Saturday, 4 July 2009

Shipping books to New Zealand via M-Bags

The bulk of my possessions that I actually wanted to ship back to New Zealand were books. I had around 200kg of books, to a large extent from the C.C.P. North America damages bookshelves which employees can help themselves to. The original plan was to ship all of them in boxes by sea, but as tends to happen, I recalled the movie Fight Club and Tyler Durden saying along the lines of "the possessions that you own, come to own you." So I threw most of the books in the apartment complex dumpster and went with the cheapest easiest way of shipping for the rest. Someone suggested I should have ebayed the ones I didn't keep, but it seemed kind of unethical.

The cheapest way of shipping I found was to use M-Bags. Like most things in the U.S.A. where bureaucracy is involved, the U.S.P.S. doesn't give a simple description of how to ship this way. But the gist of it is that you go to the post office and they give you a number of bags that look like this:

The M-Bag that made it all the way down to N.Z.
Along with these sacks, they give you an address tag to fill out. You can see the one attached to this sack in the upper right of the photo above. And they also give you a customs sticker. You fill out the customs sticker declaring the value of the books, and describe them. I put "personal possessions (books)" as I was moving back to New Zealand and can ship possessions without Customs charging me for them.

I was a little worried about the condition the books would arrive in, so I wrapped them in shrinkwrap to protect against water damage, then wrapped them again in bubblewrap. I also held back on sending too many books this way because I was concerned about whether it was worth it, comparing the U.S. price of the books versus the cost of shipping this way. This proved to be a mistake as everything in New Zealand is very expensive.

Books shipped in M-Bags
It turns out I was right to be worried about the condition of the books in these sacks. Even at the post office in the states, I was concerned whether the velcro strap used to fasten the bag shut was anything more than a token effort. The first bag to arrive at the N.Z. address I sent them to, didn't. Several bubblewrapped bundles of books arrived.

Given the amount of money I spent to ship these books, I was a little bit worried by this. Several days later more bubblewrapped bundles arrived along with the second sack. Another worry was that some bundles might have gone missing, but an inventory showed that all the bundles from both sacks were present. It was just as well I put an address label on each bundle, with my name and address. Not sure why I did it, but if I hadn't I might have lost a whole sack of books.

There was a little damage to the hard-cover books, with bent corners, but other than that the only other damage was due to the missing sack. Somewhere along the lines, someone had combined book bundles for easier courier shipping with hard plastic tape, crushing a book or two.

Here's a page complaining about price increases in M-Bag shipping. It looks like it used to be a really cheap way of shipping books (which is pretty much all you're allowed to put in M-Bags).

I was just looking up prices here in N.Z. for two of the books (A and B) I shipped. The combined price of these two books easily covers the shipping cost of one of the sacks.


  1. THANK YOU so much for this information!! I am about to ship books to Australia via the airmail M Bags, and might not have taken the precautions you describe had I not read this! Better safe than sorry. Thanks!

  2. I have shipped quite a few books around the world by M-Bag. These are loaded by cargo cranes and dropped into the hold of the ship. How I do it is I package the books in a triple walled file box [available cheaply at Costco} All books are waterproofed and wrapped with tape over saran wrap and bubble wrap. Contents must be tight! The the file box is put into a hard cardboard banana box and snugly packed with wadded paper. Tape it securely. Address on each parcel and on the file box and on the banana box. You never know what will survive.
    Doing it this way they have made it safely every time for many years, although I haven't done it in recent years since they raised the prices. Only once was the banana box ripped open and never has the file box been broached to my knowledge. You will want to make adjustments for whatever materials available to you but I am sure you get the picture.
    Poor Man's Books

  3. I would like to send my daughter's books from the UK to her in New Zealand. Is the M-Bag method available here and still a good way of shipping heavy'ish consignment of books or can anyone recommend a good, cheap alternative? Cheers!