I moved from USA to UK over 10 years ago, but I still have a large number of books left at my mom's house in the USA. My mom is planning to move from Massachusetts to California next year and is asking me to try to get the books off her before then. There's no way I can just carry them with me if I fly from UK to USA and back. Post office wants an exorbitant amount of money to ship even a small package there. Ditto with UPS/FedEx/DHL.

What's the best way (and cheapest hopefully) to get these books over the pond? If packed together, there'll be a box about 100 x 100 x 100 cm and weighing over 60 kg.

I don't care how long it takes as long as they get here. Some of the books are quite rare (and old), so I want to have some sort of insurance as well.

  • Send them to one of those digitizing services that destroy the physical book (they cut the back to process it through an ADF system) and keep the files. I am only half-joking, I have many books I wouldn't mind physically destroying even though I'd like to keep the contents, maybe you can do this at least for some of yours.
    – rumtscho
    Jun 6, 2014 at 12:04
  • 3
    @rumtscho Majority of my books are not in English and majority of books are more than 40 years old and carry a lot of sentimental value, therefore, no, I would never destroy the physical books.
    – Aleks G
    Jun 6, 2014 at 13:26

3 Answers 3


What you want is an "M-Bag", aka the rather less sexy Direct Sacks of Printed Matter to One Addressee, International Surface Air Lift. Nobody knows what the "M" stands for, and while the usual best guess is "Media", I personally prefer "Mystery".

Basically, you can stuff a bag -- yes, an actual Santa-style canvas sack -- with up to 66 pounds of any kind of printed matter, including books, and drop it off at your post office, and it'll get shipped to your destination slowly but at a ridiculously cheap rate.

The USPS site is such a mess that I can't find a price for the life of me, but as a guide, the other way around from UK to US is £2.3/kg, vs. on the order of £8/kg for the cheapest sort of ordinary mail.

Last but not least, these aren't just a US/UK thing but are available worldwide: I've used them to ship books from Japan to Finland, and from Singapore to Egypt!

  • 4
    I did that from Singapore to Switzerland and it worked very well. I still had to package the documents inside the bag into individually labeled parcels. The books and documents then arrived 3 months later via the normal postal service (and without the bag).
    – drat
    Jun 6, 2014 at 13:08
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    The price for an ISAL M-bag to the UK is $2.12 per pound, making the total $279.84 for 132 pounds (60 kg). Jun 6, 2014 at 23:09
  • @MichaelHampton ISAL M-Bags are for commercial use only, but USPS M-Bags are very similar and available at any US post office. I did the same thing as OP (transporting books from the US to the UK) using an M-Bag. It cost about $100, far less than any other equivalent shipment of the same weight would have been. Jan 17, 2016 at 17:00

For the USPS:

Priority Mail International from the US to the UK would be between $201.20 and $231.55 for a 66 pound (30 kg) package, the maximum weight that can be shipped, with two of them required to ship 60 kg. The price you pay depends on how you purchase the postage. It's highest at the post office (the Retail rate), lower online (the Commercial Base rate), and lowest if you have a contract giving you Commercial Plus pricing.

First Class Package International service is generally lower priced, but is limited to 64 ounces (1.8 kg). Many individual books weigh more than this, making this generally impractical.

Great Britain restricts M-bags to 20 kg each. The current price for an ISAL M-bag is $2.12 per pound, making the total $279.84, and the 60 kg would have to be split across three bags.

UPS and FedEx probably aren't worth looking into. When I did time and cost for a 60 kg package from the US to the UK, I got quotes of more than $800 from each of them for their lowest-priced services.

It appears that the ISAL M-bag is indeed the cheapest option. Though this may take several weeks to arrive. If you want them to arrive sooner, Priority Mail international, at a bit over $400 and about a week to arrive, may also be an alternative.

Since you also said you wanted insurance, you should be aware that insurance is not available for the M-bag. It is available for Priority Mail International, at a rate of $10.50 for up to $700 cover, plus $1.15 for an additional $100 cover, up to a maximum $5000 (per package) cover.

If I were you I would ship the less important books via ISAL M-bag, and the more important ones that you want to insure via Priority Mail International with appropriate insurance.

All prices were quoted from USPS Notice 123 effective April 7, 2014, and may have changed by the time you read this.


Be sure to state on the customs form that the books are your property and that they have been in the family for a long time, ie: not recent purchases.

2 years ago I shipped a painting back to the UK from the USA using the Post Office, and it was held in customs in the UK while I disputed their request to pay a large sum of VAT on it.

Contacting the correct department was incredibly difficult, and by the time I managed to get through to them the painting had already been sent to the bonded warehouse ready to be returned to "sender"!

I had originally shipped the painting to the USA in 1997 when my Mom passed away, and had missed it when I returned to the UK 5 years ago, my ex-wife only found it when she moved house 2 years ago.

So DO make sure that you include proof of ownership when you ship to avoid any hiccups.

Good Luck.

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