You need boat parts, or family wants to send you a holiday gift. How do you get it when you don’t have an address?
If you are in the same country that a package is being shipped from, it’s usually easy.
If you are at — or have a reservation for — a marina or boatyard, almost all will accept packages for you and hold them for your arrival if necessary. Call the office to see how they want items addressed and if there are any restrictions on weight or size if you are getting something particularly large or heavy.
Some marinas will accept packages, but won’t sign for them. Several simple strategies:
- Tell family and friends to ship with “no signature required”
- Many companies will ship with no signature required as long as you accept the risk of loss. Sometimes there will be a checkbox on the online order form, sometimes you’ll have to call to place the order and request no signature.
- Plan for the package to arrive after you are at the marina/boatyard — you may be able to sign right as the package is delivered, but more likely the delivery company will leave a signature form, you can sign it and leave it, and they’ll deliver your package the next day.
Sometimes, none of those ideas will work. Perhaps you have something expensive arriving and really don’t want it not to be signed for, or the marina is willing to sign for it but doesn’t have a secure place to keep it until you pick it up. We’ve had this with laptops, cameras, an iPad and engine parts. And unfortunately, the boxes for many of these make it very plain at just a glance that there are goodies inside.
In those cases, we opt for a private mail delivery service — usually a UPS Store (the retail stores that offer mailboxes, notaries, copy services, boxes, shipping and more, not the UPS facilities). Sometimes you’ll find local companies offering similar services — Google on “[name of city] mailing services.” Check to see how far various stores are from where you’ll be — it can be worth it to pay a bit more at the store and a lot less in taxis!
Typically, they offer two services for accepting packages:
- Getting a mailbox, generally for a month or more. If you have a number of shipments coming, this is probably the most cost-effective.
- Paying for a one-time delivery (typically $5 per package)
Even if you are on the move, you can usually call ahead to a store and set everything up using a credit card and they will tell you how to have packages addressed. Often, if it’s a one-time delivery, you don’t even have to pay in advance but can just do it when you pick up your package. But always call first — we have discovered that every store operates just a little bit differently. And take ID with you when picking up a package!
IMPORTANT: The US Post Office will not accept packages from UPS, FedEx, DHL or any other package service. So getting a PO Box generally doesn’t work well for cruisers. In years past, many people advocated using General Delivery at the Post Office. I no longer recommend it. First of all, they won’t accept packages that are not coming through the postal service. Additionally, several people that I know have had problems with mix-ups in the holding services. My feeling is that “general delivery” simply isn’t used much and given the USPS budget constraints, it’s a pretty low priority at most post offices. Consequently, the level of service just isn’t what most of us need.
Where you pick up international shipments is often the same as above, although the “local store” may probably won’t be a UPS Store. And if the package is documents or mail with no monetary value, it can be just as simple.
The problem comes with anything that has to have customs paid . . . and the procedure changes by country, by shipping company and by how it was prepared in the originating country. Thus it’s hard for me to give any blanket statements.
First, I check with other cruisers in the area and the marina/boatyard office to get advice and find out how things work locally. I typically ask more than one person and try to build a consensus picture — just talking to one person may give an unrealistically good or bad idea of what is likely to happen. Sometimes, the answer is that it is best to wait until you’re in another country — this can definitely be true in the Caribbean!
We have always used a mail holding/forwarding service in the US for our mail and packages (currently St. Brendan’s Isle – read more here). One of the big advantages of using one of the big ones is that they ship packages internationally every single day and know how to get items to their destination with a minimum of fuss. They know the customs documentation needed and the best shipping company for each country.
So, if it’s a package coming from the US to us in a foreign country, I have the company, family member or friend send the package to our St. Brendan’s Isle address. Then I have SBI send it to us. That seems like it would take extra time and money, but I’ve learned that it usually saves both because they are so much better at getting it to me if I’m in a foreign country. In general (and this is a general rule, you may hear differently for a specific country), DHL is the best/easiest international shipper.
NOTE: If you are getting a dutiable package, you will almost always have to go “somewhere” to pay the customs duty. Sometimes you can do it at the local office of the shipping company, sometimes you have to go to the customs office and sometimes the best option is to hire a customs agent or even use a freight forwarder and let them deal with the paperwork and “going somewhere.” An agent will apparently add to the cost, but again our experience has been that in some locales, that ends up being cheaper in the long run.
Hopefully, your local contacts and your mail forwarder will give you the same information as to which is the best solution where you are!
I know that my information on the international shipments is extremely vague, but there are so many combinations of type of shipment, sender, sending country, receiving country, receiving location (in Mexico, things varied by city) and shipper that it is impossible to give universal answers. While it can be frustrating — and expensive — I prefer to think of the whole process as one of the adventures of cruising. It is not always easy, but easy generally does not make for interesting.