Most online stores in the U.S. do not offer international shipping and they will deliver items only to addresses that are located inside the United States. Thus, if you are living in some other part of the world, how do you buy that Gucci handbag for your wife?

Online ShoppingWell there’s an entire industry in the U.S. that exists primarily to solve this very problem of international shoppers who are trying to buy items directly from U.S. online stores that don’t ship overseas. They are primarily referred as “Mail and package forwarding” services.

I recently bought a microphone from Amazon.com but since they won’t ship to India, I used a package forwarding service and the thing got delivered here without any problems. Yes, there were some additional fees involved but that’s probably the quickest option you have if you desperately want to buy something from a US store (see alternatives).

How International Shopping Works?

All international mail forwarding services operate on a similar pattern. Once you’ve registered yourself, they’ll provide you with a unique postal address that you may use at any of the online shopping sites. The address will always include your unique account number so that all your incoming packages can be easily identified at the service’s warehouse.

Shop at your favorite online store and during checkout, simply provide your new U.S. address as the shipping address. The package will then arrive at the warehouse. In some cases, you may have to complete a 1583 form with an identity proof to authorize the forwarding service to act as your agent.

You may now ask the package forwarding company to ship the package to your actual postal address. Once it arrives in your country, depending on the item category and the total value of the shipment, you may have to pay import duties as well. That’s it!

For my Amazon package, which contained a USB Microphone, I used the pay-per-use plan of Bongo where you get a US mail address for a one-time fee of $5. The overall shipping costs are higher with this plan but there aren’t any monthly commitments.

I made the order at Amazon and passed on the tracking code to Bongo. Once the Amazon package arrived at their facility, they sent me a photograph of the package to confirm receipt. I then forwarded it to my address in India and the package reached here in the next five days. All in all, an extremely smooth transaction.

Which Package Forwarding Should You Use?

There are actually quite a few package forwarding services for you to choose from. The following table will give you a very rough idea of the costs involved – the actual shipping rates will vary depending on your country, the shipping mode (FedEx, USPS, DHL, etc.) that you’ve picked and, most importantly, on your package’s dimensional weight.

Shipping Rates to India*
Sign-up Fees 1.0 lbs
(0.5 kg)
5.0 lbs
(2.3 kg)
Warehouse
Location
1. Bongo $5 (one time) $55 $91 CT
2. MyUS $10 (one time) $44 $78 FL
3. Shipito $8.50 (per package) $43 $64 CA, OR, NV
4. USGlobalMail $10 (per month) $63 $86 TX
5. USA2Me $23 (one time) $35 $59 TX
6. VIAddress - $35 $55 IN
7. ShopAndShip $35 (one time) $10 $42 NY

Shopping at US Online stores – Things to know

#1. You could be charged based on the size of the package or its actual weight depending on which is greater. Thus, the international shipping charges for importing 5 lbs of cotton would be higher than say 5 lbs of sand even though the physical weight is similar.

#2. The package forwarding services have warehouses in different states and that may be a consideration if your shopping website charges sales tax for certain states.

#3. Some online stores may require that the billing address associated with your credit card / PayPal is also located in the US. Bongo, Shipito and MyUS offer an easy workaround for a fee – if a store doesn’t accept international credit cards, these services can buy the goods on your behalf and also ship it to you.

#4. Aramex’s Shop and Ship and Bongo have warehouses in UK as well thus allowing international shoppers an option to purchase stuff directly from EU based shopping websites.

#5. If you have bought items from multiple stores, you can ask the package forwarding service to club everything in one box so that you have to pay less for international shipping. You may have to pay an additional fee for consolidation.

Please note that you may not be able to buy items from Apple’s Online Store using the above service since Apple is known not to ship goods to any of the parcel forwarding services.

Also, pay special attention to the shipping cost calculators that are available on all websites to ensure that there aren’t any hidden costs like fuel surcharges. The costs do no include import fees or customs duty that may be applicable in your country.