Sending international parcels through the Philippine Postal Corp. : Some tips
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In December 2019, I went to the Makati Central Post Office (MCPO) on two separate occasions to post parcels to Chennai, India. The parcels contained personal effects that I couldn’t fit in my and Motito’s bags for our upcoming flight to India. We would be traveling via low-cost carriers, with a stopover in Bangkok. We didn’t fancy lugging heavy suitcases in the airports and through public transport. On top that, I’d have to modify our existing booking to add more pre-paid luggage. I wasn’t even sure if I could do that, as Cebu Pacific allowed only one prepaid baggage per person per sector. There was one low-cost alternative: sending our personal effects as international parcel through the Philippine Postal Corp. (PHLPost)
I went to the MCPO at around 2PM and was surprised to find the mail acceptance counters nearly empty. Don’t people send letters anymore? I can’t blame customers for abandoning the postal service in favor of local couriers. Express delivery services like LBC, GoGo Xpress, Grab, Lala Move, and Mr. Speedy, may charge a little more, but they offer better speed, tracking, and accountability.
The MCPO looked like it was in dire need of a facelift. One steps inside and gets the feeling that time stopped here some 50 years ago. High ceilings, wall-mounted fans that spun slowly, manual record-keeping of parcels–it all sounds quaint, until stand you in queue for an hour and then wait some more while the post office employee tries to locate the package that a friend sent you two months ago. Yes, you must pick up your parcels at the post office that received them. No, PHLPost will not deliver them to your doorstep. On Google Maps, where the MCPO is currently rated 1.9 stars out of 5), the customers’ litany of complaints is endless.
I’d brought my personal effects in two eco-bags, along with my own packaging paraphernalia: clear tape, two marker pens, a pair of scissors, and a balikbayan box to stuff my items in. Twice a person had approached the counter, asking for either a box, or a packaging tape, or if they could borrow a marker. There were rolls of tape and pens for sale, but you were out of luck if you failed to bring your own box. The MCPO was not selling any. It boggles the mind how the post office could miss a potential revenue stream.
I set my things down on the Express Mail acceptance counter and started loading my articles into the box. When I was done, I showed the box’s contents to the post office lady. She had to make sure I was not sending any contraband. Only then could I start secure the box with packaging tape.
With my box all taped up and secure, I filled in the sender and addressee details on the Express Mail Service (EMS) airway bill (AWB). I also had to describe the items I’m sending and declare their value.
Then the AWB was stuffed in a plastic sleeve and stuck on the box with clear tape. Next, the box was hefted on the scale to be weighed. The scale read 13.590 kilos. The lady opened a file folder to a show me a table listing the International EMS rates. After I acknowledged the rates to India, she whipped out a calculator and began doing the math. My hands clutched the edge of the counter tightly. A brief moment later, I was handed my bill: P6630. That wasn’t so bad; I’d expected double. I released my hold on the counter. After settling the amount, I was given my receipt.
Back at home, I realized we had more things I wanted to take with us. I’d found the postal rates to be reasonable, so I made another trip to the same post office a week later. It was busier this time, perhaps because it was13 days before Christmas, and people were rushing to send cards and gifts. The same lady was at the counter. She jovially assisted the customers with sealing their parcels. My parcel weighed in at 9.770 kilograms, which cost P5,030 to send. I thanked the post office lady for smiling throughout the busy day and left her a little something because, hey, it’s the holidays.
Now for the tough part: the waiting. Will my parcels will reach me on time and unpilfered? International Express Mail Service (EMS), or EMS SpeedPost, is very reliable in India, so I wasn’t too worried. Still, a lot of things could go wrong, and I couldn’t rest until my parcels were safely my your hands.
I had checked the tracking only once, while we were still in the Philippines. I’d been so preoccupied with our trip that it didn’t occur to me to check again when we reached India. Before I could start to worry, the postman came on December 18 to deliver the package I’d posted on December 5. The box looked a little worse for wear, but nothing was missing. It took all of 13 days, weekends included. That’s pretty impressive. The second parcel, which I’d sent on December 12, was delivered at my door on December 27, its contents all accounted for. Fifteen days! And that’s including the holiday weekend.
The postal service has its problems, but we keep using it because international courier service is costly and subject to tedious paperwork and restrictive customs regulations. We may have to wait a long time for the PHLPost to completely modernize, but understand that it’s trying really hard with its limited resources.
If you’re considering sending parcels overseas through PHLPost, keep the following tips in mind:
Tip #1: Bring your own packaging supplies, especially a parcel box. Forget looking for those PHLPost branded mailing boxes. You’ll never find them. Despite an enthusiastic press release in 2018 encouraging customers to use the standard PHLPost boxes, in reality, the boxes are about as elusive as a taxicab during rush hour.
Tip #2: Do not seal your box until the post office personnel has seen its contents. You must show that you are not sending prohibited items. In general, you cannot ship dangerous goods like ammunition, explosives, and firearms, live plants and animals. passports, credit cards, notes and currency, narcotics and drug paraphernalia, precious metals and expensive jewelry, among other items. Each country may have its own list of prohibited items, so it’s best to check with the customs regulations of your parcel’s destination.
Tip #3: If it’s available, use the International Express Mail Service (IEMS) instead of surface mail. Not only does surface mail take longer, it’s also more vulnerable to loss or theft.
Tip #4: Check the rates. You can find the updated postal rates on the PHLPost website. Knowing the rates helps to be prepared with how much cash to bring. In some cases, you might even find it’s cheaper to use a cargo company or freight forwarder. For reference, you may download this PDF File of PHLPOST’s 2020 postage rates. Please note the rates may change over time.
Tips #5: Don’t send prohibited items. You’re inviting trouble if you try to hide currency notes in a thick book or sneak prescription drugs in a candy jar. A package with a prohibited item may be refused, confiscated, or destroyed. Worse, you may be held legally liable.