Can I Ship This? A Guide to What You Can Send and What You Can’t

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

You can buy almost anything these days, but that doesn’t automatically mean you can ship it. Here’s how to ship a list of items people commonly send:

Alcoholic Beverages: Sorry, but private citizens can’t ship alcohol. Sarah Fine, compliance services manager for Ship Compliant, a Boulder, CO–based company that serves the alcoholic beverage industry, explains: “This is true no matter the carrier — FedEx, USPS,UPS, etc. To ensure that the alcohol is sound, taxes are paid and so on, shipments of alcohol can only originate from a licensed entity. When selling at wholesale, wine and spirit suppliers have to be mindful of licensing, label registration and reporting requirements, as well as price posting, restrictions on distributor service areas, solicitor registration requirements and more.” So, if you want to reward a new client with a bottle of your favorite red, best to order the wine from a supplier who can send the gift on your behalf.

Perishables & Baked Goods: Anything that can be shipped at room temperature and can withstand changes in temperature — like baked goods, but not chocolate — can be shipped safely by air or ground. If spoilage or inconsistent temperature is a concern, invest in insulated shippers made specifically to keep items chilled or frozen. That could involve dry ice, which adds additional cost. You may also want to suspend shipping during warmer months if your product is particularly heat sensitive. Consult your shipping professional on how to ship any food product that requires temperature control.

Breakables: Fragile items like glass, crafts, dishware, etc., can be shipped, but they require special handling — and perhaps even insurance, depending on value. According to Anthony Caviness, china fulfillment operations manager at Replacements in Greensboro, NC, the key is following these packaging guidelines correctly. “Select a box at least two inches larger in all directions than the item you are packing, and put about three inches of padding in the bottom,” he says. “Once you pack the item, then cover with another three inches of packing material. When you close the box, it should all pack in nice and snug. Before you tape the box closed, shake it gently. If you feel or hear anything shifting around, add another inch or so of packing and try again. Don't seal the box until nothing moves inside.” This is the best way to minimize the chance of breakage.

Computers: You can ship most computers and electronics inside the U.S., but the batteries in them may require special handling. Lead-acid and lithium/lithium-ion batteries are currently restricted by most carriers, and there are even more requirements if you’re sending internationally. “The U.S. restricts exports of certain technologies to some nations, and some refuse to accept used electronics and other items that might be considered e-Waste,” explains Erik Klein of Vintage-Computer.com in San Jose, CA. “Check with the shipper and, if needed, U.S. customs and customs in the receiving country for restrictions.”

Here are some other items you can’t ship:

  • Biologic and/or hazardous materials
  • Firearms, weapons and their parts
  • Flammable or explosive products and chemicals
  • Gambling materials, including lottery tickets
  • Live animals or insects, or animal carcasses

Regulations apply to the sending location and the receiving one, and vary widely across counties, states and nations. Always check with your shipping professional before sealing and sending your box to avoid delays, charges and other problems.

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