International Shipping

What is the cheapest way to ship internationally?

Michelle Mondonedo

by Michelle Mondonedo

On 2019 M06 10

by Michelle Mondonedo

If you do a light Google search, you’ll find many articles that the cheapest international shipping is by using the US Postal Service. However, this conclusion only applies if you plan to ship domestically within the US.

Does the same apply to international shipping from the US? In that case, what is the cheapest way to ship?
We've done the research on the least expensive shipping below, or if you're short of time you can Get A Quote

I’ve decided to do some research and compare prices between USPS international shipping rates and popular express couriers to see who offers the cheapest shipping rates.

I personally ship often from Connecticut, USA to Hong Kong; considering how long a distance this is, I figured it would be a good example to use.

Which USPS service is the cheapest way to ship internationally?

Researching USPS international shipping rates can feel overwhelming, as there are  different services based on your delivery time frame. You also have to take pricing based on weight and destination into account.

They also have specific pricing for certain countries, while some countries are assigned to a particular pricing group. (In my case, I found out Hong Kong is under “Group 3”, while mainland China actually has their own specific rates.) Do keep this in mind if you’re brave enough to navigate their complicated pricing tables.

Priority mail vs flat rate shipping

At first glance, Priority Mail International – Flat Rate service appears to be the cheapest way to mail a package. A small box being sent to Hong Kong from my zip code in Connecticut is priced at $31.95 with a maximum weight of 4 lbs.

Seeing that the box dimensions are 8 11/16" x 5 7/16" x 1 3/4", the caveat here is that if you are a small business shipping out goods, it is unlikely to fit merchandise that is heavier than 2 pounds into a box this size (according to the experienced folks at My Wife Quit Her Job.)

It is more realistic to say that you’d use the medium flat rate box to ship anything that weighs over 2 lbs.

Before we go any further, let’s see how the price of the small flat rate box compares to other USPS international shipping services at the 2 lb mark, in addition to express couriers:

Courier Service Delivery Time (claim) Cost (Retail pricing)
USPS Priority Mail International - Small Flat Rate Box 6-10 days $34.65
USPS First Class International 7-21 days $35.00
USPS Priority Mail International 6-10 days $50.70
USPS Priority Mail Express International 3-5 days $69.10
UPS UPS Worldwide Expedited 2-5 days $106.70
UPS UPS Worldwide Saver 3-5 days $113.33
FedEx International Economy 4-6 days $111.34
FedEx International Priority 1-3 days $118.10

It turns out that Priority Mail International – Flat Rate service is the cheapest way to ship internationally, especially if you don’t have a business account with express couriers.

It’s interesting to see that the retail price for express couriers such as UPS and FedEx international shipping rates can reach 3 figures (!!!) compared to USPS.

Comparing prices of Priority Mail International – Flat Rate for medium sized box

Now, let’s go back to the assumption that it’s more realistic to use the medium flat rate box to ship anything that weighs over 2 lbs. The medium box’s dimensions are 14" x 12" x 3 1/2", is priced at $67.95, and the maximum weight is 20 lbs.

After studying the pricing charts, my research shows the break even point for using the international medium flat rate box in this case is 8 lbs. So, if the weight of the package is between 8-20 pounds, the medium flat rate box will be the cheapest way to ship.

Let’s compare prices of the medium sized Flat Rate box, with a package weight of 8 lbs:

Rates for a 2 lb package, 9” x 6” x 2”, from Connecticut, USA to Hong Kong

Courier Service Delivery Time (claim) Cost (Retail pricing)
USPS Priority Mail International - Medium Flat Rate Box 6-10 days $73.70
USPS Priority Mail International 6-10 days $77.10
USPS Priority Mail Express International 3-5 days $98.90
UPS UPS Worldwide Expedited 2-5 days $207.70
UPS UPS Worldwide Saver 2-3 days $222.81
FedEx International Economy 4-6 days $216.42
FedEx International Priority 1-3 days $232.17

But… you WILL get what you pay for.

Now, if we were to base our experience strictly on costs, clearly USPS is the cheapest way to send a package by a long shot.

But considering USPS’ not-so-stellar record of delivery times (they do not guarantee or commit to them), paired with spotty tracking service, it may not be worth it if you're running a business and looking to build trust with your overseas customers.

This is where Easyship can help.

Remember how expensive those express courier rates were if you didn’t have a business account with special negotiated rates? Let’s take a look at the 2 lb package rates:

1 To get this figure, Easyship uses past shipments and looks at the median for the min and at the upper .85 percentile for the max.

*These figures are estimates only; rates may vary depending on origin and destination details; additional services such as insurance and tax and duty processing are not included.

The 8 lb rates don’t look too bad:

Rates for an 8 lb package, 14" x 12" x 4", from Connecticut, USA to Hong Kong

Courier Service Delivery Time (Claim) Delivery Time 1 (Actual) Cost (Retail Pricing) Cost (Using Easyship)*
USPS Priority Mail International - Medium Flat Rate Box 6-10 days -- $73.10 --
USPS Priority Mail International 6-10 days 10-15 days $77.10 $73.25*
USPS Priority Mail Express International 3-5 days 10-15 days $98.90 $94.40*
UPS UPS Worldwide Expedited 2-5 days 2-3 days $207.70 $112.16*
UPS UPS Worldwide Saver 2-3 days 1-2 days $222.81 $129.23*
FedEx International Economy 4-6 days 3-5 days $216.42 $129.86*
FedEx International Priority 1-3 days 1-2 days $232.17 $134.67*

1 To get this figure, Easyship uses past shipments and looks at the median for the min and at the upper .85 percentile for the max.

*These figures are estimates only; the least expensive shipping rates may vary depending on origin and destination details; additional services such as insurance and tax and duty processing are not included.

With Easyship, using express couriers are slightly more affordable.

But here’s a twist: what if I were to tell you that there is a dark horse when it comes to the cheapest courier that’ll ship to Hong Kong?

Easyship's Get A Quote Feature, showing the most cost-effective shipping rates from the US to Hong Kong

The dark horse turns out to be SF Express, a regional courier that focuses on deliveries to Hong Kong and mainland China!

At $38.11, it turns out to have the cheapest shipping rates for a courier company, beating out USPS’ flat rate at the 8 lb mark.

This goes to show that although USPS does provide competitive international rates, it’s possible that their prices can be beat by a regional courier.

To conclude, the cheapest way to ship internationally:

USPS international shipping rates are cheaper than UPS and FedEx.

  • Using UPS and FedEx to ship internationally without a business account can be really costly, with rates almost being 3x higher than USPS.
  • With Easyship, you can save up to 40% on express courier rates when shipping internationally.
  • The results may surprise you when getting a quote on Easyship’s platform - you may find that a regional courier could end up being the cheapest way to ship.

If you want to learn more about shipping internationally, we suggest you start here.

To learn more about the courier services used in the comparisons, check out the following links:

USPS Priority Mail International
Fedex International Priority
FedEx International Economy

Also, if you're interested in more affordable international shipping options, consider checking out our hybrid solutions.

Still can’t believe your eyes? Try and get a quote for your international shipment. Like what you see? Sign up for Easyship - it’s free!

Originally posted in September 2017. Updated on June 10, 2019 to reflect current 2019 cheapest shipping rates for USPS, FedEx, and UPS.