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using a package forwarder to shop in the US

23 Sep 2013

(tl;dr at bottom)

I really wanted needed cards against humanity. Unfortunately the game is currently only available in the US and Canada and it appears they opted against global shipping by Amazon. The game itself is available as CC-BY-NC-SA, so I could have printed it locally. For three reasons I decided against that:

  1. From what I’ve seen and heard, it sounds like a terrific game. So why not support the creators?
  2. I wanted the extension packs, which are non-free.
  3. Most likely it would have taken several attempts and a lot of effort to get it printed nicely (i.e. rounded corners, durable and slip-proof coating, etc.).

My first attempt was to convince a friend who is currently in the US, but he was too afraid of being detained for smuggling (or maybe he didn’t want to have the hassle…, nah definitely being afraid ☺). Helpfully he pointed out I might use a “package forwarder” which I didn’t know existed. They basically provide you with an US address and forward your packages to almost anywhere if you give them enough money.

Choosing a forwarder

If you search for “package forwarder” you get a lot of companies that offer this kind of service. All of them have mixed reviews ranging from terrific to catastrophe and prices are comparable (less than $10 difference), so no help there either. Here’s the services I’ve looked at and why I decided against them:

In the end I decided to use borderlinx, but this has mostly been a gut decision.

Using borderlinx

Update: 2013-11-08: I can no longer recommend borderlinx. They sent me their newsletter, even though I am not subscribed. The support hasn’t been able to fix the issue for several weeks now, which makes me doubt their competence. I terminated my account with them, hopefuly this will make them stop.

Sign up is easy and you get your US/UK addresses right away. You don’t need to enter your home address or any financial information upfront, so it’s easy to just have a look.

I used their support service (chat) twice and it was helpful and easy to use both times. It took me a while to grasp the vocabulary used, so this might be useful to you:

Processing your parcels takes about one business day. So, say you order from two different vendors on the 1st (a monday). Let’s assume you get two day shipping, which means they arrive on the 3rd and will appear in your borderlinx account on the 4th, at most. Once that happened, you can have your packages shipped to you, which takes one more day for borderlinx to process. So, it takes about a week before your package is handed off to the delivery service again. Borderlinx offers DHL only and you can choose between budget (4+ days) or express (2+). I chose budget, but they screwed up and upgraded me to express for free. Clicking “okay” on a friday and having them on monday sure rocks. Funnily though, the two parcels were delivered seperately within the same hour. I have no idea how DHL managed to do that, given both parcels arrived at the final sorting hub at the same time.

Borderlinx claims to handle duty for you, so you don’t have to pay additional charges once the package arrives. In my case there weren’t any duties to pay, though, so I can’t tell how well this works.

Unfortunately I couldn’t use my Visa Credit Card because they force you to subscribe to “Verified by Visa” which puts the liability for fraud onto you (see this rant or this german article). I borrowed a friend’s PayPal account, which luckily worked.

Cost

For the things I ordered, their calculator produced realistic values. That being said, it’s still quite an expensive feat to use a package forwarder. As a general rule of thumb, I’d say that it’s cheaper only if you need to ship three or more individual packages from the US to Europe/Germany.

To give you an impression, here are the numbers for my orders. The cards against humanity shipping cost has been estimated because it’s not possible to ship it to Germany directly. The table is a nightmare to read, but this is how calculating the total cost actually feels. All values in USD.

intl. shipping US shipping estimated borderlinx
shippingtax shippingtax
cards against humanity38.03 free 35.00 17.10 43.8024.45
t-shirts 26.70 4.76 26.30 10.70

Take away

parcels on tour

green: NeatoShop to borderlinx (using USPS), orange: Amazon to borderlinx (using Prestige), red: BorderLinx to me (using DHL).