USPS gripe

Just before we left Seattle, on August 29 to be exact, we shipped two boxes to ourselves care of the US Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission in Colombo by USPS Priority Mail. I had researched the available air freight carriers and found shipping packages from the US to Sri Lanka to be very expensive all around. However, USPS was a bit cheaper. Now I may have discovered why.

Now that we are in Singapore, I decided to begin the process of getting down to business and one item on my to do list was to check that all the packages we sent from the US had arrived in Colombo. The USSL Fulbright Commission reported that the package sent by diplomatic pouch had arrived. This was a bit of a surprise as the Department of State did not guarantee delivery in less than 60 days. But, there is some uncertainty about the packages sent by USPS. This is also ironic, given that the delivery time for USPS Priority Mail to Sri Lanka is supposed to be 6-10 days, if I recall correctly, meaning that they should have been delivered a long time ago.

No problem, right? Just like all the other carriers, USPS has a web-based package tracking system. I go to the USPS website and type in the tracking numbers. Both packages are shown to have been accepted on August 29th. Oddly, despite being mailed at exactly the same time, and from the same post office, one package left the US from San Francisco on September 1 while the other left the US from New Jersey, but not until September 17. And that is the last information available online for either package. So now I am left to wonder: does this indicate that the packages were never received in Sri Lanka or is this just a limitation in the USPS computer tracking system?

No problem, right? Just like all the other carriers, on the website is an 800 number to call. OK, this is a little problem since I am overseas and I am pretty sure that I can’t just call 800 numbers from abroad. Fortunately, there is Connie. Nominally the physics department’s administrative assistant, everyone knows that Connie actually runs the department. She has been of enormous help to me, especially with communications. So I emailed Connie the tracking numbers and asked her to call the 800 number to see what she could learn about the fate of our packages.

Not so fast, says USPS to Connie. In order to check on the packages, they need the following information:

Date mailed
Value of item
Shipping cost
Both addresses
What was in the packages

This, of course, makes no sense at all. First, to supply this information, I simply copied it from the receipt I received when we mailed the packages meaning USPS has the original! Second, I can not imagine a system in which package tracking information is indexed by anything in the list of information requested, except perhaps the date mailed. Finally, what the $*&&* is the purpose of a tracking number if it is not to be the one key used to track packages?

A very frustrating experience.




  1. Tim said,

    November 10, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    To give the end of this story, we did receive the boxes. Apparent the delay was in Sri Lankan customs. Both boxes had been slit open with box cutters, doing damage to a courier bag, and the contents thoroughly searched. Then the contents were none too neatly stuffed back in the boxes and sting was used to close them back up. Both boxes also appeared to have been kicked and crushed in transit and the cardboard was close to simply failing altogether. Amazingly, given the condition the boxes were in, it seems everything made it OK (though we did not have a detailed inventory to compare with).

    Next time, FedEx.

  2. Jamie said,

    December 17, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Is it still happening in Sri Lanka, because i have a parcel to be delivered through USPS. Now i’m concerned, Will it take that long to deliver?? :S

  3. Buddhika Thambugala said,

    April 30, 2011 at 10:32 am

    nice bit of information Tim. I live in Sri Lanka, and have somewhat similar experiences with USPS and Colombo customs. I’ve ordered several items both over the phone and online, which were to be delivered through USPS. I dunno how many days it’s SUPPOSED TO TAKE, but earliest I received them was in 45 days (latest being well over 60 days with or without state department’s promises). And almost all of them were light packages, and less than 20 ounces. Although they weren’t apperantly opened or searched inside otherwise, I’m pretty certain about the delay being at Sri Lankan customs. And lately, the covers seem have been punctured with somekinda very sharp pin and sometimes custom’s declaration or other writings simply torn or scribbled on. First i had the impression that the cover was pricked with some hi-tech sharp ditector to search inside the package. Later on I was begining to think, mayb it’s a delusion on my part, but apperantly not. Your story simply confirms the horrors our packages undergo along the path..

  4. Sumaga said,

    January 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    I purchased two items separately on e-bay and the seller confirmed that the items were shipped without delay. It has been TWO MONTHS and 4 days, but i still haven’t received them in Sri Lanka.

  5. francis said,

    January 12, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    I am so glad to find this site. I just sent a laptop to my sister on the 13th of Dec. 2013. The package was delayed by customs. I totally understand that. But on Jan. 3rd 2014, she received the package without any damage to the box or the laptop. The service was great. But I sent a package to the same address three months ago that was lost. But I got my insurance money back. I think the USPS service to Sri Lanka is very reasonable and we have to trust their advise to purchase the insurance it is not too expensive.

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