"M" is for M-Bag (International Shipping)
By Renee Magriel Roberts
Probably the least known and most cost-effective international shipping service is the United States Post Office's "M-Bag" service. An "M-Bag" is defined as a "direct sack of printed matter to one addressee". Your packed books, in one or more boxes, are literally enclosed in a special postal mailbag, a tag is affixed to the outside of the bag, and it is delivered to your customer. In addition to books, M-bags can also be used for a variety of printed matter, including newspapers, magazines, journals, books, sheet music, catalogues, directories, commercial advertising, and promotional matter (You cannot enclose handwritten or typed materials.)
Born in the post-World War II era to move huge amounts of books and other materials to Europe, M-bags are now cost-effective vehicles for shipping to countries all over the world. We frequently use M-bag service which costs, for example, $9.90 to the United Kingdom or $11.00 to Hong Kong for up to 11 lbs. There is no minimum weight for M-bags, but for weights up to 4 lbs. regular surface mail, or Global Priority flat-rate envelopes can be more cost-effective, or even faster. Larger quantities up to 64 lbs. are also value-priced.
M-bags can be shipped either via surface mail or via air mail, and must be accompanied with a completed customs form PS 2976 and an M-bag tag, PS Tag 158. The customs slip and the return address/customer address go on the package. The M-bag tag also has a return address/customer address, and on the reverse of the tag the postage is adhered. NB: The postage does NOT go on the package but on the tag.
Weigh your parcel and then round up to the nearest pound to compute postage. For example, if your parcel weighs 11.2 lbs, you will be paying the 12-lb. rate. The total that the M-bag can weigh is 66 lbs. (including the tare weight of the sack), so figure 64 lbs., maximum, for your parcel or group of parcels addressed to the same person, per sack. There are no defined size limits for the size of the box, as long as it fits inside the sack. If you are using an extra-large box, it would be wise to check it out at your local post office first before filling it. We have shipped all the common sizes of post office boxes, including 13"x13"x13" boxes, and they fit fine. The sack is quite large.
It is your responsibility to attach and label everything correctly. The M-bag tag, PS Tag 158, is filled in by the bookseller, but attached to the sack by the post office. If you are sending more than one M-bag at a time, it is critical to make sure that the right tag goes with the right package. Don't hand in the tag loose - lightly tape each tag to the package it belongs to before passing it over. (Just try and get back packages which the post office has sent to the wrong customer in places like China and South Africa.)