I want to send a (well packaged) guitar to someone in the UK. Easy eh.
Well called a couple of courier types services and they are "business
only" (+ amazed voice that I should even call them at all). Ok try
Parcel Force. They have a nice table (xls) of cost/weight - easy. But
as to the size - that's a completely different link and the parcel has
to be X high(max) plus a "girth" (I kid you not) of X + girth x cube
root of pi squared +1 (well ok I exag. a bit). Sooo, can someone
please recommend a courier I can call/email to come and collect this
guitar and from whom I can get a figure for max x,y,z. and the cost of
You don't say where you are, so it becomes rather more difficult to
Let's assume that you are somewhere in the U.S. on the basis that it
seems to be common to believe that that is the starting point.
I am in the UK and regularly arrange for shipments of all different
sizes to and from the U.S. and other countries as well.
The first thing is to avoid ParcelForce. This is part of Royal Mail
and has a public sector (lack of) service mentality. Particularly on
intrnational shipments they are a nightmare to work with in terms of
payments for customs clearances, any semblance of tracking and general
You don't say who you tried in terms of courier services. I regularly
use Fedex, DHL, UPS to send items. I have accounts with all of them
and the whole exercise is fairly painless. They do also have means
for the occasional shipper to simply pay by credit card. If you did
try these and they said "business only", it's possible that you spoke
with the wrong department. Their main business is deliverig small
packages and documents for business customers, but they certainly will
handle larger items. For example, I once arranged a shipment to me of
a workshop dust extraction system to me from the U.S. using Fedex.
This was in 15 boxes and occupied two pallets. Shipment was by land
and sea, not air, but Fedex offers a service to do this and the rates
were good. So there is certainly not an issue with business/personal
or with size. You may need to try a bit harder to find the
Another option is to use a freight forwarder firm. There are
thousands of these and you should be able to find them easily in local
Yellow Pages or that for your nearest major airport. Generally they
are iterested in regular business, but it shouldn't be that hard to
find one willing to do a one-off. However, they are not quite as
seamless as Fedex,DHL, UPS etc. and tend to have more a la carte
services. i.e. if you want collection at your end and the final leg
delivery in the UK vs. depot to depot you have to specify that. I
also use these types of organisation regularly, and one does have to be
more specific about what exactly you want them to do. They tend also
to be more "technical" using terms such as FOB, CIF, DDP and so on to
describe the service. These are standard international freighting
terms which define who pays for what and who is responsible for what in
terms of shipping, taxes and insurance. The concepts are not that
difficult, but it's more to inform oneself about. Freight forwarders
tend to be very busy people and usually don't have the time to educate
a one off shipper so might turn you away if they think that you are
goig to use up a lot of their time on one shipment. They don't make
that much margin as it's a very competitive industry.
The size related issue that you ran into was almost certainly
Dimensional Weight. This is a standard international methodology
(IATA etc.) when you have items where the size becomes more
significant than the actual weight. For small items, it is almost
always the actual weight that counts. For larger items, the
Dimensional Weight or "dim" weight is used because the cost of space on
an aircraft or ship may be more expensive than the physical weight
factor. This would be unprofitable for bulky items, so dimensional
weight is used for rate calculations.
The formula for international shipments is generally the three
dimensions, measured in cm, multiplied together and then divided by
6000 to give a dim weight in kg. There is even a version using
ancient means of measurement such as inches and pounds. For odd shapes
like cylinders, the girth (circumference of an end) is used as one
component. Increasingly, this formula, or one based on its
principles, is being used for road shipments as well.
Here is an example of a calculator. Almost all the firms have one of these.
let's say that your guitar is in a box of dimensions 150cm x 25cm x
50cm and has an actual weight of 7kgs. I made these numbers up, but
they are probably in the right area. The dim weight for an
international shipment will be 31.25kg, so the carrier will charge you
on this basis, not for 7kg. Notice also from this page, that this
size is comfortably within what Fedex will ship. Note that the rates
are not necessarily linear with weight and dim weight, but the method
of calculation is industry standard.
Obviously this tells you to pack the goods well, but not in a box that
is massively larger than is needed.
The next factor to consider is shipment costs and taxes. For
importation into the UK on a personal basis, duty and value added tax
(VAT) are due on entry before Customs will clear the goods. For a
musical instrument, duty appears to be about 3-4% depending on what it
is. VAT is then calculated on the value after duty is applied to the
item and the shipping cost is added and is currently 17.5%.
A courier firm will make that process easy. When you fill in the
paperwork as shipper, you tick a box saying whether you will pay the
charges or whether they will be billed to the recipient. Let's say
you opt for the latter. If you use Fedex, DHL etc.; they will either
invoice the recipient for the charges, or contact him by phone and take
credit card details. Generally, they require a phone number before
accepting a shipment. He will then normally receive the goods the
following day. Moreover, you and he can track precisely where th
shipment is on the web site. In this respect, ParcelForce/Royal
Mail are in the dark ages. Typically they send a postcard to the
recipient and he has to go to the post office to pay the charges and
collect the goods - very hit and miss.
will need to prepare a Commercial Invoice for the shipment - sometimes
known as a Customs Invoice. This is simply a statement of the details
of shipper and recipient, what the item is and a few other details.
There are examples on the DHL and other web sites. For a personal
shipment, it's simple. The invoice value is used for Customs
purposes. Don't be tempted to undervalue the goods in an attempt to
reduce the taxes for the recipient. Although a lot of Customs systems
are now automated, they manage by exception and selection. Therefore
if you try and declare a guitar to have a value of $50 they will look
at it. Customs officers are not stupid, and may impose penalties on
top of the normal charges.
Obviously a full service courier such as Fedex or DHL costs a little
more than the postal type services such as ParcelFarce. However, they
do provide a good service in general, and if they miss their committed
delivery through their fault vs. a customs delay (which they don't
control), they will refund the shipping cost without quibbling.
Also, they are designed to be minimum hassle services and usually are.
You will have to deal with dim weight and you will have to do the
customs invoice. Then there is a shipping form to fill in (airwaybill)
with basic address details for transport - can be done online.
Following that, you call them to book a collection or do that on line
and that's it.
If you are looking to buy on price, then USPS+ParcelFarce may be a
little less expensive, but tracking doesn't really work, there is no
real delivery time and the recipient is likely to have hassle. You
still have to do the paperwork. I refuse to use them as a result.
A freightforwarder may be interesting. However, if it's a one off,
probably not worth the learing curve.
I've used parcel2go, who act as a broker for several couriers, for
parcels within the UK.
It's not quite as simple as specifying maximum x, y, and z, because
there are maximum volumes as well as maximum individual dimensions, but
there's a fairly simple process for entering the dimensions if working
out the volume yourself seems too tricky.
The service I've had from DHL, through parcel2go, has been excellent. I
recently booked a collection of a box at 9 a.m., it was collected before
noon, and delivered the next morning - all for £7.04 for 10kg. I've no
doubt others will have horror stories of any parcel firm you care to
Parcelforce seem to have turned their back on non-contract service -
Royal Mail standard parcels seems to be a better bet for non-urgent
delivery, though their coarse pricing structure can mean first class
post can be only pence dearer for some weights.
It also tells you to use stronger packaging, because the extra weight
won't increase the shipping cost.
Stringed instruments are not easy to ship safely - and believe me, you
don't want to get into the nightmare of a damaged and rejected
international package. Even with insurance, it will eat up months of
your life; and at the end of it all, you (not your customer) will have a
damaged guitar on your hands.
If you don't already know how to package a guitar for bomb-proof
shipping, PLEASE find somebody who does know! Some of the special things
you need to do are not at all obvious, so don't listen to theorists -
look for someone with practical experience over several successful
shipments, and then do exactly what they say.
Might be worth asking the receiver if they have a preference or who
they feel is best/closest in their area.
Also put a contact number on the parcel in case needed and provide the
tracking number to the receiver.
Indeed. Words for the wise. I am in the middle of processing a
claim with USPS+Royal Mail and after 6 weeks of to-ing and fro-ing am
about to write it off.
Another point on packaging is to make sure that the package can be
opened without compromising it and being able to reseal it. There is
a high probability that it would be opened by security people before
air shipment and it needs to be able to be easily done up again.
On Wed, 31 Oct 2007 13:53:08 +0000, Andy Hall
Thanks for all the detailed info - (even the off-key bits). Really
appreciated. Apart from anything else this is a decent instrument so
would hate to see it damaged in shipping. I *will* check on packaging
On Wed, 31 Oct 2007 02:12:17 +0000, dave
I have sent two guitars via Parcel Force and never had any problem -
it was a while ago but I think the cost was about £14 for a 12 string
acoustic packed in a cardboard guitar box.
I was really talking about the international firms such as Fedex, DHL, UPS etc.
Even so, a phone number doesn't guarantee the behaviour of the firm.
At the weekend, I ordered some Land Rover spare parts (small things
that I would want to do like replacing the clock and wiper arms - I'm
not interested in getting my hands dirty on cars).
These were shipped by Citylink from somewhere north of Watford.
There was a very quick knock on the front door on Wednesday morning and
I was at the door in about 30 seconds. The postcard was already on the
mat and the guy was part way down the drive. He didn't have the
package in his hand.
He claimed that he had rung the doorbell and called on the phone
(number was on the waybill). He had done neither - the doorbell
hooks into a home automation system which logs presses and the phone is
via a PABX which logs all incoming calls. In short, he was bearing
So we went to his van at the end of the drive and collected the parcel.
I took it back to the house before I would sign his paper work.
The back of his van was a jumble of packages all over the place,
obviously not organised. Clearly he was playing the game of just
putting cards through the door, knock once and run away. It saves
him a bit of time and I suppose that some number of people would go to
the depot to collect their item. Needless to say, a complaint has
gone to the supplier and to the local Citylink depot.
It's a different matter when there's a service guarantee and there is a
fair cost involved.
Also earlier this week, I was expecting to receive a package from the
U.S. shipped a week ago, Wednesday by DHL. The normal arrangement is
that the shipping part is paid by the sender and import taxes billed to
my account so that I can recover the VAT. Normally the package would
have arrived on Friday, or Monday latest. For some reason, and was the
first time it had happened, the account number had not been transferred
and customs clearance didn't happen in time for the weekend. DHL
called me because of the exception in the tracking, although I had
already spotted it, They apologised and asked what time I would like it
delivered on Tuesday because that was the earliest now possible. I
was leaving early to go to a meeting, so needed the package by 0700 but
not some ridiculously early time. They arranged a special delivery
and the package was here at 0650.
I then received a follow up phone call later in the day to apologise
again, to explain what had gone wrong and to confirm a refund of the
entire shipping cost, some $100.
Good service is about getting things right almost 100% of the time.
Excellent service is what you do on the small number of occasions
remaining when something goes wrong.