Does This Sound Familiar?

Moving Across the Ocean

Returning to the US after fifteen years of living in Japan was an undertaking. There were lots of forms, lots of checklists, lots of tears.

There were also lots of boxes. Even after selling off appliances and furniture, there were still so many boxes of books, clothes, and sundry items that I couldn’t justify the expense of shipping services or airmail for. I already had more excess and overweight luggage than was comfortable to carry. Postal sea mail was the best option.

Friends gave me lots of practical advice. Don’t put anything in boxes you can’t afford to lose. Wrap everything in plastic, twice. And with covid and shipping delays all over, just hope you get your boxes sometime in the next year. Not very reassuring when you’re sending half your life across the world in a boat!

In total I sent 12 large boxes. The good news: every box (eventually) made it!

The less-good news: not every box made it in one piece, and they took between two and five months to arrive. One was literally string and duct tape by the time it got back to me, and I was very grateful for the advice to put everything in plastic garbage bags to keep the contents dry and together before packing it!

Tips for shipping bulk goods by sea:

  • Don’t ship anything you can’t afford to lose. Package loss is rare, but not unheard of.
  • Prepare your labels and forms in advance. Different countries require different customs forms, but most can be found on the local postal service website. Don’t spend two hours at the post office trying to sort through labels you could have done yourself more easily at home (ask me how I know).
  • Wrap everything in plastic and tape down openings. Some of my casualties were books that had been wrapped but not sealed, and water made it in.
  • Don’t ship breakables if at all possible. Even mugs and picture frames I had bubble wrapped and packed deep inside nests of clothing were broken. Not a single breakable item made it through.
  • Be patient. Depending on the country you are shipping from, you may receive tracking information, but you also may not. Don’t rely on pre-COVID estimates of one to two months for arrival. Currently, three to four months is normal, and in my case the post office told me not to inquire unless it had been over six.

Wishing all your packages a safe journey and happy reunion with you on the other side!

Written by Kate Havas, Content Manager