a division of Visual Diagnostics LLC
Visitor # 20859 since 23.NOV.2009
This document will attempt to explain the shipping and tracking options available for international (outside the US) shipping of 4Crawler Offroad products, as well as general USPS tracking information for domestic shipments.
One thing that will help is an understanding of the process that takes place to produce the item(s) that you order and get them delivered to you. 4Crawler Offroad will fabricate the item(s) you ordered and package them for shipping. Then your shipping address and the package contents are entered into the shipper's on-line label system and a shipping label and customs paperwork is generated and affixed to your package. Then that package is hand delivered to the carrier (US Postal Service in most cases) and once turned over to that carrier, your package is out of the hands of 4Crawler Offroad. We don't have any magic access or insight into the US Postal Service, US Customs, your country's customs or postal service either, and our responsibility for getting your package to you is now out of our hands. So once your package is in the hands of USPS, their responsibility is to get it delivered to your country's customs service. Once they turn it over to your country's customs office, that package is essentially out of the US Post Service's hands. Then your country's customs folks do whatever it is they do to ensure the package is fit to import into your country and then they turn it over to your country's postal service and again the item is out of their hands. Then it is up to your country's postal service to deliver the package to you.
Now realize that the US Postal Service and your country's postal service ship and delivery millions of pieces of mail each and every day, they usually have it down to a pretty routine process. They know about how long it takes to get an item from point A to point B and from one country to another. The big unknown step in this whole process is customs, various countries handle customs differently, some faster and some slower. And in some countries, customs seems to be a good place to bring various issues unrelated to the actual customs process up. For example, Canadian customs (union) workers seem to fond of adopting excessive foot dragging in processing incoming shipments in order to make light of one or another worker/union grievance with the government. Don't believe this, do a Google search on "Canadian Customs Slowdown" and see what you find. In fact during the late fall/winter of 2009, Canadian customs seems to be up to something again, random US Mail shipments are taking weeks to get through customs. No idea why this is happening, nor when it will improve, but if your package is delayed in transit, you know who is responsible.
Anyway, on to the more detailed shipping and tracking information...
By default, 4Crawler Offroad uses US Mail (usps.com) as the main international shipper. Why is this? Well, several reasons, one is cost both in terms of cost of shipping as well as cost (or lack thereof) of customs and brokerage fees (that cast often run $35-$50 per shipment) for the recipient and also speed (most of the time). US Mail shipping is unique in terms of how the items pass though customs compared to other shipping companies like UPS and FedEx. With US Mail, the merchandise becomes the property of the US Postal Service when the item is turned over to USPS. It then goes through customs and becomes the property of the local country's postal service and finally becomes the property of the recipient when the item is delivered and picked up. What this means is that USPS is the owner of the package when it reaches customs and therefore you do not incur a fee for passing that item through customs. With companies line UPS and FedEx, the merchandise is technically owned by the shipper until it is ultimately turned over to the recipient. Therefore you need to involve a broker to represent the shipper at customs, since UPS or FedEx does not retain ownership of the item.
So what does this all mean? Well on the one hand it means a lower cost to you when you receive the package, as you do not have to pay for a customs broker and their fees. But on the other hand, one of the things you are paying with those broker fees are to "expedite" the package though the customs process. With USPS, they basically drop the package off at customs and then customs does whatever it is that that they do in whatever time frame that they choose. Most of the time this is a fast process, probably a day or two. But on rare occasions, customs can "drag their feet", so to speak, and take days to weeks to process incoming mail. Why? Who knows, but some guesses are that instead of say checking the paperwork for a container full of mail, they instead flag that container and instead check the paperwork on each and every item in that container. And until all those items are cleared, nothing in that container passes through. And if you have ever passed through customs/immigration into or out of your country, you may often have passed right through but every once in a while, you get pulled to the side and searched completely for no apparent reason.
Typical shipping method is via Priority Mail International and while the US Post Office places emphasis on the "Priority" part of the description and expedites those items through the system, the local postal service in your country may not have that same emphasis. They likely have their own "expedited" service and that is what they rush through the system and US Priority Mail may not have as high a "priority" to them. This seems to be especially the case with the small flat rate envelopes (the $24.00 shipping option on most parts orders), as the USPS explicitly lists this package as non-trackable (http://www.usps.com/international/prioritymailinternational.htm). So shipping via Express Mail (typically US$45.00 for items under 4 lbs. also has insurance available) or via a Priority Mail box ($41.00 to Canada/Mexico or $61.00 to most other countries) is your better option if you want a more trackable shipment. As a comparison, shipping the same parcel to Canada via UPS Ground service would cost $20.00 for the shipping plus you, the recipient, would also need to pay something like $35-50 in brokerage fees before picking up your package and that same package sent to the UK would be about $100 for shipping plus any brokerage fees.
Also, with this service, there is no insurance available. Why? Well, the idea of Priority Mail is to offer an inexpensive and somewhat fast shipping method. In order to make it both inexpensive and faster, features/options needed to be dropped, things like insurance and detailed tracking (see below).
But not to worry, in over a decade of using US Mail international shipping (with many thousands of packages shipped in that time), there has only been one item that was lost or mis-delivered. Priority Mail International is advertised as 6-10 (business) days typical delivery and it seems that is indeed the "typical" delivery time. However, "typical" is sort of like an average and sometimes things might take a few weeks to arrive. After all, if you have 4 items arrive in 6 days and one item take 26 days, you have an average delivery time of those 5 items as 10 days (i.e. 4 x 6 = 24, 24 + 26 = 50, 50 / 5 = 10 days average time). We have seen on rare occasions it take 5-6 weeks to deliver items. And realize that these are "business days", not calendar days. So weekends and holidays do not count. And also realize you are dealing with 2 countries, the US and your country and there may be different holidays in play there.
The default shipping method, as noted above, is via US Mail, typically Priority Mail International or First Class Mail International. Tracking on those shipping methods is somewhat limited. Why is that? Well, because they technically do not offer a "tracking" service for that class of shipment, at least officially. What substitutes for "a tracking number" is the number off the customs label which does get entered into the USPS.com computer system when the shipping label is generated. Some times, the bar code on the customs form does get scanned at various points through the shipping process, some times it does not. Since it is not an official tracking feature, there is no guarantee that this bar code will be scanned nor that the scanned data (if it is scanned) is passed back to the USPS.com tracking system. Some times it is, some times it is not. If this bothers you, you can select the Express Mail International shipping option (at an additional cost) and have real tracking information and insurance plus typically a faster shipping time, depending on country.
Your best option for tracking your package once it leaves the US, is to try accessing your country's postal service on-line tracking system. There will be a dead zone as the package transits first US out-going customs and your country's in-coming customs services, but once it enters your country's postal service, it is most likely to show up on this tracking system. This will also be more accurate as there might be some degree of information loss or distortion on any information passed back to the USPS.com tracking system. For example. if the tracking status states in your country's postal service do not match those in the USPS.com system, they may be displayed incorrectly on the USPS.com system.
Below are some typical USPS.com tracking screens to help you understand the information presented and what it means for your item that is in transit.
This first screen shows all the "tracking" information that you are guaranteed to receive from http://www.usps.com/. Basically this shows you the "Label/Receipt Number" and this is the unique bar coded number assigned to your parcel (of course YOUR label number will be different than the one show below). It also shows the date on which the shipping/customs label was generated. In this case, the date USPS was notified was November 6, 2009. Now rest assured that 4Crawler Offroad does indeed deliver the packages to the post office on the day the shipping label was printed (or the next business day that the post office is open) and DOES NOT have piles and piles of packages ready to ship just sitting around our shop. When your item is ready to ship, a label is printed and affixed to the package and it is dropped off at the post office at the end of the day (or next business days for holidays and weekends).
This is the point of the line "this does not indicate receipt by the USPS or the actual mailing date", is that unless that item is physically scanned at that post office, that may be all the "tracking" information you will see for your item and the post office does not "know" anything more about the item, since the only way they "know" anything about an item is if some person scans it and enters that data into the tracking system.
The screen below shows the status of a package that was dropped off and the post office and scanned there. "Acceptance" is the USPS term for a package that was physically scanned at the originating post office (in this case the 94085 post office). Note that there is no additional information available for this item. That does not mean your package is just sitting at that post office. In fact I personally asked the postmaster at that post office about this and he assured me that no post office stores outgoing mail, it leaves the facility the night that it is received. Another USPS scan status is "Dispatched" which means the package was scanned prior to putting it on the truck to take the mail to the nearest USPS sort facility, which is where items from surrounding post offices are sorted and sent out to their various destinations via air or truck. So if you see Dispatched status, this means the package is off on it's way to you. Not ever package gets scanned at dispatch, so if you don't see that scan status, not to worry. As noted earlier, the postmasters we have spoken to about this assure us that packages leave the originating post office on the day they are accepted. At the end of every day, everything dropped off at a given post office is loaded up on a truck (dispatched) to take it to the nearest sort facility.
This next screen shows the tracking screen of an item that was dropped off at the post office and that was scanned at the USPS International Dispatch center prior to being sent to the receiving country. And you can see that the item was shipped on November 21 and was dispatched on November 22. Also note there is no additional information provided. That does not mean your item is lost, nor that it is just sitting in International Dispatch. Rather it simply has not been scanned since leaving International Dispatch. International Dispatch is something like a sort facility, but for international shipments, plus it likely has some US Customs Service activity to ensure all customs paperwork is in order for the outgoing mail.
Bottom Line: If you get an e-mail with a tracking number and see the screen above, rest assured your package has shipped and it has been hand delivered to the post office and also has left the US. It has not been scanned since it left the US. If you want to find out more information about this shipment, your best course of action is to take this label number to YOUR local post office and have them look it up on their computer tracking system.
And lest you think that this "tracking" information is worthless, some times it works to perfection. Below you can see a typical tracking report for an item that was shipped on 9/27/09 (this was a Sunday so did not get to the post office until 9/28/09), dispatched on 9/28/09 (note that the item therefore did leave the originating post office the same day that it arrived there and even got to dispatch on the same day), arrived in Canada on 10/2/09 when it entered customs. It then left customs 3 days later on 10/5/09 and was delivered on 10/7/09. This represents a 9 day shipping time (counting the intervening Saturday) and is pretty typical. It take a few days to leave the US and get to your country's customs. Then it takes a few days to get though customs (normally) and then a few days to leave customs and arrive at your address.
Again, if you would be bothered by receiving less tracking information that shown on the last screen shot, then by all means inquire about Express Mail shipping ($45.00 for items up to 4 lbs.) or in a Priority Mail box (items up to 20 lbs. - cost $41.00 to Canada/Mexico and $61.00 to most other countries). Or if you do not want to deal with USPS, UPS shipping is available by special request at a significantly higher cost.
And if your package shows up like one of the first three screen shots, that is unfortunate, but there is little that 4Crawler Offroad can do to help you. We have contacted the post office on numerous occasions when this sort of thing has occurred and each time get the same answer that there is nothing they can do either (and we have literally spent/wasted hundreds of hours over the years doing so with all the same results). Your best bet is to take the tracking number down to your local post office and speak to a supervisor there or contact your country's postal service's international tracing section and ask them to look up the status of your item. Chances are they will either be able to locate information about it (in the case they have scanned it but have not sent that data back to USPS) or if it is in your country's customs office, the inquiry can often "free up" a sluggish package and get it on it's way to you. Note that your post office may tell you only the sender can initiate this inquiry, they are just telling you that to get rid of you, call back and tell them you are the sender and see if you can get any farther (4Crawler Offroad can provide you with all the shipping details if you require them for your inquiry). And realize that you can have two (or more) packages shipped to the same address on the very same day and have one arrive faster than the other and also have one with full tracking information and one with minimal information. If you can figure out why that is, we would be very interested in finding out why, it is a mystery to us, so don't e-mail us and ask why, because we do not know either!
So if you do feel the need to send 4Crawler Offroad an e-mail asking about the status of your shipped item, you'll get a reply back with the URL of this very web page. Sorry if this seems to be hard nosed, but realize that 4Crawler Offroad is trying to offer affordable shipping for international customers and we do not charge any premium or handling charge for this service outside of the USPS postage rates. But since we "make" no money on international shipments, we also can't afford to waste time trying to track/trace shipments for you after your item is handed off to the post office (note that we have tried unsuccessfully to do this more times than we care to count always with no results). With your tracking number and the information presented on this web page, you know as much as we do about your package, in fact you may know more about it than we do in the case you can get more information about it from your local postal service.
And rest assured, 4Crawler Offroad does check the "Return To Sender" box on the shipping/customs label so that if the item is not deliverable for what ever reason. So if we do receive your item back, we will attempt to contact you via e-mail (address that was used to place the order) and see how you want to proceed with reshipment. If the mis-delivery was due to incorrect address information, the buyer will be responsible for all return shipping costs if you want the item re-shipped.
And if you want to see a typical Express Mail International shipment tracking screen, below is one from a 4 lb. envelope sent from the US to Italy:
You'll note that there is full tracking of every stage of the shipment and even at a finer level of detail than even the full Priority Mail tracking screen above. This is what you are paying for with the upgraded shipping service. So if you want to see this sort of tracking detail and have your item insured up to US$100 (default insurance amount), then by all means select the international Express Mail shipping option. If you select the standard Priority Mail shipping option and do not see the detail shown above, again you get what you pay for.
One thing you may want to watch for is that once your package shows up on your local country's postal tracking system is to see if it shows up as Held or Attempted Delivery or something similar to that. This may indicate that it is at your local post office but is held up for some reason. Usually if you head down to your local post office with the tracking information, you can find out what is going on. Most often this may mean that some customs or import duty is due before the package can be released to you
Unfortunately, US Priority Mail International flat rate envelopes and small flat rate boxes include no provision for shipping insurance. If your item is lost or damaged in shipment, there is no recourse to recover your money, sorry but that is the USPS policy. Larger items in boxes can be insured, typical cost is US$5.00-10.00 additional and they include a nominal "indemnity coverage" of US$50-$90 depending on weight and postage. Or you can opt for the Express Mail International shipping to get both insured and trackable shipment of your order. Unless you request fully insured shipping, we will assume that the standard shipping is what you prefer.
If you opt for shipping insurance, 4Crawler Offroad will be happy to file an insurance claim with the Post Office on your behalf. Once that claim is accepted and paid, your replacement order will be fabricated and shipped. This process can take a few weeks to happen, so if you want a replacement shipment faster, you can re-order the parts and when the insurance payment is received, a refund against that 2nd order will be issued.
Realize that if using insured shipping, your item's full value will of course need to be declared on the customs forms. In fact the USPS on-line postage service will not let you enter an insurance amount for more than the value declared on the customs form.
[Last updated: 19.March.2013]