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Is it really cheaper to ship internationally with Canada Post? Everything you need to know

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There's a rumour circulating social media that it's cheaper to ship internationally versus domestically with Canada Post. Is this true?

Search Canada Post on TikTok and a litany of complaints pop up. Some even boldly suggest that shipping domestically is more expensive than shipping internationally. So we set out to investigate if this is actually true and the answer is...sort of.

While local small business owners have expressed frustration, concern, and fear over the rising costs of shipping with Canada Post they have also noted that shipping internationally is just as cost prohibitive if not more so than domestic shipping.

The e-commerce romance bookstore Happily Ever After Books ships out of Toronto and owner TK says that "to ship a single book from where I live in the suburbs outside of Toronto to someone who lives in the middle of the city is $14.20. To ship a single book to Ottawa it’s $16.08. And to ship a book to New Jersey is $21.78. To ship a book to anywhere outside North America is laughable. We don’t even attempt it."

She adds, "we have a lot of incredibly dedicated customers who purchase books from us but it’s absolutely affected our online sales. Shipping to London is $40+ unless you choose the one option to go by boat which takes 4-12 weeks. It’s $21."

And therein lies the confusion that many people are having.

Comparing standard shipping rates make it look like sending the same box to the next province over is more expensive than sending it to a tiny town in the middle of the U.K. but that doesn't take into account the tracking, insurance coverage, and speed with which that box would arrive.

Breaking down international shipping costs

Sending a box that weighs 50 grams and is 10 inches by 6 inches by 10 inches from the Vancouver Is Awesome office to Toronto City Hall would cost $29.02 including tax and the fuel surcharge which is $7.39. It would arrive in eight business days with free delivery confirmation.

To send the exact same box from our office to a music school in the middle of a village in England with a population of approximately 2,421 would cost $11.34 including a fuel surcharge of $1.85 but that does not include any tracking, however there is an automatic $100 liability coverage. It would travel by boat which takes approximately one to two months to arrive. Travelling by air would cost $12.69 (including a $2.07 fuel surcharge) and take 12 or more business days to arrive but also without tracking and a maximum of $100 coverage.

To add tracking or liability greater than $100 ups the price and the fuel surcharge because it is determined by percentage and the "Priority Worldwide fuel surcharge is based on the monthly average U.S. jet fuel spot price published by the U.S. Department of Energy," according to the Canada Post website.

Why is there so much discrepancy in cost?

The seemingly strange discrepancies between domestic and international shipping prices are due to several factors. Canada Post determines domestic rates, they have a monopoly of sorts on mailing services in Canada and they base their prices on population density, point of origin, and point of delivery as well as the size and weight of the parcel. The costs of processing, transportation, and delivery are also factored into the rate although when V.I.A. reached out for further clarification Canada Post was not entirely forthcoming on the whys and hows, instead directing us to their website.

Standard letter mail rates in Canada are $1.07 per stamp or $0.92 per stamp in a booklet for a letter that weighs less than 30 grams and $1.30 for up to 50 grams. It costs $1.30 to send a 30 gram letter to the US and $1.94 for up to 50 grams. International mail isn't much more, costing $2.71 for 30 gram and $3.88 for 50 grams, so in theory domestic is cheaper. It's when all of the other nuances and factors are considered that the rates could be considered misleading.

How are costs affecting businesses?

Randa Salloum says she gets a lot of web traffic from Europe to her online preloved luxury store but the charge is too high for shipping. “I'd love to level up on my online orders but I can't pass the extra charge onto my customers. I don't want to make secondhand fashion inaccessible and with a recession on the way, people need access to affordable items. But I get that shopping is a luxury.”

She adds that sometimes the customer pays a certain amount for shipping but the business owner may still be on the hook for a few extra dollars out of pocket if Canada Post's initial calculation was off. "Over time, that adds up and I know other brands who just eat that cost. And that's with a small business account," she says.

The Canada Post shipping fine print states that "delivery standards are based on normal delivery conditions and are subject to change without notice." This means that delivery guarantees can be modified or suspended due to "acts of God, epidemics, labour disruptions, equipment failures or unanticipated surges in volume" and so even if you pay extra for the international shipping things can still go wrong. Many local business owners have said they were forced to refund customer orders because items were so delayed.