Express-mailing something long-distance from Russia is possible, but can be expensive, time-consuming, and sometimes nerve-racking. To make sure your parcel actually arrives, you have to use a reputable company, and be prepared to pay normal international rates for this, which are, naturally enough, way over Russian regular mail charges.
Many people tend to regard delivery companies essential for business purposes, but few use international couriers for personal use, because of the cost. Then again, there is little alternative available.
According to UPS’s press-releases, their daily shipping volume increases as much as 30 percent above the company's daily average of 14.1 million between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They even have a date they call the “Peak Day” and claim that 230 packages will be delivered every second on Peak Day, which last year occurred on Tuesday, Dec. 20.
A lot of people don’t bother mailing things from Russia and take their packages with them on European trips and mail them from there. Since I had no immediate trips to Europe planned and I still had to mail a package to Singapore, I decided to investigate my options within Russia.
Armed with the phone numbers of DHL, UPS, FedEx, IPS, Russian Post EMS, and EMC Garantpost, the numbers of which I got from the internet, I picked up the receiver. I have to say, that the prices they quote in their “online calculators” vary by a $5-$20 margin from what they quote on the phone. (Is that a marketing technique or a programming miscalculation?). I decided right away that the sum paid for delivery should not exceed the actual value of my package, and I found this requirement a very hard one to adhere to.
My package weighed 1.13 kilos and contained no declarable goods. UPS quoted $150 for a 1-day delivery. One day is very impressive; but $150 is way beyond what I was prepared to part with. Besides, my delivery was nothing urgent. DHL proposed 3 days and the cost of $132, if I chose to receive a written notification on who signed for it at the door and when, and $120 without the notification. According to DHL, international site, the same delivery would have cost me the same in the UK and a bit less in the US. FedEx came close with their $110 in 4-7 days. EMC Garantpost quoted $85, 3-5 days.
I have asked around a bit, and some of the seasoned expats I know told me that most of express mail companies indeed deliver the packages within the period of time stated. However six people out of ten confessed that they had had a bad experience with FedEx in Russia, adding that rumor has it that FedEx in Russia is a franchise as opposed to a branch of the multi-national company, and is run by Russians, which probably explains my friends’ bad experiences. Either way – some people refuse to use it here any more.
Russian Post has a branch responsible for international express mail, called EMS. They impressed me with the lowest price in town: $60, 6 days, which did not vary from its online calculator-generated counterpart, but this did not sway my judgment. I asked them the standard: “Is there any guarantee that my package will reach the recipient?” question. The lady-automaton promised: “It will” and then added that if they lost it I was entitled to file a “search request” (whatever results that could render was a mystery to me). I decided to stick to my “avoid Russian Post” policy, and tap a commercial enterprise.
The last company I called was a company called IPS – it was recommended to me by one of my colleagues. I think they are a direct descendant of the late PX Post, which was one of the two or three express mail companies available in downtown Moscow back in the early 90’s. Most of them closed down as soon as all the major players on this market came to Russia and rendered them uncompetitive.
The price for a 10-day delivery by “regular” mail was set at $82 and I thought I would give them a try.
At IPS, the process of determining the weight of my package and filling out the necessary forms took 15 minutes or so. I was baffled to see that they were packing my goods into a UPS package (and they were scattered all over the place, so I guess this is how they pack everybody’s goods), but they did not offer an explanation and, being pleased with myself for finding a more or less affordable mailing service, I was not about to question their methods of operation.
The disclaimer on the back of the receipt said that should the delivery go wrong, they were not liable for anything. I rolled my eyes and thought that the devil should use that “warranty” as a draft for the Immortal Soul agreements.
I knew I was screwed when 3 weeks passed after the actual mailing date and the intended recipient remained blissfully unaware of the package’s existence. I e-mailed the IPS customer service and politely asked them what could possibly make a 10-12 day delivery travel 3 weeks. The answer was that they were unable to track it for me, since I did not pay for the “guaranteed delivery” service, but 3 weeks was definitely a very long time, so they were certain my package got lost. Just like that! Granted: you can’t expect preferential treatment if you don’t pay for it, but it doesn’t mean they should take their responsibility lightly.
So, this is what I learnt from my mailing experience: there is no way to ensure your package will reach its recipient, unless you are willing to pay extra for some fancy service like a written notification, or mail insurance; IPS lost my package; maybe using Russian Post EMS might not be such a bad idea – you lose 60 bucks instead of $80-150, and you can let your steam out by filing a “search request form” that might even make them find your package in the end.