What you need to know about shipping restricted items with USPS

photo illustration of USPS package on front porch

While the United States Postal Service offers a lot of flexibility in mailing and shipping services and features, there are some rules in place for what can’t be shipped, and strict guidelines in place for the hazardous and perishable items that can be shipped. If you’re a new e-commerce business owner, you’ll want to do your homework in order to thoroughly understand what you can and can’t ship via USPS. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know and where to find current information.

Publication 52

If you ever have a question about what you can and can’t ship, there’s a good chance Publication 52, Hazardous, Restricted and Perishable Mail can help provide information and guidance. Publication 52 details the standards for nonmailable articles and substances, as well as the specific conditions under which some of these items can be mailed to both domestic and international destinations.

Prohibited versus restricted

Wondering what potentially undesirable, harmful or dangerous matter is prohibited? Here are just a couple examples of items that you cannot ship using USPS:

Prohibited domestic items

  • Air bags
  • Ammunition
  • Explosives
  • Gasoline

Prohibited international items

  • Aerosols
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Cigarettes
  • Dry ice
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables

It’s worth noting that anything prohibited from domestic shipping is also prohibited from being internationally. However, some items restricted for international shipping can be shipped within the U.S.

Here are a few examples of restricted items that can be shipped but do require special treatment:

Restricted domestic items

  • Dry ice
  • Live animals
  • Lithium batteries

Restricted international items

  • Cigars
  • Medical devices
  • Medicine or drugs

Each country has its own restrictions, and the International Restrictions by Country list is a great resource for any e-commerce business interested in shipping to customers outside of the U.S.

Mail class restrictions

So, what if the item you want to ship is on the restricted list? Just because it isn’t prohibited doesn’t mean you can use any USPS mail class to send it. Take hoverboards, for example. These motorized balance boards can only be accepted for shipping via Standard Post/Parcel Select that travels on Ground transportation to domestic locations. No international shipping, no air shipping. USPS made this announcement late last year following multiple reports of hoverboards catching fire due to their large lithium-ion batteries.

Packaging and labeling considerations

It’s not enough to know what mail classes are good for your restricted items. USPS also has strict packaging guidelines for mailable hazardous materials and other restricted materials covering everything from the item’s primary receptacle to outer packaging, cushioning material, marking and documentation. Want to ship magnetized materials? If strong enough, magnetized materials can cause erroneous aircraft magnetic compass readings, so magnets and magnetic devises need to be packaged in strong outer containers, with the polarities of each unit positioned to oppose one another. These shipments also require a magnetized materials warning label, and, if traveling by air, a shipper’s declaration for dangerous goods must be properly prepared and affixed to the outside of the mailpiece.

How to keep up on changes

USPS announces updates to policies, forms and procedures in the bi-weekly Postal Bulletin. For example, a recent edition lists revisions to Publication 52, including the following addition to the regulations for shipping firearms using USPS: “All regulated firearms must be mailed using a USPS product or Extra Service that provides tracking and signature capture at delivery.” Anyone reading the Postal Bulletin would have also noted a change to the requirements for mailing rifles and shotguns. These items must include “Signature Confirmation service or insured mail service (for more than $500) requiring a signature at delivery”—the previous insured mail service amount was $200.

USPS makes every effort to keep its customers informed about prohibited and restricted matter, but in the end, it’s your responsibility to comply with USPS rules and regulations and to know how to properly and safely ship restricted materials.

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