International shipping update (especially Australia)
International shipping has been pretty rough since last spring when COVID first hit. Average transit times have increased to around 4-6 weeks (and sometimes 8+) as compared to before COVID when it was 2-3 weeks. Several countries suspended mail entirely for periods of time as preventative measures were implemented to reduce the spread of the virus.
Two weeks ago, Australia suspended international mail, at least from the USA. As of right now, Australia is the only major country to have a mail suspension, although countries come and go from the list every few weeks.
Our shipping service has a feature called the Global Advantage Program where international packages are first routed to a domestic processing center, then re-labeled and sent internationally. The namesake “advantage” of this service is that they’ve negotiated with USPS to be able to use services that are suspended or discontinued for standard customers. This means they are able to send to Australia while normal services have been suspended.
There are two disadvantages, though, and it remains to be seen whether these outweigh the advantage. The first is that it adds several days to the transit time, since it needs to go through the postal service twice—once domestically, once internationally. At minimum, if things are running smoothly in the re-processing centers, it’ll be an extra week, but last year the processing center got pretty backed up and there some instances where the packages sat in their processing queue for 3 weeks or more.
The second disadvantage is just common sense: if Australia has suspended mail service on their end, then it seems like it shouldn’t make much difference whether we have a way to get the mail to them. Best case scenario is that the orders are at the front of the line. (If any Australians have any more info, please let me know—I hope I’m wrong here.)
So I’m not super optimistic that it’s going to solve any immediate problems. Normally I’d be cautious and not use it… but here’s the trouble. This used to be an opt-in feature, but a few weeks ago they switched our account over to use it for all international orders without telling us, and so far their customer support has been unhelpful in getting it switched back. The postage price is the same, so shipping costs are unaffected—but all international transit times will likely increase even more since there’s an additional step to get it to the reprocessing center, which is also subject to potential delays and staffing issues.
Unfortunately, right now the only alternative we have to Global Advantage is to suspend all international shipments, which would be a pretty drastic move, so we’re going to at least give it a spin and see what happens. In the meantime, we’ll be working to get switch to the normal method of international shipping. If and when that happens, we’ll have to suspend orders to Australia if they’re still shut down. But for now, please take this into account when ordering internationally. Once it leaves our hands, we don’t have any more information than the tracking page. Just be aware that things will likely take a bit longer than they have in the past (which is already taking longer than it did in the more-distant past).
The good news is that during the past 18 months of delays and unpredictability, the overall loss rate for packages is still extremely low. Nearly every package eventually arrives, and we’ve only had to resend a handful that never turned up. With another high-volume mail season ahead of us, I’m hopeful that this trend will continue .
International shipping alternatives
USPS of course isn’t the only way to get packages overseas. While FedEx and DHL are prohibitively expensive (USD$100 or more), UPS has a few options depending on the destination country that are closer to USD$50-60 and usually arrive within a week. They often charge a significant brokerage fee for customs, so you may end up paying a lot more in import duties than you would have with a normal USPS shipment, but it’s an option. The website checkout doesn’t currently have it as a shipping method, but if you contact us before ordering then we can give you a quote and send an invoice for the difference.
A second option for European customers is to order from Musikding. They stock nearly all of our PCBs, and new releases usually are in stock within a month or two. They do have kits, although they are different than ours and are more just a collection of all the parts (i.e. standard assembly methods and wiring, normal resistors, bare enclosures). But if you’re just looking for PCBs then this will save time and money.
The third option great for people who order a lot from the USA: an international shipping service such as MyUS (myus.com), which collects all of your USA orders and ships them to you in one package whenever you decide. From our perspective, it’s a domestic order, so we just mail it to the address of the service and they coordinate with you from there. Several customers use MyUS and other similar services and I’ve only heard good things.