Wish You Were Here: Tips for International Mail

Some examples of historically relevant artifacts. Of the four items shown two are fake. Can you tell the difference?

Some examples of historically relevant artifacts. Of the four items shown two are fake. Can you tell the difference?

Mailing personal items or gifts across seas or continents can be a disturbing venture if you don’t know the differences in the many parcel mailing services and prohibitions of Chinese law. It is important to choose the most suitable service to meet your priorities: price, speed, safety and service. The most popular companies to mail internationally from China are UPS, DHL, FedEx, TNT, EMS and China Post.

Excluding EMS and China Post, these are international carriers with high prices and improved service and convenient tracking. These prices can be daunting, especially for big and heavy packages with added surcharges for fuel and rural deliveries. A 5 kilogram parcel to the U.S., for example, can cost over RMB 2,000, calculated by either weight or dimensions with complicated formulas. It is unwise to contact these companies directly. Those in the know will contact agents who can release discounts of up to 60 percent.

“We have contracts with these companies. We are a high quantity customer with tens of thousands of RMB sales each day,” said Ms.Li, an agent with one such company based in Nancheng. “We collect small amounts into hundreds of kilos per day,” said Mr. Zhang from another agency. There are hundreds of agents based in Dongguan that can bridge customers with UPS, DHL, FedEx, TNT and EMS. For an agency list go to the local yellow page website http://goo.gl/NK4g1 (Chinese).

0413_dgaffairs_upsUPS: The world’s biggest and widest shipping company based in the U.S., operates about 700 airplanes and reaches over 200 countries. It covers almost all over the United States. Suitable for urgent high-valued goods. Strict laws prohibit mailable items.



DHL: Based in Belgium, it is Europe’s biggest. Price and speed advantages for mailing to West Asia, the Middle East and Europe with special prices for goods over 21 kilograms, some areas have better prices than EMS. Gain up to 50 percent discount with agents.

0413_dgaffairs_fedexFedEx: Relatively low discounts compared to other companies. Price and speed advantages in South America and Southeast Asia.


0413_dgaffairs_tntTNT: The biggest express company in Holland. Price and speed advantages in Middle East and East Asia.


0413_dgaffairs_emsEMS: Domestic company owned by China Post. Only covers about 60 countries worldwide. Cheaper price and weaker service. Relying on its state-owned background, it is easier to get through the Chinese customs.

0413_dgaffairs_chinapostChina Post: The cheapest and longest method. Three choices of transportation options: air only; air, water and land; and only water and land. Cost can be as low as RMB 163 for a 5 kilogram parcel to the U.S. using local post offices after arriving in country of destination. If price is all that matters, this is the ideal path of delivery, suitable for less-valued, big volume and hard-to-break goods with no time issue.

One issue of international express is prohibited and restricted items such as drugs (including prescription), historical relics, liquids, cigarettes, alcohol, food, currency or counterfeit currency. Customs is very strict with printed materials and audiovisual products containing subversive content, pornography, violence or state secrets. Any kind of pirated books and DVDs are prohibited as well. Even if written proof is provided for its authenticity and content, they’re still risky to mail overseas. Agents can usually provide necessary documentation.



1. Include a card with sender and recipient’s addresses inside in case the packaging becomes wet or damaged.

2. Sometimes it’s cheaper or faster to ship through Hong Kong due to its position as a global trade center and the efficiency of Hong Kong customs.

3. Be aware of the compensation if the parcel is missing, damaged or delayed. Buy insurance if goods are of high value.

4. It might be more practical to pack your goods into two lighter and smaller boxes rather than one large heavy box.

5. If an international parcel is sent to you through the sending country’s post office, then the parcel should arrive at China Post. Ask for the registration number and go to http://goo.gl/HJ6yR to track down your parcel.