International shipping is expensive. You want to make sure you make all the right steps so your package arrives at its destination on time and in tact. And you also want it to be affordable.
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This guide details each step in sending items to Thailand and gives requisite info for residential shipping. After you read this guide, you’ll know how to prepare your package, assemble and fill out the correct documents, and select the best shipping service. You’ll also learn the policies Thai officials use to move your package through customs.
Shipping to Thailand
Preparing a package
When preparing a package for international shipping, take extensive care while packaging items. FedEx recommends this packing process. Shipping services worldwide subject packages to a wide array of abuse, and this is especially true for international shipping to Thailand. Marking your package fragile does little if anything in preventing rough handling.
One consideration is water damage, an issue that is often not accounted for until it is too late. A good practice is to wrap any items inside a plastic bag before packaging. This helps your item stays dry.
Finally, shipping containers can get hot. Be aware of this when shipping items sensitive to high temperatures. Expect your items to reach temperatures of at least 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
There may be other times, though, when you won’t be the one preparing your package for shipping. If this is the case, it’s important to find out who will prepare your package, and by what methods. Most private shippers can take photos of your package after they’ve prepared it for shipping.
When you ship your items into Thailand, the shipper will give you Customs Declaration form to fill out. Or they may fill out the form themselves. Without these forms, they can’t send your package to Thailand. On the form you’ll have to list your shipping and receiving addresses, what items are in the package, and how much the items are worth. The forms may differ depending on which shipper you use.
Thai addresses can make little sense to foreigners. However, they do in fact make sense, but it may take a bit to familiarize yourself with them. One major hang-up is the lack of standardization of street names in Thailand. This is especially true when dealing with addresses in rural Thailand.
It’s common for roads in villages to not have names. Instead, locals identify these roads by their location in reference to other landmarks. For example, a local Thai may identify a street as the one with the three banks on it, the street between Road A and Road B or the intersection with the big 7-11.
Not only do you face challenges with non-standardized street names, but you also find shops, stores, apartments, and dwellings tucked in every little corner down every winding soi, or small road, in Thai cities. These locations can be hard to identify with an address, such as an apartment that sits behind a storefront down an alley that branches off a soi that branches off a larger road with no house numbers or street names.
Despite these points of confusion, the Thai Postal Service is remarkable when figuring out where a given package is heading even if the addresses are obscure. For instance, a family member in the USA sent a package to me in Northeast Thailand. They wrote the wrong address on the package. The postal worker not only figured out what the right address was, but he also knew where I worked and brought the package to me while in my office.
I wouldn’t count on you being this lucky when sending a package, but even if you don’t get the address right, there’s still a good chance the package will arrive at its destination.
One saving grace is that Thailand follows the Universal Postal Unions codification of addresses, so the general structure of Thai address follows a similar logic of addresses found in Western countries, meaning you begin with the smallest, specific unit of identification and progress to the largest. Thai addresses follow this structure:
Building name (if any)
Plot, House number, Village (if any), Road, Soi (if any)
Province, Postal Code
Here’s an example:
120-122 Wireless Rd
Lumphini, Pathum Wan
When deciding what shipping services best suit your needs, consider the item’s weight, size, and value, and how quickly you need it to arrive. The answers to these questions tell you what service is best for you.
Most shipping services have a size and weight limit, as well as the item’s value limit. For instance, US Postal Service puts these restrictions on using First Class International Service: max length of 42 inches, max thickness of 36 inches and a max value of $400. You need to match the right service with your needs.
Flat rate boxes can be an affordable way to ship heavy items into Thailand. For example, if you ship books into Thailand, you can buy a flat rate box. This way, you won’t pay by weight, rather by size at a flat rate. The USPS has a list of flat rate box sizes available. The final cost will depend on where you ship your items.
On average, you can expect to get your package two weeks after it was shipped from America. From Australia and the UK it could take a little as a week. In either case, the time depends on whether Thai Customs decides to hold your package at customs. If they do hold it for inspection or the collection of duty fees, expect to get your package later than expected. The following sections compare the different shipping services using the example of shipping a 16-ounce computer part.
Item: Computer Part
Weight: 16 oz.
|Priority Mail Express||3-5 days||$61.85|
|Priority Mail||6-10 days||$45.75|
|Medium Flat Rate||6-10 days||$67.95|
|First Class||10-14 days||$22.25|
|FedEx International Economy||8 days||$122.73|
|DHL Express Worldwide||3 days||$105.50|
|UPS Worldwide Expedited||7 days||$107.85|
|Global Express||2 days guaranteed||£64.85|
|Global Priority||4 days||£53.30|
|Global Value||6-8 days||£40.50|
|FedEx International Economy||6 days||£91.12|
|DHL Express Worldwide||2 days||£62.58|
|UPS Worldwide Expedited||7 days||£56.89|
|Economy Air||10 days||$14.39|
|FedEx International Economy||6 days||$133.94|
|DHL Express Worldwide||1 day||$93.64|
|UPS Worldwide Expedited||5 days||$86.36|
|Standard (surface)||3-4 weeks||$5.00|
|Standard (air)||4-6 days||$11.70|
|Speedpost Priority||2-3 days||$59.00|
|FedEx International Economy||2 days||$87.72|
|DHL Express Worldwide||1 day||$100.92|
|UPS Worldwide Expedited||5 days||$36.68|
When shipping small packages, there’s not much difference between government and private shippers. But if you need a shipper who can work with you on a large or custom shipment, your best bet is to use a private shipper.
Insuring Your Package
All services mentioned above offer shipping insurance for an additional charge. Here’s some general insurances costs.
- USPS: You’re covered for any Priority Mail Express shipment under $100 declared value and Priority Mail shipments under $50. If you need insurance for items at higher values, USPS calculates the cost when you ship.
- UK Post: The United Kingdom Post offers insurance on all items up to £500 in value. If you need insurance for items at higher values, UK Post calculates the cost when you ship.
- Australia Post: Australia Post calculates shipping insurance rates when shipping the item. For an item declared at $150 value, the insurance cost is $12.10, for example.
- Singapore Post: Singapore Post includes shipping insurance on all their standard shipping services. You get up to $150 of insurance. For items declared at a higher value, they calculate the cost into the shipping charges.
- FedEx: Your covered for any shipment under $100 declared value. For items valued between $100 and $300, insurance is $2.10. Anything item valued over $300 costs $0.70 per $100 to insure.
- DHL: If you want to insure your shipment through DHL, you’ll pay 1.5% of the total value of the item you ship.
- UPS: Your covered for any shipment under $100 declared value. For shipments greater than $100 declared value, the insurance cost is calculated into the shipping charges.
International packages arriving in Thailand go through Thai customs. Customs may tax or add duty rates to your package. Duty rates, taxes, and Thai customs law are always changing, so if in question, double check any current info.
Thailand uses the CIF, or cost, insurance, freight, for valuation of incoming packages. Duty rates are based on the CIF total value:
Item Value: $100
Total CIF: $150
This CIF value is used for determining the duty rate. Duty rates range between 0% – 80% with an average of 21%. Some items are exempt from duty charges. Laptops, some electronic devices, and items with a value below $30 don’t incur duty charges.
When using private shippers like FedEx, DHL, or UPS, there’s no way to pay for import taxes ahead of time. These private shippers leave the collection of duties to Thai Customs officers.
A few notes on duty rates
Despite what you claim is the item’s value, Thai customs can and often does value the item at a higher rate. You may claim a pair of shoes you are shipping to Thailand only costs $50, but Thai customs may value the shoes at $100 or even $150. This is a standard practice with Thai customs, and you’ll have little recourse in preventing it from happening. Some people have claimed success by bringing in receipts and documents that show the items true value.
The other issue with duty rates is the inconsistency between the percentages. Like so many other things in Thailand, there is little standardization when it comes to policies and procedures. What duty rate you’ll end up paying often comes down to the given postal or customs agent on a given day. It’s common to pay differing duty rates when shipping the exact same item.
Without much effort, you’ll find horror stories when dealing with Thai customs. People report items going missing or getting seized or delayed in customs for months. You’ll also find stories of customs holding packages for ransom as a means to collect more duty. I experienced this when receiving some banking info through the mail.
People report bribes to pay half of the duty rate under the table without invoices or paperwork. These events vary and depend on your location in Thailand. It’s wise to save all shipping documents and receipts for later verification.
VAT, or Value Added Tax, is a sales tax added to items coming into Thailand. The current VAT rate is 7%, calculated over the CIF value plus any duty added to the item. Therefore, the value that the VAT is applied is higher than the item’s initial value, as it includes the item’s value, shipping, insurance, and duty. You might have to pay another 10% tax on alcohol and food.
Each international shipping service restricts certain items you can import into Thailand. But in the end, Thai Customs has the ultimate say on what can and can’t be brought into Thailand. Feel free to check with your shipper, but cross reference their restrictions with those listed on the Suvarnabhumi Airport and Thai Customs websites.
- Beef, products
- Seeds, any type of seed
- Dry Tea Leaf
- Drugs, Non-Prescription
- Electronic Cigarette
- Baraku, Shisha, Hookah (Water pipe)
- Obscene objects (literature, pictures)
- Pornographic materials
- Goods with Thai national flag
- Narcotics (marijuana, hemp, opium, cocaine, morphine, heroin & etc.)
- Fake currency, bonds, or coins
- Fake Royal Seals & Official Seals
- Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) infringing goods (a)
- Counterfeit trademark goods
- Sex Toy (any kind)
- Graven Image (religious idols)
Although some animals are restricted from entering Thailand, most household pets aren’t. For a detailed look at how to ship your pet into Thailand, check out our Quick Guide to Moving to Thailand with a Dog or Cat.
For those looking to make bulk shipments into Thailand, you’ll need to look at freight forwarding and container shipping.
Container shipping involves shipping goods via a freight container usually aboard a freighter ship. Container shipping is best suited for individuals who are looking to ship a significant quantity of goods or individuals looking to ship a vehicle, motorcycle, building materials, or other large items. When choosing container shipping, you have two major options:
- LCL = Less than Container Load
- FCL = Full Container Load
LCL involves buying partial space in a container usually per 1 mÂ³ cubic meter. As such, it is cheaper as you are only paying for a small area of a much larger container. This is great for individuals who have items that are too large to ship via standard international shipping but are not a large enough quantity to warrant an entire container. The major drawback of LCL shipping is that you must wait until the entire container is filled and ready to ship. Therefore, you may wait months just until the container is filled and ready to ship before having to wait additional time for the actual transportation of the goods.
FCL involves filling an entire shipping container usually with at least 30 mÂ³ cubic meter of goods. Although the price is significantly higher, you will have more control over when and where the container is filled and shipped.
The total price for shipping with a container depends on how much of the container you fill. Most shipping companies offer half containers at 20 feet long, or LCL, and full containers at 40 feet long, or FCL. Prices vary by shipper. But most shippers in the United States will tack on a $45 export fee. All taxes are calculated by the value of items you ship. Sometimes you won’t have to pay taxes, especially of what your shipping in the container is for personal use. For an estimated price on what it’ll cost to ship your items using a container, check out this handy container shipping calculator.
Since most shipping companies use a shared shipping vessel, container shipping times range from four to eight weeks. It’ll be hard to find a shipper who can get your bulk container shipment into Thailand any sooner than that.
Container shipping is the best choice when moving all your belongings to Thailand. This is what our editor, John Wolcott, and his family did. Since they had a daughter and already bought her necessities in America, they found out it would be cheaper to ship what they had to Thailand instead of buying it again, often at more expensive prices.
They found a shipper in NYC, Lanna Shipping, that shipped to and from Thailand. For a palette-and-a-half of goods, 48 inches high and 42 inches long and wide, the cost came out to $1,400. John and his wife had to pack everything in boxes, but Lanna employees came in a van and picked everything up for them. They also handled all the shipping paperwork. The only thing John and his wife had to do was create a general list of items shipped.
Since they were shipping their personal belongings, like furniture, kid’s clothes, toys, bikes, etc., they didn’t have to pay import tax.
It took six weeks to ship their belongings by sea. When everything arrived at port, Lanna Shipping in Thailand called them and delivered it to their house in Samut Prakan. They shipped sixty-two boxes from America, and sixty-two boxes arrived at their house. Not one thing was missing or broken.
But for those concerned about lost or damaged belongings, Lanna Shipping, and most private shippers, offer insurance. If John and his wife wanted insurance on their shipment, it would’ve costed an extra $200. But they felt safe enough using Lanna because of their track record.
If you’re looking for a container to ship your belongings to Thailand in, do a Google search to see which shipping companies are closest to your area. Be sure to ask about restrictions, what items are taxable, pickup fees, and shipping rates and times. It’s also wise to ask a few questions about their relationship with Thai Customs. If they often ship containers to Thailand, then they’ll be more familiar with the process. Once you narrow down your search, research the company online. Make sure they’re not known for losing or delaying shipments. You can also ask people who live in Thailand how they ship their belongings here. I have quite a few friends who split the cost of a container and have things shipped to Thailand once a year.
Duty Rates, VAT, and Private Shippers
If you use a private shipper like John and his family did, you can pay the tax ahead of time. And the shipper guarantees you won’t have to pay tax when your package arrives in Thailand. Since shipping their belongings to Thailand in 2014, they’ve had other things shipped into the country. Each time they paid the estimated tax with the shipper, when shipping. And they never had any problems with customs.
The estimated shipping tax is calculated by weight. When John shipped bike trailers like the one pictured above into Thailand, he paid the estimated import tax ahead of time with Lanna Shipping. Lanna Shipping added import tax to this shipment–as opposed to his container shipment–because this shipment contained more than one of the same item. Lanna suspected Thai Customs would add an import tax because of this. So at twenty-six pounds per bike trailer, the estimated tax was $30 per trailer.
Those considering container shipping will have to begin by choosing a freight forwarder. A freight forwarder is a firm that acts as an intermediary between you (the customer) and a commercial freight shipping company. A freight forwarder will offer a full range of services, consisting of sourcing a freight shipper, negotiating shipping prices, preparing the correct documents, tracking the shipment, storing the shipment, and helping with inland transportation.
A freight forwarder does not actually ship your freight. They are an industry broker who will help you navigate the complex facets of international freight shipping. They have industry relations with many shipping services and extensive knowledge of shipping logistics.
We recommend using Freighnet’s freight forwarding directory to locate a suitable freight forwarder. On that site, you’re given a list of freight forwarders in Thailand to choose from. Most of the forwarders don’t list shipping costs or times on their websites because of the many variables. But they calculate packages in one of two ways:
- Gross, or real, weight of the package
- Dimensional weight
If you’re shipping a palette of feathers, for example, the shipper would charge you by dimensional weight. Otherwise, they’d lose money because the real weight is so light. If you wonder what the cut-off is between real weight and dimensional weight, contact the freight forwarder.
When it comes to shipping times, it’s best to contact a freight forwarder to see what option is best for you. Shipping by air and sea are not always the quickest and slowest methods, respectively. Sometimes shipping by sea will be quicker than shipping by air.
Avoid these common errors when shipping to ensure your product arrives at its destination safely and on time:
- shipping prohibited items
- packaging items incorrectly
- failing to account for duty and VAT
- setting inaccurate shipping weights
- selecting the wrong shipping service
- misunderstanding custom’s procedures
- failing to include the required paperwork
- filling out addresses and forms incorrectly
There are no guarantees in life, and this is especially true with international shipping. However, by following this guide, you should be able to mitigate as much risk and unnecessary spending as possible. So whether you’re a soon-to-be expat looking to ship your belongings to Thailand, or you’re an expat looking to receive a care package from back home, you’ll be well equipped to handle any of your shipping needs, and you’ll be sure to get the best deal possible.