Shipping Services Tips

Read these 19 Shipping Services Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Shipping tips and hundreds of other topics.

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What are some common shipping and moving scams?

Shipping and Moving Scams

Once a company has your goods on the truck, you're ready to go, right? Not if you're working with an unethical shipper or mover. They're not common, but they are out there. Some companies will charge you an extra "overweight" fee or other extra charges before they will unload your goods.

Be wary of movers who will give you an estimate based on an Internet questionnaire, rather than sending a representative to look at your move firsthand. Be sure you read and understand your contract before you sign, and do not pay the movers until all the contractual obligations have been met.

Some online retailers will not quote you a price for shipping the goods you buy, saying they will charge your credit card separately after they pack your order, "so they can get the correct amount." This often results in a hefty charge, as much as double the actual price of the shipment. Ask for a firm shipping price before you commit to buy.

I'm in the military and just got my orders. How fast can I move my family to my new location?

Military Moves

When a U.S. service member is reassigned to a new station, the government will hire a contractor to pack and ship the service member's personal goods, up to a certain weight. If your household goods exceed the weight limit, you will have to reimburse the government for moving them.

If you would rather move your own goods or hire a private company to ship equipment or personal items, the government will pay you what it would have paid the contractor. Be sure to get approval from the base personal property office before arranging your own move.

If storage is required at your destination -- that is, if you do not yet have permanent housing lined up -- the government move may be your least expensive option.

It should be noted that household goods do not include pets. In a government move, up to two pets (dogs and cats only) will be shipped at the service member's expense.

What is dimensional weight?

What Is Dimensional Weight?

Dimensional weight is a measurement that many shippers use to calculate the density of a package -- a figure that takes into account both the space it takes up and how much it weighs.

To computer the dimensional weight of a package, first calculate the cubic size (height times width times length). Then divide this number by 166 (for inches/pounds) or 6000 (for centimeters/kilograms). This is your dimensional weight.

Weigh your package. Which is larger, the actual weight or the dimensional weight? Whichever is larger is the one shippers will use to bill you.

I need to transport human remains for burial. What do I need to know?

Transporting a Body

This isn't the kind of cargo most people like to think about, but it does happen from time to time that people die far away from the places where they will go to their final rest. In those cases, special shipping arrangements must be made to bring the remains home safely and respectfully.

In many states and countries, local regulations will require embalming, though it is not strictly necessary provided the body is transported in a sealed casket. Cremated remains face fewer restrictions and may be transported in a sealed urn which is protected against breakage. In both cases, airlines will require a death certificate showing the cause of death, and may have other hygienic requirements.

In the case of a death far from home, the family will incur extra costs by calling a funeral home to help make arrangements. Instead, call the funeral director in the place where the arrangements are to be made. There are body shipping services which will work with licensed funeral homes to move human remains from one place to another, taking care of the necessary paperwork.

What items are considered hazardous to ship?

Shipping Hazardous Materials

Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (usually abbreviated "49 CFR") is the set of federal rules that covers the transportation of hazardous materials. As a shipper, it is your responsibility to know the rules of shipping and comply with them. Your shipping company may have further rules that go beyond what the law requires.

If you need to send a quantity of materials that the government labels "hazardous" (these could include used auto parts, dry ice, batteries, compressed gas, magnets, paints, spray cans, office supplies, even perfume), you may find it helpful to work with a company that specializes in packing goods to comply with 49 CFR rules.

What do I need to do to obtain a commercial driver's license?

Obtaining a Commercial Driver's License

A commercial driver's license (CDL) allows you to drive vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds or trailers weighing more than 10,000 pounds. It also is needed for driving buses with 16 people or more aboard, and certain hazardous materials.

You must be 21 to transport goods between states with a CDL. To get the license, you must pass a knowledge test and a driving test, and meet minimum medical requirements. The tests are specific to the type of vehicle being driven, and there are additional tests for drivers of school buses and those transporting hazardous materials. The hazardous materials endorsement (HME) also requires a background check under the Patriot Act.

CDL testing is administered state by state, and the rules vary slightly depending where you take the test. Many states make the CDL study booklets available free on their Web sites.

How can I ship a spa or hot tub?

Shipping a Spa or Hot Tub

If you are having a spa or hot tub delivered to your house, be aware that the shipping company does not usually install or wire your tub. Usually, they will require a space accessible to a large truck where they can unload the tub. If you can clear space in a garage and if there's room to back in the truck, this will probably be safest. Some shipping companies will charge a hefty extra fee for transporting the tub to the back yard.

If you order your tub or spa from a non-local dealership, it may be safest to choose a company that does its own deliveries. Employees of the spa company are more likely to be invested in delivering its products safely, and knowledgeable about handling them. Your local dealership should be able to make arrangements to have your tub installed and wired soon after delivery. Be sure to ask questions about time frames and fees before committing to buy.

Why does shipping cost so much?

Why Shipping Costs so Much

Anyone doing business online or through mail order has probably groaned about the price of shipping goods from one place to another. The same holds true for those hiring a licensed mover. "Why can't I just find a guy with a truck to do this?" they may ask.

You can, of course. But besides the cost of gasoline and labor, your shipping and moving fees also pay for licensing and insurance that protect you and your goods against unscrupulous or hazardous situations.

Some online companies also use shipping fees as a profit center. As a customer, you'll want to shop around and find a supplier willing to charge you something close to the true cost of the shipment.

What are the rules for shipping alcoholic beverages?

Shipping Alcoholic Beverages

The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives states the right to regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages within their borders. A few states do not allow the shipping of alcoholic beverages at all, and many more allow shipments only to licensed wholesalers, or even to state-owned liquor distribution centers.

Even if you're planning to ship a couple of bottles of homemade wine to a relative, it's wise to be cautious and check out the shipping laws in your state and the destination state before shipping any alcoholic beverages across state lines.

Buying alcoholic beverages from abroad requires dealing with U.S. customs authorities. If you are importing for resale, you will need a Federal Alcohol Administration permit; if the shipment is for your personal use, you may still have to pay import taxes and duties.

How can I become a licensed mover?

Becoming a Licensed Mover

If you will be moving household goods on a regular basis, you must first have a commercial driver's license (CDL). Next, you will need to register as a common carrier, and obtain authority to transport household goods. If you plan to do this across state lines, the US Department of Transportation Authority can file for you for a flat fee, obtaining your US Department of Transportation authorization number and your motor carrier license number.

Once this authority is established, you can go through the Single State Registration System on the same site to pay a fee to 38 participating states for each vehicle you will operate in their state during that year.

Before you begin doing moving jobs, you will also need to obtain liability insurance of at least $750,000 (more if you transport hazardous materials). Finally, you must publish a "tariff" (schedule of rates) which must include any charge you plan on assessing from a customer.

What are some ideas for packing irregularly shaped items?

Packing Irregularly Shaped Items

There are many items around the house that are oddly shaped and can be difficult for shipping. In the world of furniture transport, sofas, tables, big chairs and large bedroom furniture can be difficult to transport. Knowing how to prepare and package those pieces of furniture will help keep your furniture safe during transport.

When shipping furniture, you will save space and gain flexibility by disassembling it whenever possible. The backs of most recliners can be removed, as can the legs of most dining tables.

Shipping one or more tires? You don't need to pack them at all! Just wrap a section with tape to create a flat space for the mailing label and you're good to go.

With most packages, though, shippers will require that your items be encased in a box or crate. This may require some creativity with packing material. Place the label on the flattest part of the package, and avoid using tied-on "flying tags" for labeling.

How can I get my goods to a trade show?

Trade Show Shipping

A trade show can be vital to the success of your business. Of course you've put a lot of thought into the materials you'll be presenting and handing out, and into your visual setup on the show floor. However, if those things don't get there in time, you may find yourself standing behind a folding table handing out your business card to those few people who do stop by.

Some companies specialize in trade show shipping, and understand the importance of deadlines and working with show venues. You can help your shipper succeed by having everything ready on time -- no last-minute changes! -- and having a rock-solid plan for the space you'll be using.

One element to consider is the visual presentation of your shipping crates. Even simple wooden crates can be made to stand out on the show floor, promoting your business and keeping your displays from going astray. Paint them with your logo, and make sure they look new and sharp.

Properly label and count your shipment, and be sure your shipper and the venue have emergency contact numbers for your organization in case of problems with your display.

I have a problem with my shipping service/customer. What can I do?

Resolving Disputes

If the shipper and customer are unable to work out the dispute on their own, there are several other parties who may have an interest on one side or the other. They include the shipping broker (which may provide some limited insurance), both parties' insurers, the federal and state licensing authorities, and the Better Business Bureau.

However, the best solution is not to have the dispute in the first place. Dealing with unhappy customers takes up a shipper's time and energy, and dealing with an unhappy shipper can take its toll on the customer's wallet. Your best insurance against a dispute is a solid contract spelling out exactly what will be sent, where it will be sent, how it will be delivered, and who will receive it.

I have a large musical instrument. How can I ship it?

Shipping Musical Instruments

Musicians, particularly those who play large instruments, face special shipping challenges. Not only is a tuba or bassoon vulnerable to damage in transit, but they are also sensitive to temperature and humidity changes. In addition, some instruments, such as floor harps, are too big to be shipped in standard parcels and do not lend themselves easily to being broken down into pieces for shipping.

If you cannot transport a musical instrument yourself, ask questions of the shipper about how it will be packed and sent. If you are packing an instrument, follow the same procedures you would for any sensitive shipment, with extra layers of padding and "Fragile" labels.

When you are receiving a wooden or stringed instrument, allow it to spend at least 24 hours acclimating to the temperature and humidity in your home or studio before playing it.

How can I ship an arcade game?

Shipping Arcade Games

First, take photographs of the game to document the condition in which you shipped it.

Next, be sure the inside of the game is fully secure. Particularly, make sure the monitor is firmly in place, protected against breakage and slippage. Secure loose parts and anything that could come loose in transit and damage the game.

Tuck and tape the power cord inside, and be sure the coin door cannot come open accidentally. Wrap the game thoroughly with shrink-wrap (not food wrap, but the more durable kind sold for shipping) and use cardboard in between layers of shrink-wrap for extra protection. Give corners an extra layer of cardboard, as they are the most likely places for damage. Use several layers of wrap to be sure nothing can get in and scratch the surface in transit. Pinball games can sometimes be encased in a modified refrigerator box, with the legs wrapped separately.

Label the game with a packing list including all parts, the location of the keys, the pickup and delivery addresses, and phone numbers for sender and receiver.

How can I make sure a refrigerated shipment arrives safely?

Shipping Refrigerated Items

You can use a traditional parcel service to ship meat, fruit, or other items that ought to be refrigerated.

Most shippers of perishable goods recommend sending yours out on a Monday to avoid the possibility of the package sitting unattended over a weekend. Pack your items carefully in a heavyweight polystyrene cooler with ice packs (for refrigerated items) or dry ice (for frozen items).

To avoid spoilage, be sure your items are not in transit for more than three days. Be aware that while many shippers will guarantee this time, their liability in case of a late shipment will only cover the shipping costs, not the cost of goods lost to spoilage. It may be worth your peace of mind to pay extra for overnight or two-day delivery.

What are my choices for shipping products sold in online auctions?

Shipping Options for Online Auction Sellers

Most online auctions attract more bidders if the buyer knows the shipping amount up-front. While some sellers are tempted to make a profit on their shipping fees, experienced buyers are often sellers as well, and can be turned off by fees that seem markedly higher than what they know shipping companies will charge.

Online auction sellers depend on their feedback ratings to help generate more business, so it is to your advantage to become known as someone who ships quickly and packs goods well.

To protect yourself as a seller, use a traceable shipping method with shipping insurance, so an unscrupulous buyer can't claim the goods never arrived. Keep records of every sale, and of the messages that pass back and forth between you and the buyer.

How much rest does the U.S. government say a licensed driver must get?

Rules of the Road for Rest

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates that about 15 percent of all truck accidents are due to driver fatigue. Despite federal rules (recently tightened) requiring 10 consecutive hours of rest in each driver's day, industry pressures frequently keep drivers going beyond their legal limits. The rest rule kicks in after 11 hours of driving or a 14-hour workday (including fueling, loading/unloading, and food stops).

You can avoid contributing to the problem. When hiring a truck driver for a move or shipment, be sure to allow enough time for the driver to sleep. When driving your own goods, insist on taking sufficient time to rest. Fatigue can cause a driver to black out, hallucinate, or simply nod off to sleep behind the wheel -- all potentially deadly situations. The only cure is sleep. Stimulants, including caffeine, may have no effect on the seriously fatigued and may simply make a tired driver more jittery.

I need to move a person from one place to another. Are there ridesharing services available?


Ridesharing can be a great way to get where you're going, save gas or get help with expenses. Unfortunately, it's often tough to make connections with people who have the same commute you do, or who are headed the same direction you are.

Such connections can sometimes be made through ads in the newspaper, and some government transportation authorities run clearinghouses for ridesharing. Often, though, people who need or can give rides are increasingly finding one another online.

Shop around for ridesharing boards -- some offer more protection than others. On some, for example, the person posting an ad must provide some proof of identity, and the operators of others offer limited guarantees.

Before you share a car with a stranger, establish the driver's preferences for smoking, eating, conversation, and music. If possible, meet the person ahead of time in a public place and make sure you feel comfortable with him or her.

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Guru Spotlight
Patricia Walters-Fischer