Lately I've seen a lot of discussion (and not a little hand-wringing) on the pros and cons of various methods to ship internationally, especially lightweight items that can easily go for the inexpensive First Class International rate, such as the golf shirts I ship frequently to countries all over the world. I've noticed an uptick in items either taking longer to arrive, or simply never arriving at all. A couple sellers I know even had problems with items taking a long time to arrive even when they used Priority Mail International. So this initiated a discussion weighing the various international shipping options; here's what I've been able to surmise:
First Class International or FCI: for the "Light and Cheap" But Can Be Slower than Molasses in January
Pros of First Class International: it's cheap; I rarely spend more than $11 on it. The USPS offers free envelopes. According to Stamps.com's detailed pdf about the 2012 USPS rate changes, the other pros, besides being the most affordable USPS international service, are it's "ideal for letters, big envelopes, and small packages." (This would include my lightweight golf shirts and a good deal of jewelry that I sell internationally).
Cons of FCI: There is no delivery confirmation or tracking service available from the USPS for this, and "exact delivery times are unknown and can be in excess of 21 days." Did you catch that last part - 21 days or more? That's a long time in the eBay buyer-seller world, and I am starting to get more "Where is my item?, " or, as I think of them, "sweating bullets" emails.
But did you know you can buy insurance for FCI? While the USPS itself does not offer insurance for FCI, Inkfrog does offer it, starting at $.79 for a $19.95/mo plan; see the Inkfrog Shipping Insurance FAQ for more details. If you do a lot of FCI shipping, this solution may make the most sense for you.
Priority Mail International: Better But Not Problem-Free?
Pros of PMI: As per the Stamps.com pdf, delivery is much faster than FCI can be; from 6-10 days, according to the faq. Pricing can be either flat rate or by weight/distance. And - this is a big one, it includes delivery info with the USPS "Track and Confirm" tool.
If you can fit your item (safely) into a flat rate Priority Mail Intl. envelope, this method can be not that much more expensive than FCI: e.g., Priority Mail flat rate envelopes to Mexico and Canada are just $12.95 to Mexico and Canada, and $16.95 to other countries.