Lauren has already written about UPS’s sleazy practice of slapping a “customs clearance” fee on ground shipments from the USA to Canada; people who are clued-in to this just don’t use UPS Ground any more. Well, as of last week, I’m not using UPS Express either; here’s why.

A couple of days ago I wrote about how after a certain amount of irritation, I found someone intelligent at Ricoh to talk with about my malfunctioning GX100; she faxed me a form to fill out and an address to send the camera and form to; a repair/logistics specialist that I guess Ricoh is outsourcing this too.

Since my regular office-services place is a “UPS Store”, the default shipping option was UPS, and the price seemed right, so I packaged the camera up and sent it off. A couple of days later, I tracked the package on the UPS website, and it said “Recipient has declined delivery, package will be returned to sender”. So I called up Ricoh and they called up the repair facility and got this:

It was refused because the package was marked ‘Prepaid’ by the shipper. When international packages are marked in this way, it is possible for us or Ricoh to be charged for the customs duties.

I called the UPS store and said “WTF?” They were puzzled too; “prepaid” just means that I’d paid the UPS charges. They called UPS HQ and ascertained that indeed no customs charges were applicable, which is what you’d expect when sending something for repair. I called Ricoh back with the news, and after a couple of more back-and-forths, she called me back to say they’d accept the delivery.

But she copied me on the email trail; here are a couple of excerpts:

Just an FYI—UPS always states there are no fees for duties/taxes and then send us a bill a month later. This is why we have started refusing any shipment coming in as Prepay Paid.


This has been an on-going issue with UPS and this is why we made this policy.

So, bear in mind: If you ship anything trans-border via UPS, it may get bounced, the cause being what really looks like generally sleazy UPS behavior.

I think I’ll just steer clear in future.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Derek K. Miller (Mar 15 2008, at 22:39)

I have refused to use UPS for any purpose for some time now.


From: Jake (Mar 16 2008, at 03:49)

UPS has been doing this for years. I remember in 2001, I shipped my computer from Oregon to Ontario and declared the package as unaccompanied goods at the airport.

UPS charged customs clearance and brokerage fees... I faxed the Customs form I got at the airport and they reduced the charges but wouldn't eliminate them, basically holding my computer for ransom.

I've used FedEx and DHL ever since.


From: Andrew Bray (Mar 16 2008, at 08:08)

I've had similar problems in the past before, and always stay away. I recently purchased a bicycle from Rivendell (, and they only use UPS. No big deal, they use the international expedited, where all customs clearance / brokerage fees are included.

I was away at the time on Vacation in Whistler, and while tracking online, I noticed that UPS has left the bicycle on my front porch - no signature. I frantically called my neighbour who was so kind as to pick up the bike and keep it for a few days. So issue number 1.

Well, the bike arrives with the rear wheel so untrue that it won't spin one rotation without stopping from brake rub. The box was damaged in various spots as well. Call up UPS, they say they can send somebody to come pick it up, they'll assess the damage, and then they'll reimburse the shipper, who will in turn reimburse me. All the while, I'm without a bike. This was an estimated two weeks + process. They wouldn't accept a video / picture damage and just pay the receipt from the local bike store (which would be less than 45 dollars for the labour). Nor would they send somebody over to assess the damage.

I trued the bike as best I could and took it down. Needless to say, I'll never ship UPS again.


From: Paul Hart (Mar 24 2008, at 11:48)

I work with someone whose previous job was in the brokerage division of UPS Canada. His take on this was "yeah, it sucks, but UPS just isn't engineered for individuals, and the profits on brokerage fees are huge".


From: David (Mar 26 2008, at 18:17)

The business I'm with does a huge amount of cross-border business.

We've found the best way is to broker it ourselves. We have a drop point on the US side of the border and we drive over, pick it up and drive it back.

The drop point charges us a holding fee (usually around $5) and then we pay our only duty. Even if you include gas and time, it's always less than brokerage.

Of course, we work 10 minutes from the border so this works great, but the point stands--if you search around, you can always find a better way.


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