Four years ago I sent things overseas by US Mail Global Priority. Anything you could fit in the cardboard envelope, up to four pounds, was a flat fee, depending on where you sent it. I sent the ingredients for Wacky Cake and frosting (including vanilla and powdered sugar because C2 could not find powdered sugar in Spain and so first made frosting, not the cooked kind, with granulated sugar, which apparently did not impress her host parents – way to represent, darlin’) to Pamplona for nine US bucks. I also took apart a box of Kraft macaroni & cheese-like powder, vacuum sealed the various components to save space, and sent that. Sometimes, when you’re far away from home for a long time, especially when you’re a kid, you need to take a break from embracing all the changes you’re living daily in your host culture and eat the same crap you eat at home. The odd thing is that sometimes you’d give up naming rights to your future firstborn child to eat crap that you rarely eat at home because it’s crap.
I had a few leftover envelopes so used one of them to mail something to Argentina a few weeks ago. The cost of postage I expected had gone up, but this histrionic performance was hardly necessary: “Where’d you get that? How old is that? I haven’t seen one of those in years. Years!! Pete! How long has it been since you’ve seen one of these? Years? You’re going to have to, I don’t know. You’re going to have to, to put that in something else.” OK, I get it: Global Priority no longer exists, and I’ll be sure to clue in our local postmistress, the one who gave me a handful of Global Priority boxes yesterday (if they can’t keep up, how are the rest of us supposed to?). Now it’s just Priority Mail, and it’s $11.95 ($11.35 if you print the label and buy the postage online) for up to four pounds (under 3.5 ounces, it’s cheaper to send it regular mail) to just about anywhere in the world in the same size envelope (12-1/2″ by 9-1/2″ and free from the post office, but it must be in their envelope). The cheapest way to send four pounds not in the flat-rate envelope is $29.05, so it’s worth the effort to cram as much into the envelopes as possible. It’s also worth keeping in mind when shopping for gifts that have to be mailed internationally.
C2’s birthday is soon, but she’s living her birthday present and more, so she’s getting a pair of her jeans that she wishes she’d packed. The present is for her little host brother, who has a birthday a few days before she does. Inside is a box of Legos, opened up, box flattened, and vacuum sealed as flat as possible. I ended up vacuum sealing the jeans, too. Hope the wrinkles come out. Besides compressing the merchandise so it doesn’t take up as much space, the packages don’t rattle, offering fewer reasons for security people to open the envelopes and play with the Legos.
I didn’t want to compromise the shape of the Sour Patch Kids so I didn’t suck all the air out of that package. Yes, I realize what a ridiculous statement that is, but at the time it seemed important that the American Sour Patch Kids retain their shape for a Chilean boy. I don’t know what kind of candy they have in Chile (except no Reese’s peanut butter cups), but C2 said the little brother was excited about the candy she brought with her so I hope he likes this. All of this went into two envelopes, each weighing less than three pounds. I expect the Reese’s and the Yorks to be neither cup-shaped nor patty-like by the time she gets the packages.
This was not easy and involved creative taping strategies inside the envelopes so that the flap would come close to sealing, and it would not have been possible without the vacuum sealer – too much bulk. The official rules are that just about anything (per international and country-specific regulations that are in a constant state of flux dependent upon, it would seem, the mean tide during a new moon at a secret location along the Prime Meridian) can be mailed for this price as long as it is under four pounds, you don’t modify the envelope, and it all fits inside “with the adhesive provided as the means of closure.” Check, check, check, and they didn’t mention anything about not using packing tape for reinforcement. Four pounds is a lot and in the envelopes like this that I’ve mailed I’ve always run out of volume before the contents reached four pounds. No, I never add up the monetary value of what I mail vs. the cost of postage to mail it. In what way would that information be useful to me? There is more to value than the cost of the object.
Answers to many of your postal questions can be found at the USPS Web site. When you click on the link to calculate international postage, the first destination you are offered is “United States (Domestic Mail),” so ignore that and chose the destination country. They should ask me next time they redesign the site because it’s kind of embarrassing that it appears that the United States Postal Service doesn’t know the difference between domestic and international. They are the butt of many complaints, but the Web site really is helpful and you can print labels (the labels in the photo above integrate the customs form, so a separate form isn’t necessary, although nowhere are you told that, and it took a few clerks a while to figure out that that was the case) and pay for the postage online, and often get a small discount for doing so.