If you do a Google search, you’ll see the cheapest international shipping in 2021 is available through the US Postal Service (USPS). What's less obvious, though, is this only applies if you plan to ship domestically within the US.
So where can you find the cheapest international shipping from the US to other countries? As a shortcut, you can use our free shipping rate calculator for real-time rates from top international couriers. Read below to learn how to pick the cheapest international shipping company every time, plus a trade secret on getting the best rates.
Comparing International Shipping Rates For 2021
To find the cheapest international shipping rates, we compared USPS shipping rates with those from leading express couriers, including:
We also compared the cheapest USPS rates to one another. For example, I often send packages from Connecticut, US to Hong Kong. In this article I'll refer to this use case to help you understand the cheapest international shipping.
Factors That Impact The Cheapest International Shipping Option
Researching the cheapest international shipping rates can feel like a chore. After all, USPS offers many different options based on your delivery timeline. Package weight and dimensions also have an impact on the final cost.
USPS also offers specific pricing for certain countries. In my case, I discovered that Hong Kong is classified as “Group 3”, while mainland China has a separate rate. Look for these different classifications if you decide to navigate the complicated USPS pricing tables.
USPS Priority Mail International vs. Express Couriers
Priority Mail International – Flat Rate service is the cheapest way to mail a package internationally. For example, sending a small box to Hong Kong from Connecticut is priced at $36.45 with a maximum weight of 4 lbs.
Compare this rate to those of express couriers like FedEx or UPS, seen in the chart below. With express couriers, the same shipment costs $113 and up!
|Courier||Service||Delivery Time (claim)||Cost (Retail pricing)|
|USPS||Priority Mail International - Small Flat Rate Box||6-10 days||$36.45|
|USPS||First Class Package International||7-15 days||$26.36|
|USPS||Priority Mail International||6-10 days||$51.44|
|USPS||Priority Mail Express International||3-5 days||$67.28|
|UPS||UPS Worldwide Expedited||2-5 days||$127.05|
|UPS||UPS Worldwide Saver||3-5 days||$137.15|
|FedEx||International Economy||4-6 days||$113.69|
|FedEx||International Priority||1-3 days||$118.72|
The caveat here is that using a small box to ship goods may not work all the time. According to the experienced folks at My Wife Quit Her Job, a small USPS box with dimensions of 8 11/16" x 5 7/16" x 1 3/4" can't hold much more than 2 lbs. So you're likely running two pounds over the weight limit! It's more realistic to expect using the medium flat rate box to ship most items.
Priority Mail International – Flat Rate is the cheapest international shipping option, especially if you don’t have a business account with express couriers.
Comparing USPS Rates For A Medium Box
Let's start from the assumption that we need to ship anything over 2 lbs. in a medium box. Now the question is: is the cheapest option from USPS a Flat Rate Box or Priority Mail International?
For a medium Flat Rate box, the maximum weight is 20 lbs. and the dimensions are 14" x 12" x 3 1/2". The price is $77.50.
After studying the pricing charts, I found the breakeven point for using the Priority Mail International medium box, in this case, is 8 lbs. So, if the weight of the package is between 8-20 pounds, the medium Flat Rate Box is still the cheapest international shipping option from USPS.
Now let’s compare USPS rates for our medium box with express couriers, seen below.
Rates For Medium 8lb. Package from Connecticut to Hong Kong
|Courier||Service||Delivery Time (claim)||Cost (Retail pricing)|
|USPS||Priority Mail International - Medium Flat Rate Box||6-10 days||$77.50|
|USPS||Priority Mail International||6-10 days||$82.15|
|USPS||Priority Mail Express International||3-5 days||$96.31|
|UPS||UPS Worldwide Expedited||2-5 days||$210.05|
|UPS||UPS Worldwide Saver||2-3 days||$222.55|
|FedEx||International Economy||4-6 days||$212.95|
|FedEx||International Priority||1-3 days||$235.27|
At $77.50 and $82.15, both USPS options are far cheaper than UPS and FedEx.
But… using USPS means you get what you pay for.
When you consider USPS’ not-so-stellar record of delivery times (they do not guarantee), paired with spotty tracking service, you may want to explore other ways to get the cheapest international shipping. This is especially true if you're running a business with customers who expect timely deliveries.
This is where Easyship can help.
Remember how express courier are expensive if you don't have a business account with special negotiated rates? Let’s reexamine the 8 lb package rates for all couriers, except now let's use the pre-negotiated business account rates available to Easyship users:
Biz Rates For 8lb. Package From Connecticut to Hong Kong
|Courier||Service||Delivery Time (Claim)||Delivery Time 1 (Actual)||Cost (Retail Pricing)||Cost (Using Easyship)*|
|USPS||Priority Mail International||6-10 days||10-15 days||$82.15||$78.04*|
|USPS||Priority Mail Express International||3-5 days||10-15 days||$101.55||$96.31*|
|UPS||UPS Worldwide Expedited||2-5 days||2-3 days||$210.05||$112.16*|
|UPS||UPS Worldwide Saver||2-3 days||1-2 days||$222.55||$222.55*|
|FedEx||International Economy||4-6 days||3-5 days||$212.95||$129.86*|
|FedEx||International Priority||1-3 days||1-2 days||$235.27||$134.67*|
These figures are based on past shipments, using the median for the minimum and setting the upper limit at .85 percentile. These figures are estimates; 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 is slightly more affordable for overseas shipping.
But wait, there's the twist. What if I told you there's a dark horse when it comes to the cheapest courier that ships to Hong Kong?
Seen below, Easyship found a rock-bottom shipping rate between Connecticut and Hong Kong from a private courier
The dark horse is SF Express, a regional courier that focuses on deliveries to Hong Kong and mainland China!
At $38.11, SF Express offers the cheapest international shipping of everyone. They even beat 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 USPS prices can be beat by regional couriers.
To conclude, the cheapest international shipping options are:
Typically, it's USPS because they offer international shipping rates far 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 get direct access to the dark horse shipping options. You even save 40% on express courier rates when shipping internationally.
- Getting a shipping quote on Easyship’s platform may surprise you. You're likely to find a regional courier that ends up being the cheapest international shipping choice.
To learn more about the courier services used in the comparisons, check out the following links:
Also, if you're interested in more affordable international shipping rates, consider checking out our hybrid solutions. One of these is Flat Export Rate which is a great budget option for international shipments, and only has two zones, one for Canada, one for the rest of the world which really allows merchants to simplify their shipping estimations.
Originally posted in September 2017. Updated on Feb 23, 2020.