How to ship boxes from China to the US

This is incidentally also “Countdown once again – 2 Days.”

So we had originally been planning to take all our stuff with us on this move back. When we first made the move over some year and a half ago, we managed to fit into 8 suitcases, including carry-ons. We had a little trouble with getting one of our carry-ons to count as a carry-on due to size constraints, but since we were all coming to the same city we left whatever suitcases we couldn’t bring with my father to bring over for us like a week or so later when he went to China as well. Now he offerred to do the same, but since we’re going to NYC it wouldn’t have worked out quite as conveniently. And obviously, given the length of time, we’ve acquired some new things. So as I said, we had been planning to take all of our stuff with us on this move back, as in on the plane, and just pay the 150USD per luggage fee to check in more than 2 pieces per person. Well, little did we know how much stuff we actually had it turns out we have 10 pieces of luggage, NOT including carry-ons. At 6 pieces over that’s 900USD, plus 60USD because one of them was over-weight also (the one with the books). Pricey.

So began the entire process of figuring out how to ship everything, as slowly and cheaply as possible. We did some research online, and there were some forum posts about how to do this, but I found them to be rather uninformative actually, though they did provide the basic framework necessary for us to figure out the rest as we did. I will post everything we now know about shipping boxes from China to the US to save you all the research in the future.

  1. The company you use is China’s normal Postal Service, called like China Post EMS or something like that. You see locations for them all over the place. Their hours seem to be pretty normal, no break in the middle of the day for lunch, and I think open 7 days a week. Don’t bother trying to call their telephone number unless you speak very good Chinese or have someone to translate for you (I’m not even bothering to put the number here as it was useless for us, I got a translator; it’s a massive phone tree that I couldn’t navigate to save my life).
  2. You do NOT need to go to any special location (it was hinted at in the other forums that you need to go to the fancy international one out in the East part of town but we just picked the closest one to us right next to the Drum and Bell Towers).
  3. There is no pick up service for your boxes, gotta get them to the post office yourself. There are also no dollies at the post office to use. We managed everything in 2 cabs with 3 people riding as well, so figure 4 large boxes per cab.
  4. You DO need to use their special shipping boxes. They come in 3 sizes, but we just got the largest, which cost 12RMB each. The box construction is good if excessive (all the flaps overlap instead of fitting together), but it felt very sturdy and strong. They’re oddly shaped though, kind of thin and tall, but overall probably as big as the large sized UPS boxes in the states. You can buy them before hand so you can pack at home but you CANNOT seal them as they need to be inspected, however cursorily, by the post office staff.
  5. The cost to ship is about 5RMB for a shipping label (more on that later), about 85RMB for the first Kg, then 20RMB per Kg up to a MAX of 30KG. Most of our boxes fell within the 10 to 20Kg range, though the box of books was actually 30Kg. This meant our cheapest box was just about 200RMB and our most expensive was just over 600RMB.
  6. The shipping label they make you use is in septuplicate, if that’s even a word, meaning there are 7 CARBON COPIES. I suggest you write down AS HARD AS POSSIBLE so you make it through (we didn’t, and had to retrace all of them). They want the shipper’s address (return address) in Chinese and the shipping address in English, though it’ll need the words 美国 (US, “MeiGuo,” in Chinese) written as well.
  7. You also need to have written on the box the Chinese shipper’s address and English shipping address with the Chinese for US. For those of you who are like me, you’d want to make this as clear as possible and probably even print them from the computer. DO NOT TAPE THEM ON BEFORE HAND, as these labels need to be on the side where they put 3 Chinese seals and it seems to be random which side of the box that will be. Plus, they do the fancy thing where they wrap the boxes in that thick plastic band in a criss-cross pattern that makes it really strong, but if you label your box first, these might cover up vital points. We didn’t know this, and ended up writing on the box where we could the relevant addresses in ball point pen. This on top of the re-traced 7 carbon copied shipping label means our addresses are probably not as clear as they can be, but ya do what ya can…
  8. They don’t really examine the contents, just kind of quickly glance over everything. The shipping label (the 7 carbon copy one) also needs you to do a customs declaration on it of items in the boxes. Feel free to generalize (the post office staff wrote “clothes” and “books” for all of ours, and either “30” or “20” for the quantities of each).
  9. Once everything’s labeled and sealed and wrapped and ready, you pay at the counter, they hand you a copy of the receipt, seal the rest of the label onto the box, put them in large cloth bags for the mail carriers to handle, and you’re done!
  10. In total we paid just under 3100RMB, which amounts to just over 50USD. We’re still over one piece of luggage because we just wanted that much stuff with us (we shipped non-important things that we both don’t need immediately or will mind too much if we lose permanently), so add in 150USD we’re still only at 650USD as compared to the 960USD we’d have had to pay if we wanted it all with us, plus the added hassel of having 10 pieces of luggage to get to and from the airport and cart around (remember you need to claim everything when you land in the States if you have a connection, then re-check for the connection). In short, well worth it, and if you can ship everything, meaning minus the extra luggage like we have, even more worth it.
  11. Apparently you can track these by box label number online (there’s a barcode on the receipt), but I haven’t tried that yet. That will be next and I’ll update this post accordingly. Also, it will take just about 2 months the guy said. I will also update then when we receive everything (I hope).

All in all not the worst process I’ve ever been through, they were all very helpful, but it took a couple of hours mostly because we had so much that couldn’t be done until you got to the post office. And not that we’ll hopefully ever need to ship things by mail anymore, but at least I’m now pretty well versed in how. The big hope is that everything gets there, but I’ll update this post accordingly when I know more.

As the rest of the post says though, we only have 2 days left, and my sleeping schedule is completely whacked. Yesterday was spent taking care of all this shipping stuff, and the day before was packing it all and the rest of our suitcases. We are actually basically completely ready to go, just some very minor small stuff to put into carry-ons left. We’re going to the Great Wall in just over an hour (yes, I should maybe sleep?). We’ve managed to delay going until now, but well, we’re leaving, so I guess we should. We’re going with a tour group leaving out of one of the local hostels. Tonight when we get back we’re going to take care of some last minute purchases, then tomorrow, on our last day, we can hopefully hit up the 798 Arts District, some place I’ve really wanted to go, then it’s Adios China! We’ve been trying to also get in the last of the Chinese food we’d want to eat. Last night was Indian food :P

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