Information on Shipping things from India to the USA (or elsewhere)

#1 Feb 12th, 2011, 22:03
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  • bosquef is offline
#1
Hey folks,

In my occasional forays into IndiaMike, I've seen alot of questions about shipping things from India to other countries, and I myself have asked a few questions as well. I've been doing some shipping recently, so I thought I'd share my experiences, which may be helpful to some.

First, a word of background. I'm doing my PhD fieldwork in India. This means that I end up with alot of books, papers, etc. Books and papers are heavy, and annoying to carry around. By alot I mean alot. Today I shipped 45.17 kgs of books and papers back to my department in the US. By the time I complete my research I expect to send 2-3 times that much. Of course, I do have a grant to cover shipping costs, among other things, but it isn't infinite, so I don't want to waste money. From previous experience I have learned that couriers (eg DHL, Fedex) do not have affordable rates for heavy things. I imagine if you had a containers worth of stuff, and you took it to Mumbai or another major port, you might be able to get a good deal on a container. But that is a whole other ballgame... this leaves the postal service and your airplane flight home. Below, I will give a cost comparison that shows that your excess baggage fees may be cheaper than shipping... and then explain why I chose shipping.

When I first ran into this problem in 2007, there was a surface called surface mail or seamail. It had a book rate. Shipping books was absurdly cheap - I think I paid about rs. 100/kg, although I don't precisely recall. It took 3 months, but all 10 (!) boxes of books I shipped arrived safe and sound. Since then, seamail has been discontinued

So I went to the Indiapost website to find out what they offered. I'm not putting a link to any Indiapost websites here because I've found they reorganize their website and change URLs with some regularity. You can search it for yourself and find these services.

As far as I could figure out, there are basically 3 international services by which you can send a package: Speed post, Registered Parcel, and Surface-Air-Lifted (SAL). Here are some rates that I found on the website (the website is pretty nonintuitive - but if you poke around you can find some pages which give international rates):

Speed post - rs. 425 for .25 kg, rs 100 for each additional .25 kg

SAL - rs 310 for .25 kg, rs. 65 for each additional .25 kg

Registered parcel - actually I couldn't locate the international rates for registered parcel.

Now this is really interesting. SAL also lists the following rates for printed paper and newspaper(sorry the table doesn't paste well, but I think you can get the idea). As you will see if you read down, I didn't avail myself of these lower rates.

Quote:
The special rates applicable for Printed Paper, Regd. Newspaper, Samples and Small Packets and Bulk Bag for the following countries only
Great Britain Germany Singapore U.S.A

Quantity

in gms
Printed Paper

in INR
Printed Newspaper

in INR
Smaples & Small Packets

in INR
Upto 100 16 12 16
Above 100 upto 250 35 28 35
Above 250 upto 500 65 51 65
Above 500 upto 1000 120 98 120
Above 1000 upto 2000 213 182 213
Registration charges INR 15/- extra.
Max. weight is 2 Kg only.
Now I already mentioned that today I shipped 45 kg worth of books, in 3 boxes, to the US. Let's look at the rate break down that they gave me at the post office after they weighed my boxes (I'll get to that later):

17.35 kg
Speed 12012
SAL 4865
Parcel 6605

13.42 kg
Speed 9365
SAL 3775
Parcel 5165

14.4 KG
Speed 10027
SAL 4035
Parcel 5525

Total (45.2 kg)
Speed 31404
SAL 12675
Parcel 17295

Now lets compare this with the rates I would have gotten had I carried these same books as excess baggage on my flight home. I'm flying American Airlines, direct from Delhi to Chicago, connecting from there to another city in the US. Airlines are changing their rules alot, and don't list all of their excess baggage rules on their websites all of the time, so I asked my mom back in the US to call American Reservations and get the full deal. Here is what we found out:

I can check one 50 lb bag for free. an additional 20 lb will cost me $50.
I can check a second 50 lb bag for $60. 20 additional lb will cost me 150

I can check up to 7 additional bags of 50 lbs for $150 each, and an additional 20 lbs on each of these bags will cost me $150.

Now I've been living for a while in India, so let's assume (accurately, and also it makes the math a little simpler) that I have enough personal items, gifts, etc., that I want to take home with me (my dad says that you always want to take all of India home with you...) that I've already filled out the relatively cheap first 2 bags. So books are going to be bags 3-10. Obviously, I want to keep myself under the 50 lb limit, because the first 50 lbs are cheaper than the last 20 lbs additional. So now for some math. 50 lbs is 22.67 kg, and $150 is 6853 rupees at today's exchange rate. So in theory, I could have shipped my 45 kg in 2 22.25 kg bags by checking them in as luggage on my flight. That would have cost me
13706, or a tiny bit more than what I payed for SAL.

Now for the story part. I had done this math - not knowing the exact weight, and figured out that SAL would cost roughly the same as checked bags. I decided that it probably made sense to go with SAL. Why? Well first of all, the books are in Nagpur and Hyderabad (where I'm doing research and have kind friends who've let me leave accumulating piles of papers in their homes and offices). How would I get them to Delhi? Domestic flights in India have lower baggage limits than international... on the train you are responsible for your own luggage - and finding space for it - and I usually travel alone, which makes moving massive quantities of things a pain. There are cheap ways to ship things around India domestically, but that would have added to the cost differential, making the checking the bags option more costly than SAL by quite a bit. Neither mail nor checked baggage is failsafe... Also, it seemed like a hassle. Better, I thought, to just get the stuff in the mail ahead of time from Hyderabad and Nagpur.

Well... in the last couple of years I've shipped books a couple times as gifts for my parents, and no one had ever mentioned anything about SAL being a possibility, so I planned ahead. This morning I printed out the full Indiapost webpage on SAL, loaded all the 60 or so books and files into bags, and got a friend (who speaks Hindi and Marathi - I speak a bit of Hindi, but I still have a long way to go) to help me take all these bags to the Nagpur GPO (the GPO is the main post office in the city - I've learned in the past that minor post offices won't handle international parcels. You have to go to the nearest GPO)

The Nagpur GPO is located in a beautiful old Raj-era building in Civil Lines. We got there a little after it opened, and went inside. It being a Saturday morning, the post office wasn't very busy. The clerk at the counter told us that nothing like SAL existed. He said surface mail was discontinued several years ago. I persisted - when exactly was SAL discontinued? If it was discontinued, why is there a prominent link to it on the Indiapost website? He got tired of my persistence after about 30 seconds, and told me to come behind the counter and talk to his supervisor, an assistant postmaster who was sitting behind him at a desk. We went back to the assistant postmaster. He told us to ask the guy at the front desk, who we'd just spoken to. That guy said there was nothing like what we were talking about in his computer system, so it must have been discontinued. Again, I pushed the printout from the webpage in his face, and asked him to tell me exactly when it had been discontinued. Could he show me the G.R. that discontinued it? He got really flustered, and within a minute, he asked me to speak to his supervisor - I didn't get his title - Postmaster maybe? - who was in the closed cabin in the back.

When we reached this man's cabin, I walked in politely, with my bags, and addressed him in English (I've learned that higher officials often respond better to English than to Hindi - I think using English with them signifies to them that you are some sort of a high status important person - but I'm not sure if it is universal, or just that my Hindi is so bad that no one understands what I'm saying). The postmaster motioned me to sit down, and took the paper from the website explaining SAL from me, and read it carefully. Then he rang a bell and asked his peon to fetch the guys we'd just been talking to. He told them that we could send these bags through SAL.

As if by magic, their computers now indicated that there was a service called SAL. Also, the lower level officials now became very friendly to us. Later they told us that they had never heard of SAL before, and they thought no one in Nagpur had ever used it. This is a little hard to believe - Nagpur is a big city of about 3 million - the 14th largest in India I believe - so I have a hard time believing that I'm the first person. But I guess it is an unusual service.

Now I asked the postmaster about the rates for printed paper, that are quoted above. He explained to me that one of the differences between SAL and registered parcel/speed post was that with the latter, customs is completed on site at the GPO, but with SAL, customs is done in Mumbai. He wasn't sure of the rules for what counted as printed paper for the purpose of these rates. If the parcels were opened for inspection in Mumbai, and found to contain items that weren't legitimate for the printed paper rates, they would not be returned to me - nor would they be shipped. He said that he was sure that xeroxed papers and papers with handwriting on them (about half of my materials) did not qualify for the printed paper rate. He said that bound books (i.e. commercially published books) might qualify as printed paper, but he wasn't sure. He found a bookmark in one of my books, and said that that certainly could be a problem - because it definitely wasn't printed paper (but it was a picture of Saraswati...). (it also occured to me later that I've written all over many of these books - I take notes and underline as I read). Therefore, on his advice, I decided not to take the risk of losing all my books, and send the books regular SAL, and not the printed paper rate, even though it was quite a bit cheaper. If anyone has more information about this - or is going to the Mumbai GPO, which is apparently ground zero for foreign parcel booking - it would be good to know whether books with scribbling in them count as printed paper.

Then he told me that he thought speed post was very reliable, but these other services, registered parcel and SAL, were not. In particular, he said that US customs and inspection were known to destroy suspicious packages without opening them - if inquiries were made, they would just say no traces of the materials could be found. (I don't imagine that Indian customs is any better, but I realize it is always easier to blame the foreign handler). He seemed to think that SAL was particularly unreliable but he didn't say anything that would lead me to believe that it was more or less reliable than registered parcel.

I gave this some thought. These books are valuable to me - they are a part of my dissertation research. But very little that I have is unreplaceable. Speed Post is *alot* more expensive. My own experience using Seamail - which faced similar issues - several years ago for shipping books was positive - and there are alot of positive comments about using seamail for *non-valuable* items in old IndiaMike forums. I can't imagine anyone wanting to steal my used books about plants, trees, bureaucracies, or development theory, so I figure the risks to them are pretty low. I'd be alot more careful with anything that I thought might seem appealing to a customs official...

So I decided to go with SAL. Then I asked the postmaster where I could pack the books. It turns out that unlike some of the other large post offices I've been to in India - i.e. Delhi & Hyderabad, Nagpur doesn't have any kind of parcel wallahs. Again - Nagpur is a BIGcity. This is the GPO for 3 million people. But there are no parcel wallahs...

Back to square one... I thought of a tailor I knew who worked in a crowded market area - Dharampeth - near my friends' office where I've been staying when in Nagpur. We walked out of the post office, got a rickshaw to Dharampeth, and asked the tailor if he could help us make parcels. He was sitting there drinking tea, and didn't seem to be very busy. He said he'd help. Now how to pack 45 kg of books? My friend and I decided to look for some sturdy boxes. We found some in a couple stationery stores - boxes used for shipping paper - i.e. printer paper, etc. We also asked at appliance stores, but their boxes were rather flimsy. At the stationery store we also bought a permanent marker and packing tape. They charges us rs. 10 for each box, 18 for the permanent marker, and 50 for the packing tape. Back to the tailor's, where we took the books out of the bags, and stacked them carefully in the boxes. I wrote my To: address in the US on all parts of the boxes, and then we wrapped them up with enough packing tape to make a road to Delhi and back. Then the tailor asked us to go to a fabric shop in another part of the market, and get a certain kind of fabric - he measured the boxes and told us how much to get. We came back with rs 100 worth of lightweight off-white cotton cloth, and the tailor started stitching. And we went and got a thali.

About an hour and a half later, my packages were sewn up tight. Now the tailor said we'd need to seal the packages with a material called lac (lac is actually secreted by an insect which eats trees - I've seen it being cultivated in the rural forest areas of central India). We could get this at a hardware story. I couldn't imagine sealing the packages anymore than they already were - under tons of packing tape and sewn up with nice fabric - and no one could explain to me why the packages needed to be sealed - but I did remember that the parcel wallahs at Delhi and Hyderabad did this, so we went to a hardware store, and bought some lac - they only had a rs 20 quantity, which was much more than we'd need, but that was all they would sell us.

Another rickshaw ride back to the post office. We decided to start at the top, and went straight to our nice friend, the postmaster. He sent us to the assistant, who sent us to the desk clerk. He weighed our packages, and gave me the rates which I've quoted above. I wrote my from and to address all over the parcels - this time on the cotton wrapper (I wanted it in as many places as possible, in case the packages are opened for inspection at customs and things get separated out). I filled out a bunch of customs forms. I booked my packages, and paid my rs. 12000. The clerk gave me the same warnings that the postmaster had: Speedpost is reliable - what you are doing is not reliable. Are you sure you want to do this? I said I was sure. They asked me for my ID proof and address proof - which I didn't have - (I never carry my passport on my person if I can avoid it, but try to keep it always in a safe place). Fortunately I did have a photocopy of my passport, which they were happy with. Meanwhile, they told my friend (remember him? The one who speaks Hindi better than me?) that we needed to seal the packages with the lac. Why? I still don't know why, but we had to do this. Unfortunately, we had not brought an appropriate means to melt the lac. By this time the clerks had decided they liked us (perhaps the rs. 12000 I'd just spent made them happy - or perhaps we were just making their lives interesting - one clerk asked my friend, who lives in Hyderabad, whether the charminar was in Hyderabad, and then, when I told him I lived in America, near Chicago, asked me how far it was from Chicago to America (10 km? 50 km? 100 km?)). One f the clerks disappeared for about 10 minutes with my friend. They returned with a kaddai (wok) full of melted wax, and a couple of sticks, which they used to dab the hot lac onto the seams of my package. I really feel sorry for whoever is going to have to clean up that cooking utensil.

Then they said we needed to make photocopies of some of the forms. But of course, they didn't have a photocopier - and this being Nagpur, the post office with no parcel wallahs - the nearest xerox shop was 1 km away. We walked down there, and it was simply a cart with an electric line, and a xerox perched in the cart. The xerox machine was wide open, and a bunch of technicians were peering at it. Fortunately, there was another shop not much farther. We got our xeroxes made, and came back to the GPO. I think it was closed at 4, and it was now almost 4.30, but by this time we'd learned all the back entrances... we went in, and another clerk (the one we'd been with before seemed to have gone home for the day) affixed our completed customs forms to the packages and sent them off to be shipped.

I hope I get to see all of those books again in a couple months back in Indiana... No one could tell me how long SAL would take... the postmaster thought it would take less than a month, since SAL means it travels by truck to Mumbai (3-7 days), gets inspected (2-3 days), flies to the US (1 day), gets inspected (2-3 days) and then travels by truck to my address (3-7 days). If you're reading this post in a month or 2 - shoot me a reminder to see if the books arrived.
Last edited by bosquef; Feb 12th, 2011 at 22:07.. Reason: trying to make my tables more legible...
#2 Mar 13th, 2011, 11:39
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  • bosquef is offline
#2
As a little addition - I just shipped a similar quantity of books from the GPO in Hyderabad (Abids). It was way easier, thanks to several factors: my anticipation of potential problems (I found some sturdy boxes at a xerox place - the kind that paper comes in - and put the books in there before going); the post-office's greater knowledge (the clerk didn't bat an eye when I asked to send things SAL mail. He knew what I was talking about. Incidentally, registered parcel is only a little bit more expensive than SAL mail, and seemed to be more popular among the other people shipping things abroad); and the presence of a bunch of super helpful parcel-wallahs who sit outside and not only help with all the packing, but carry your boxes inside and direct you to the right person. Bottom line: a process that took me 6 hours in Nagpur took me 1 hour in Hyderabad.
#3 May 22nd, 2011, 22:28
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  • indiadude is offline
#3
Hey bosquef -- how did it turn out? Any books yet?

I'm planning on shipping a few boxes of books myself in a couple of months, from Mumbai -- would love to hear the end of your story.
#4 May 23rd, 2011, 00:27
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  • bosquef is offline
#4
Hi Indiadude,
Sorry I forgot to post the end of the story! Yes - all my boxes arrived well in Indiana, and it took less than a month for them to arrive (beating me there). I was quite pleased! But I should also add that they looked pretty worn - I don't know what they do to them in the mail, but it looked like they'd been through a lot. In other words - pack them well!
Bosquef
#5 Nov 5th, 2011, 16:29
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  • lukman is offline
#5

Shipping on India Post

Some questions, I couldn't find the rate for SAL shipments on their site, they only have air or surface?
I need to ship a baby cot at ~27kgs dimensions 118*75*40 cm. The parcel option doesn't allow above 20kg shipment. I seem to be able to use bulk bag but what is that and does it require special packaging? Do you know the dimension limitations? I couldn't find it on the web.
#6 Nov 5th, 2011, 21:19
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#6
Gads, what a lot of complciations you had, Bosquef, but good info for all. I sent five packages home to the US via SAL, (and 2 by air mail) one from Mysore and four from Kochi. In Mysore they have packing wallahs which you slip the baksheesh to, & in Kochi tailors are everyhwere near the Kochi PO with signs saying "parcel packing", they get the boxes, wrap it all in cloth they have right there, sew it all up & seal the last side with melted wax, loan you the black marker pen, etc. and off you go to the PO! There you just have to fill out the forms & the customs form, & pay. My first 2 packages came in only one month, amazing! It does cost a lot, I spent about $150 USD to get the 5 packages home, & learned an expensive lesson!

It certanly helped to have my driver(s), (all three of them at different times), handle the paper work, as the forms are pretty hard to see. Anyway, it gets easier as you do it more often but always a good idea to have local people handle the details. In Mysore we got to go thru the back offices (main PO) to see the various people, and nobody even batted an eyelash, like we were part of the whole deal. In the US that would never have happened!
#7 Jan 29th, 2012, 12:34
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  • salempeacock is offline
#7

International post-details

#8 Oct 22nd, 2012, 09:41
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  • sitaraandrews is offline
#8
Just stumbled upon this thread while looking to send smallish packages to the US. bosquef, were you able to track your package?
#9 Nov 29th, 2012, 06:21
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  • moellercl is offline
#9

New Question about shipping SAL from India

Hi, I see there has been questions about shipping from India but I am having trouble confirming actual or close shipping prices.
I want to have someone in India send me a 18 kg package and he has quoted me a very high price(he is Indian)He does not know the details about SAL so wants me to tell him(so I can get it cheaper)
The package will come from India to me here in Washington state USA. He is unsure of SAL and I feel that it will be cheaper but haven't been able to find a link to it. The calculator on the india post website doesn't work for me.
Can someone tell me what shipping would cost going SAL. Is it a 30 day slow boat more or less? ANy help would be appreciated.
Cathy(moellercl)

http://www.indiapost.gov.in/SP_Rate_Calculator.aspx
#10 Oct 29th, 2013, 11:23
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#10
There is no question against your interesting blog. I am waiting you give me a more interested information. I am very happy for reading this great information.
#11 Apr 7th, 2014, 10:23
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  • kayce is offline
#11
Quote:
Originally Posted by moellercl View Post Hi, I see there has been questions about shipping from India but I am having trouble confirming actual or close shipping prices.
Can someone tell me what shipping would cost going SAL. Is it a 30 day slow boat more or less? ANy help would be appreciated.
Cathy(moellercl)

http://www.indiapost.gov.in/SP_Rate_Calculator.aspx
#12 May 19th, 2014, 00:27
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  • kayce is offline
#12
Quote:
The above link is for speed post and Surface Air Lifted (SAL) mail costs only half of it. Sorry for the incorrect link. When I tried to find the India post international postage calculator at www.indiapost.gov.in, it requires java script and doesn't work even after installing java script!

I posted a SAL parcel to US on May 13, 2014 from an urban town in Tamilnadu state. It costs Rs 5600 for 13.5 kg.

The post office wanted it to be cloth wrapped. So packed the books in cardboard box (bought from a local super market-grocery store for Rs 20) and sealed it with adhesive tape (asked the post office clerk if it is OK to seal the box before bringing to her. She said OK. Make sure to do this first; otherwise they will make you open the parcel!).

Went it a tailor nearby and asked him to measure, make a cloth bag and hand stitch the bag around the cardboard box (costs Rs. 200 for everything except cardboard box).

Wrote the from and to addresses with a permanent marker, placed the parcel on the weighing scale (in front of the post office clerk) who read the weight and calculated the postage, filled out the customs form (got from post office clerk who insisted that I should write “books for personal reading”) and attached the form to the parcel using adhesive tape. I paid the postage with cash and collected a receipt. Not sure of tracking info though. When I asked her about the delivery time, she said 10 days. Let’s see-I will post here it once I receive it.

Seems like a straight forward process but having access to a car, driver, cardboard box, adhesive tapes, tailor, permanant marker and cash (no cards)would be helpful!!
#13 May 19th, 2014, 04:36
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#13
Great post and par for the course. Sent my dissertation stuff back through my book agent in Gurgaon. Jain Books in CP Delhi will also do the same for something like 2k INR/kg. Forgot to ask Jain in Daryaganj what they charge these days. As a rough rule of thumb I anticipate twice the price of the books plus for the cost of shipping. That was roughly what MLB was quoting. I found that for a bit more I could have upgraded my ticket and saved money on post to pay for it..

Aargh, the end of bookpost is a clear sign that Kaliyug is upon us..
#14 May 28th, 2014, 05:07
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  • kayce is offline
#14

SAL Package Received

I mailed a SAL parcel (containing books and printed matter) on May 13, 2014 from an urban town in Tamilnadu state to a south western state in the US.

I received the parcel today: May 27, 2014 in good shape. The time involved is 14 days.
#15 May 28th, 2014, 05:21
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#15
Thanks for the update.

For small parcels of up to 30kgs I use couriers such as Fedex and DTDC. Anything more I use freight forwarders, usually air. These normally come in a week.

When I sent 600kg of books I bought 8 steel trunks from Abdul Rehman Street here in Bombay and shipped them by sea, wrapped in cellophane. They arrived at home in London a month later.

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