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Showing posts with label international. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international. Show all posts

LEGO Selling Tips - Filling out Customs Forms

Last week I talked a bit about how to send smaller international packages cheaper via the United States Postal Service.  Regardless of the service you use, customs forms are always needed.  When filling out customs forms, you may have questions about some of the fields.  Here is what I have successfully done without issue:

*edit, the USPS system has changed.  This article has been updated to reflect that.

Type of package: Merchandise.  If they paid you it is always merchandise.  Merchandise is no longer an option.  Commercial samples is not quite right, use Other.  Never gift.  There's like fines and prison time for lying on customs forms.  More likely you'll get blacklisted from overseas shipping.  Better to lose a customer who threatens negative feedback then declare as a gift.

Contents: Be careful using the word LEGO.  I always use "Plastic toy parts".  Then under Detailed Description I put "Bulk plastic toy parts".  That's sufficient.

Item Value:  NEVER add your packaging fees or postage to this.  This is only the value of the goods paid for.  If you sold $5 worth of parts, your shipping was $2.05, insurance is $1.50, your "packaging" fee is $0.75, and your privilege of ordering from you fee is a brass button, put down $5.  Since Europeans and Americans swap a period and a comma for thousands place, round to whole dollar amounts to avoid any confusion or possible $40 customs fees for your buyer.

Quantity: 1.  Because it's bulk.

Weight: Whatever your total package weight is including bubble mailer.

Ignore the tariff number and country of origin unless you are a larger commercial seller.

AES Exemption:  LEGO pieces are not approved humanitarian aid so this will always be 30.37(a).

Read the Prohibitions and Restrictions and chuckle.

On the next screen verify everything and then print.  If filling a customs form for a package (not large envelope), you can pay for your postage all on one easy form.  Don't forget to sign and date the form.  If you or the postal clerk misses that then your package might get two Transatlantic flights.

Hopefully that was simple enough.  If you have any other issues, let me know in the comments and I can update this post as needed.

LEGO Selling Tips - Shipping Internationally

In a twist of topics, let's look less at LEGO pieces themselves and more at how to move them from the United States to your buyers.  Specifically, those buyers outside the United States.

In 2012 we had a great racket going.  International packages would cost $3-$5 to move a decent amount of brick overseas.  In 2013 that all changed when the USPS jacked international rates through the roof.  Typical packages now cost double what they did a year ago starting at $6.16 for the electronic rate and zooming upwards after that.  This is all for the package rate mind you.  "But everything's a package, isn't it?"  Not so my friend.  Let's take a brief look at some terminology.

Envelope:  This is standard mail.  You write a letter and send it to someone.  Oh you use email?  Fine, then this is what credit card offers come to your apartment in.

Large Envelope:  Exceeds any one of the dimensional standards of an envelope.  Most of the time we will deal with thickness.  Envelopes may not exceed 1/4".  After that they become a large envelope until 3/4".  Beyond that it's a package.

Package:  Everything else.  Though there is also large package, that is rarely dealt with unless you send sets.  Outside the scope of this post.

Sometimes you may be able to send very small parts in an envelope.  By small parts I mean plates and tiles and not much else.  A plate is 4.9mm or 0.20" with the knobs.  Baggies and envelopes bring this thickness dangerously close to 1/4".  Why does the thickness matter?  Well, you see, the mail is not sorted by hand as some still think.  Postal centers are highly automated operations with all sorts of whiz bang technology.  Envelopes are put through high speed conveyance systems that include pinch points along the way in the form of rollers.  Anything that can't get through the rollers either gets stuck and backs up the system, mangled, or both.  This is a great way to break parts or shoot a minifig head across the floor where some unsuspecting postal worker steps on it, slips, and breaks a kneecap.  Don't let this happen to you!

Little piggies ready for a ride
Besides that, envelope mail goes through some bendy pathways and LEGO pieces may end up stressing or breaking along the way if not secured just right.  There is however the option to pay for a non-machinable surcharge on regular envelopes under 1/4" thick.  This will add 20c to your postage.  Make sure to write in big red letters "NON-MACHINABLE SURCHARGE PAID".  Still, you run the risk of this being missed and your dark blue 1x8 arch brick being sent through the rollers.

Get this template!  Piggies slide through 1/4" with ease.

It'll roller fine, but better to be safe.  I'm over by 2 pence.  Hope it doesn't go too far.

The large envelope is treated like relative royalty in comparison to the envelope.  It is still subject to the high speed rollers and the pinching and jamming.  But it gets a full 3/4" of thickness to go through and is (speculatively) not subject to as tight of turns as envelopes are.  I've never personally seen the difference.  I'm going off the differences noted in the postal manuals for these two types of mail.

Oh yes, there are manuals.

Since we're looking at reducing postage rates overseas, we need to look at the International Mailing Manual or IMM for short.  Do not confuse this with the Domestic Mailing Manual (DMM).  There are some subtle differences that can lead to confusion.

There's a whole lot of useless (but sometimes fascinating) information in the IMM.  For instance, did you know that it's illegal to send your trash to the United Kingdom?  Bugger!  Guess I'll send it to France!  The useful information is condensed into two sections: 241 and 242.  The first section can be accessed here:

A lot of this is blah blah until you get down to 241.23 which talks about the physical standards for Large Envelopes (AKA Flats).  Note that in the dimensions (231.242) that your mailpiece need only exceed ONE dimensional standard, not all three.  I had a postal employee try to tell me that I needed to exceed all three.  I had to explain to him what 'or' meant.  If your parcel is between 1/4" and 3/4", you can keep going.

My high-tech 3/4" template.  Actually about 0.70" for safety.

Slides right in and SAFE!

Let's move on down to 241.235, Uniform Thickness.  It is frequently misunderstood that if you're sending a piece that is 5/8" thick that the entire parcel must be 5/8" thick.  Not true.  This rule states that there can be up to 1/4" of variation in thickness.  Many standard Kraft bubble mailers are 1/4" thick for reference.  The idea is that you need to pad your envelope with some similarly thick material so that the rollers don't freak out and crush your Cloud City Boba Fett.  For reference, a 1x brick is 5/16" thick which is slightly over 1/4".  Given the flex and cushion in a bubble mailer, these are fine on their own sideways.  For thicker pieces I have often taken a scrap if bubble mailer and cut out a center portion in which I tape my baggie of carefully aligned parts.  "But what if they shift in transit?"  If you snugly pack a baggie flat, then fold over the remainder and tape it, the parts don't shift.  Further, when you tape it into your custom cut bubble scrap, the tape stiffens the poly to the point that shifting is almost impossible.

Little piggies ready for rollers

For the record, I would never send minifigs via large envelope as most of them are 3/4" thick on their own; the bubble mailer itself brings the thickness close to 1".  Send minifigs at package rate.

All your liftarm are belong to us.
Secured to a sheet of paper.  These are shiftless pieces!

Another thing to keep in mind about Uniform Thickness is that the outer 1" of the envelope does. not. count (unless your contents get out that far).  One postal employee told me that the crimped edge of my bubble mailer made it so that there was more than 1/4" of variation in my envelope.  He was wrong.  There's also a clue in here in that LEGO parts are allowed.  If you have "non-paper contents" they must be secured so as not to shift.

Next is my favorite part, Flexibility (241.236).  If Uniform Thickness is misunderstood, Flexibility is Quantum Mechanics.  Flexibility demonstrates that your parcel can go through the zigs and zags of the sorting machines on it's way to Spain or China or Antarctica.  The flexibility does not need to be exaggerated.  You can see by the pictures in the IMM that the tests are fairly lax.  If it bends once more or less in the middle, you're good.  I rolled a well packed large envelope up into a tube in front of a postal employee to demonstrate flexibility and he still refused.

Here's the trick to passing the flexibility test.  You can ship long 2x plates, perhaps even long 4x plates.  But they must be placed in the envelope up and down in reference to the address label.  If you place them side to side they will not pass the flex test and they will snap through the rollers and send shards of ABS into other packages and eyeballs.

After demonstrating how my package qualified for all tests my postal employee still refused on the grounds that I had told him I had small plastic pieces inside.  For this I turned the page to section 242.

Section 242 states what items are eligible for shipping via envelope and large envelope.  I highlighted the term "any item" and referred to the ability to send pens through the envelope service.  He refused based on nothing that he could reference.  Don't be fooled.  If you have an item that fits all other criteria and is not human remains, live ammo or E.coli samples, (or rubbish to the UK) you ARE allowed to send it via large envelope.

When I asked to speak to the manager I was told he was at another station.  When I called that station he was unavailable.  I left my contact info and never heard from him.  I talked to my regular route postman (who I am on good terms with) and he talked to the same manager.  He came back to me with the same failed arguments that the counter employee gave me.  I told him that his manager was wrong and that he should read the IMM.

Which brings up a good question.  If your post office refuses to abide by its own rules, what to do?  Well if the counter employee fails you, you could always ask to speak to the manager and continue escalating to the postmaster.  If you live in a very small town, these three might be the same people.  At that point you could appeal to the Postmaster General.  You could also go to another post office.  This is what I ended up doing.  The post office I had been using is about a mile away from my house.  When I started sending international large envelopes they refused me that service.  I took my business to another post office 3 miles away.  More inconvenient?  Perhaps.  But more importantly I am offering a service to international buyers that you may not be.  Is it worth it?  You tell me:

A 1 oz package to the world costs $6.16 if you buy postage electronically.  If you send as a large envelope, the cost goes down to $2.05.  A 5 oz package will cost your buyer $11.48 but if it qualifies as a large envelope, that cost goes down to $5.45.  Why these are almost better than the package rates from a year ago!


The one drawback to the large envelope is that it almost always requires a trip to the post office.  Most all other postage can be printed online and sent from home.  But neither nor Paypal allow printing of first class international large envelope postage.  As of this writing only allows it if you can stand their monthly service fee and hostile customer service.  The key is that you need what's called a round stamp that shows acceptance of the package. prints it for you but postal carriers and DCU's do not have these.  If your carrier comes from a retail location, perhaps he'll round stamp them for you when he gets back from his route.

Paypal now allows printing of first class mail international large envelope postage WITH round stamp!  Joyous day!

Don't forget your customs forms.  This is required even for 99c orders or mail going to free ports such as Hong Kong.  These can be printed directly from with or without postage and logged electronically.  I'll explain these a little more next week.

You may decide it's too much work to prepare a package in such a way that it meets the first class international large envelope standard.  And if your buyer is willing to pay package costs, that's fine.  But when they find out the way I've been doing it, you may just lose that customer or start getting requests for cheaper postage.  Or you may argue with me and tell me I've been very lucky.  I was extremely surprised at the amount of hostility I received when I posted about this in a forum.  It appears many people thought I was spreading faulty information.  It took me a few months of research and asking questions to understand it to the level I do now and I am confident that I spread truth.

I hope this has been a useful guide and I'll update as needed if you have questions.  Feel free to hammer away in the comments.