Covid-19 has shaped many parts of our lives in the last 12 months. One way that wasn’t entirely expected (at least not by me) was the performance of the United States Postal Service.
While the USPS has never been a world-beater, throughout my years abroad I’ve come to expect a fairly reasonable level of service. If a package was sent to me from the US I could sometimes get it as early as a week, but more often than not it took two weeks. Not anymore.
I still maintain a US address for various administrative reasons and every now and then I have some of that mail forwarded. Sometimes it’s routine stuff like a new credit card to replace one that has hit its expiry date. Other times there are some important bits of paperwork I need to deal with. In 2020, I also got “free” money from the US government in the mail.
In late October 2020 I had a package put together with some of these important items as well as a couple Christmas gifts I wanted to give to friends in Paris. Not only did the package never arrive, but it was returned to sender in late January of this year.
The USPS does provide tracking, but there was no update for that number beyond its first original scans. According to the website, it didn’t appear to have ever left the state of origin.
I wondered if it had been delivered and my local post office had simply forgotten to give me a delivery notice, as the box would not have fit in my mailbox. I showed the tracking number to a clerk at La Poste. A few taps later he told me in French, “It’s in customs in Chicago.” Of course the French knew where my package was, but the USPS seemingly didn’t.
It was late December by that time, so I was able to file a claim for the package, but I had given it up as lost. I pictured it somewhere in the warehouse you see at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. But just when I had given up hope, I found out it had been returned to sender. On cue, the USPS called me to follow up on my claim three days later.
The woman on the phone sounded so kindly I had no heart to turn on my customer-service indignation of the US variety. Indeed, I was so relieved to not have lost the contents of that package (which included a ring I had resized) that I just thanked her for following up and verified that I would get a refund given that I never actually got the package. “Yes, no problem,” she said.
When a friend went to get the refund the clerk blamed the French. “It was delivered,” he insisted. True enough, the package did look like it got stamped/stickered through customs. But somehow or another it never got to my post office. It came to France, hung out, then was returned.
I didn’t want to take any chances on the next package so I stripped out everything that wasn’t critical (I’ll get those things some other time, I figured) and focused on only sending something business envelope-sized. That envelope was sent on February 9th and I’m happy to say it arrived just before the end of February. “It’s a Christmas miracle,” I typed to my friend as I sent a photo of the envelope in my hands.
Three months for a non-delivery. Almost three weeks for something the size of an envelope. Thanks to the tracking I was also able to see that of the 17 days it spent in transit, 12 of them were in the United States, and 11 of those days were spent getting from the origin, in the middle of the country, to New York.
“What is going on?” I asked a friend of mine who I suspected might occasionally mail herself things from the US. She didn’t have a ready answer, but did tell me that her mother had attempted to send her Halloween candy both in 2020 and 2019. Both times the package never arrived: once it was returned to sender and the other time it disappeared.
The USPS has been underfunded for a long time and unlike what I’ve experienced in Europe and Asia, routinely undercharges for both domestic and international packages (while managing to charge a FORTUNE to ship to Canada, which is closer to 48 of our states than Hawaii or Alaska). It seems to have caught its own strain of Covid-19 and is, for the moment, not to be relied on for timely package deliveries.
For comparison: a book I ordered from the UK on Tuesday arrived on Thursday of the same week, which is even faster than I’m used to receiving packages from across the Channel. Clearly not everyone has the same Covid problems.
Over the years I’ve often sent small packages to friends who were flying into Paris. This allowed, in some years, for nearly half a dozen “courier” deliveries that I paid off with bottles of champagne. That means is currently not as available.
So, if you’re in France and awaiting packages from the US, adjust your expectations, file claims, and be prepared to wait. It is, after all, a First World problem.
Photo by Pope Moysuh on Unsplash
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Ha! I am in USA and my family is in eastern France. I routinely Usps small packages and cards to them. “Sometimes” they arrive.
Once a package went from Paris to Vietnam before going BACK to Paris and finally to my family.
This time a package went from USA > Paris > Tokyo > Australia… where it’s now stuck for the past 12 days.
We have a package stuck in Paris since April 12. No tracking communication since then. The final destination is in the south of France. Last year a package went to Paris, then to Ethiopia, back to Paris then to India and finally back to France. Two months ago a package was sitting in Chicago for 10 days before finally getting to France.
My experiences with USPS parcels from USA to France (Paris)
I’m living in France
The record was 8 weeks and this was before COVID crisis …
Just recently 50 days.
To be honest, there is a small improvement, now I’m able to track the parcel from one departure to arrival ! That doesn’t make it faster but you can follow without registering
Before, when you are living outside USA, you can not register !!! For registration address is requested AND the STATE is claimed … but there is no states in France, and no way to specified you are oversea or outside USA.
When other carriers are used by sender it takes from 5 to 7 days !!!
I still don’t understand how they manage to be so slow ???
Sometimes if you use the department it will accept that as a “state” – not necessarily with USPS but with other vendors.
In any case, I have no idea why things are as slow as they are, but I do believe lack of proper staffing contributes to the problem.
I bought on the Reebok US store sneakers. As they don’t ship in Europe a friend living in DC pick them and send me to France with USPS. I was checking informations about delays and found out your blog and was afraid after reading your article and comments…
just to balance and give you feedback about my experience : it was f*@#!k fast !!
My friend sent me last monday my parcel : October 18th and received it today October 26th
Maybe they improve their process and now the covid situation will be better and better…
be patient ! take care !
That’s great to hear! That article was written some time ago so obviously things can change. I obviously am not hoping for delays, but am just telling people to prepare for them.
Good to know!! Did you have to pay customs, VAT etc?
I paid outrageous 55$ shipping fees from US to France for Sneakers.
My friend paid this amount straight in the post office
I didn’t know if customs fees where included in this fees because when I collected the parcel yesterday I didn’t pay something else.
It looks expensive, so I guess it was included… what do you think about it ? this price seems regular for you ?
Things haven’t changed for the better.
A debit card sent from my bank in the US took 6 weeks to get here this year.
I really can’t say if the problem is the French or US postal service. While the US isn’t tracking well, the French tend to leave things in some pile somewhere and if they don’t get to it, they just send everything back (at best) or dead letter it, or steal. (This is known in France & the employees can’t bze fired! There was a long article on the subject in Capital some years ago.)
A few years ago a credit card was sent by FedEx, and 9 days later I hadn’t received it. When the FedEx agent finally made it to my house, he explained that it had been holed up in some back office at Charles de Gaulle.
DHL is also pretty bad, as the delivery service is subcontracted to the French postal service which ranks its importance behind French postal priority.
And UPS is the pits.
My advice: If it isn’t important enough to send by FedEx, don’t send it!
I wish I saw these posts before I used USPS. Going on a month and it says they attempted to deliver my package 1 time and now it’s sitting at a collection point. No one can provide the address of the collection point and the customer service agent said she would put a request and they have 5-25 days to respond. I’m beyond pissed, I typically use FedEx but decided to save a few dollars and this is what I get. SMDH
Sorry to hear that Kris. Anomalies lately. I’ve had a single letter reach me from the US in 7 days, but an RSVP sent by me. declining attendance at a wedding, sent on time for their catering deadline, didn’t arrive until 8 weeks after the wedding. And that was just a card. Thankfully the groom checked with me so I didn’t contribute to an unnecessary seat. But yeah, it’s a mess still.