipping Method to Malawi, Africa?
July 17, 2007 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Need help finding the cheapest way to send a large box of books and toys from Toronto to Malawi, Africa.

After reading William Kamkwamba blog about his home windmill project (FPP here), I emailed William to see how I could help. Together with a group of friends, we are going to be sending him a whole bunch of books and some toys for his sisters.

Quoting out the shipment with Canada Post came out to $1,000 (for International 4 to 5 days) which makes sending used books a bit of a waste. Does anyone know of a cheaper, perhaps Africa specific, shipping option? It doesn't need to be quick, but something around 3-4 weeks?
posted by dripdripdrop to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Did you try surface mail? That could take 3-4 months but it will be the cheapest option.

Couriers will probably not be cheaper than the post office. Perhaps you can get a better deal from a freight company.
posted by winston at 12:00 PM on July 17, 2007

What about taking a field trip to the other side of Niagara Falls? I know you're in Toronto, but bear with me here for a minute.

Here's the USPS postal rate calculator for Malawi. It might be cheaper to break your shipment up into smaller packages; certain rates are only available for shipments up to a certain size, and you wouldn't necessarily pay more this way.

For example, a 50 pound package of anything (legal) will cost US$235.50 to send via the United States Postal Service's Priority Mail International, and will get there in 2 weeks or less. Here's the link.

We've also got something called an "M-bag," which is a (possiibly less pricey, never done it myself) way to send printed matter abroad - details here.

All of the USPS's services to Malawi can be found on the Malawi country page, here.
posted by mdonley at 12:27 PM on July 17, 2007

PS: If you click the "next" button at the bottom of the page the M-bag link connects to, you'll get more info on how to package things and what forms are required.
posted by mdonley at 12:34 PM on July 17, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks mdonley, hadn't thought of that, but seems like it might be an option. Very strange that used clothing is a prohibited item to send to Malawi.
posted by dripdripdrop at 1:18 PM on July 17, 2007

Forgive me for not answering your question!

Even sending this stuff at a super cheap rate is a massive waste of resources. Sending that guy $100 via Western Union will change his life FAR more than spending $100s of dollars to send him books. I assure you, there are plenty of books to be purchased in Malawi, much cheaper than Canada.

For the money you are preparing to spend sending him a box of books, he could build scores of windmills.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:42 PM on July 17, 2007

I would go with a courier service, since they are more responsible that the Malawian Postal System, which is (surprise) not the most developed or secure.

My partner sends things to Malawi regularly. DHL is generally the cheapest and most reliable.

I've used mail sacks in the past. They are cheap, but things arrive battered. If I'm not mistaken, they are only for surface mail.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:11 PM on July 17, 2007

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