Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Getting International Mail Delivered: The Posts’ Obligations and the Mailer’s (Part I)

Tags:  postal service, international mail, customs, mail restrictions, Univeral Postal Union (UPU), United States Postal Service (USPS)

Getting mail to its destination is always a partnership between the mailer and the postal service.  Basically, the postal service sets a price (postage) and conditions for delivering the mail and the mailer pays the postage and meets the conditions.  Others may enter into this:  lettershops, printers, fulfillment companies, to name a few.  Any necessary sorting, indicia, and documentation is the responsibility of the mailer either directly or by contract with a service provider.  The postal service’s responsibility is to deliver the mail to the addressees in exchange for the postage paid.  It may be obligated to return non-deliverable items to the mailer or not, depending on the service options chosen by the mailer.  Of course, the choice of service and the preparation of the mail to meet the postal service’s requirements can become quite complicated.

Mailing internationally adds at least one very important new partner to the equation plus one government agency: the postal service and customs in the destination country.  It’s not quite as simple as the domestic postal service shipping the mail to the country or countries of destination where the local postal service will deliver it to the addressees.  More laws and restrictions apply.  Mail must meet any regulations and laws in both countries and adhere to the requirements of the domestic postal service and the destination postal service.  It is technically subject to inspection in both the countries and any others along its route.

For the most part, complying with the laws means completing the appropriate customs forms for merchandise and any other documentation, getting import or export licenses when required and not sending prohibited goods.  The USPS provides detailed information in the International Mail Manual, including restriction by country.  The UPU provides customs and postal export information, including customs lists of prohibited items in English and French.

For most letters, invoices, legal documents, and other such items, this isn’t a problem.  That’s because they are defined as documents under international postal agreements and they don’t require any special forms or clearance.  (Currency or items of high value enclosed in a letter may have special requirements.)

Artwork, photographs, film, x-rays, and negatives are not documents no matter what the medium of the artwork or the contents of the other items.  Electronic storage media, such as CDs, DVDs, flash drives, video and cassette tapes, are not documents, even if they contain electronic documents.  They are considered merchandise and require a customs declaration. 

Next week:  More on the Posts’ Obligations and the Mailer’s

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