As I’ve mentioned, I collect antiques. I recently bought an item from a very reputable dealer in the U.K. This was a bittersweet find because the cost meant I had to part with something else, but I actually made a tidy profit selling Item A to buy Item B. All was right with the world, but that was late July.
Now in late August the world has come crashing down, because Item B has never arrived. As a journalist, collector and part-time dealer I have been fortunate to have never lost an item either in shipping or sending. Actually that’s not true. I did once buy a collection of books and a box broke open. Those were hardly one- of-a-kind items so it wasn’t a horrible situation.
But with Item B I’m depressed because I sold something irreplaceable to fund this purchase. Being out a not-so-small sum of money would be painful, but selling Item A makes it worse. What I’ve learned about international shipping I thought was worth sharing.
First, it doesn’t come as a surprise that most (if not all) international shipments can only be insured for an amount often times lower than the declared value of the item. This is an unfortunate situation for many buyers and sellers because there can be import duties in many countries. Ironically you can pay the duties but still not get full coverage insurance when items are sent through via the national mail carriers.
My package was coming from England and I’ve always had good luck with the Royal Mail. Sometimes it can be slow, but the same can be said of the U.S. Postal Service. What I know is that my package was sent on August 1, 2008 from England and when tracking packages as a small-business buyer or sending, you must keep in mind that the European system is DAY/MONTH/YEAR. So when tracking it I confirmed the package shipped on 01/08/08. This is stressed because to a casual American reader it would appear as January 1, 2008.
Next, I found out that my package arrived in the United States only on August 17, 2008. Why it took 17 days isn’t known, as the package did ship via air. It is worth noting that Royal Mail, as with USPS mail travels on commercial airliners and thus packages go when they go.
Now here is the interesting part—and for me personally the most frustrating part—the package was sent registered mail. This is worth noting, because in fact this actually makes the package harder to track internationally than non-registered mail. Surprise!
The reason is that registered mail is under “lock and key” according to those people I spoke with at the post office. For this reason the packages are NOT, repeat NOT, scanned every step of the way. Hence a misrouted package could actually go hundreds, if not thousands of miles off course.
I had bought another item from Ireland a few years ago and it made a stop in Los Angeles and then onto Australia before heading back to the United States. I never understood why, but as that was shipped during the holiday season I figured the delay was based on the Christmas rush. That particular package logged as many miles as Santa Claus it seems.