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Troubles with International Shipping

Shipping products far away can mean problems. But International orders have proven to be vastly more complicated and disappointing.

Far Away

The tiny, little Calamityware Team ends up spending an inordinate amount of time babysitting international orders. This effort brings us little joy and much misery. Could we be more vexed? That’s why we limit our sales to addresses in the United States and Canada.

Below, you'll see two ideas for working around this problem, but first, let's review some of the things that go wrong with international shipments.
Vanished. As our package crosses borders, packaging tracking fails and the shipment disappears. Gone. That poor package is never heard from again. Even though we did nothing wrong, we must ship a replacement product and pay the shipping a second time. Ouch.
Boomerang. The package is tracked successfully and the recipient may or may not receive notice that their local customs inspector is holding their parcel. The recipient fails to go to the customs office in time and the package is returned to us. If the package makes it back to us, we must pay someone to inspect it to make sure it can be returned to inventory. Meanwhile, we have to pay for the shipping on the second attempt. Ouch.
Busted. Because the parcel is traveling great distances and is touched by many careless primates, the contents arrive chipped, cracked, or broken. No one takes responsibility and the companies that employ the couriers all have frustrating and disobliging claims systems that can eat up hours of our time. In the end, it is nearly impossible to get a reimbursement for the damage. Ouch.
Taxing requirements. Many countries impose sales taxes or value-added taxes (VAT). Calculating the appropriate tax for each jurisdiction is complex and wildly inconsistent. We are expected to pay those taxes on various schedules to various offices with various submission requirements. And the requirements can change at any moment You can’t count on being notified. Babysitting tax requirements never ends. Ouch.
Bureaucratic red tape. Even if we could calculate and collect the correct tax, there are places where we aren’t permitted to submit the taxes directly. Instead, we must pay a certificated international tax accountant a retainer to pass the taxes through to the designated bureaucrats. Ouch.
Arcane codes. Many couriers will not even pick up a package until you provide documentation that relevant taxes and customs duties have been paid. That process usually calls for a six-digit Harmonization System Code and/or Schedule B designation. These codes quibble over distinctions between a cup and a mug or between a knitted textile versus a woven textile. Even if you can get the code right initially, the designations can evolve as new rulings are passed down. So, wrestling with codes and updates can become a permanent struggle. Ouch.
Slammer for Don. If the bureaucrats, tax collectors, or administrators ever decide we have failed to understand and follow some opaque requirement, Don could be arrested and locked in the Bastille. While that might give me more time for whimsical drawings and tasty French cooking, there are bound to be significant disadvantages too. Ouch.
Therefore, we stopped accepting international orders on July 1, 2021. Sorry. But this is necessary to protect Don’s tottering mental health.
What can you do? If you live outside the United States and Canada, one of these two approaches might suit you. 
1. Have your purchase shipped to a friend who lives in the U.S. and convince them to bring it to you on their next trip to your neighborhood. Or, order the product the next time you are here and lug it home with you.
2. Have your purchase shipped to an expeditor in the U.S. who will do all the paperwork and ship the product to you for a service fee. Borderlinx and are examples. 

I’m sorry for the inconvenience this causes my international friends. If we were a big business we could have our idle employees build an international shipping subsidiary. But, we’re a tiny team with better things to do. (Our whole staff can fit in one small booth at the diner.) And protecting our team’s mental health is a top priority. So, avoiding the irksome headaches of international shipments is a sensible and humane strategy.

If you have questions about this policy, please email us at Don't ask them in the blog comments. 

Don—Pittsburgh, June 25, 2021

20 Responses

Kem Mason

November 08, 2021

As an expat living in New Zealand, I just wanted to say I support your decision (although it makes me sad). I don’t have a ton of issues getting stuff here from the states, but I have enough that I can see how it’d be unprofitable to do it from your side, unless you were getting huge amounts of orders (and maybe not even then). It’s a great explanation of all the different kinds of issues. There is a 3rd option too, at least for those with other reasons to visit the states (family, e.g.) — have it shipped there, and visit :) — hopefully that’s an option again soon.

Zita M Cael

July 05, 2021

Yikes! This sounds like what my husband runs into when he tries to send aspirin to Cuba! One time a package of Blue Diamond roasted almonds were confiscated by Customs as “agricultural contraband: seeds” – good luck sprouting an orchard with those!
Maybe a fleet of Calamity blimps! Air drops of coffee mugs (well packaged), Tee shirts and bandanas to clamoring crowds below! Pop-up supply stores become pop-downs! A whole new kind of marketing bringing joy to the masses! I’d run into the middle of the street for that! Hmmm, I’d also by the movie once it came out on CD!

David Stone

July 05, 2021

I just learned how to send international packages (and the cost of doing so. Ouch!) as an adjunct responsibility at my job, and I quite concur. My employer uses a customs broker to take care of the bureaucratic details, and that adds significantly to the cost. You have my sympathy.

John Reynolds

July 03, 2021

I can attest to these kinds of convolutions. Last year I had a few bandannas and playing cards sent to my friends in England. They appreciated my gift, but had to pay customs duty to the Royal Mail, which took the shine away from my gesture. Obviously, this was no fault of Calamityware.

The business world is insulated from the human world by a number of cold, amoral, data-driven layers. If the more insulated corporations were to learn from Calamityware by explaining rules and decisions in specific, understandable, engaging language, they’d attract fewer complaints. You do a fine job here at converting information into value, Don (or whichever robot wrote this).

—John R.

Valerie Housden

July 03, 2021

Dear Don,
Thank you for taking the time to explain your decision. I’m disappointed, of course, but I totally get it. I’m glad I bought when I did, and I shall take good care of my Calamityware, knowing I can’t replace it any time soon.

Best wishes

Valerie Housden

John Behm

July 03, 2021

Dear Don and the Calamityware crew,
As a Yinzer myself, who has lived in Scotland for 45 years and raised a quartet of Yinzers of the Second Degree, I get it. My brother, up in Lawrence County, won’t even send me stuff for birthdays and Christmas anymore. He says it’s because the international postage costs more than the gift.

I guess I’ll have to be satisfied that, in the last month or two, I’ve bought for all my kids and grandkids, and myself, the Calamityware I most wanted us to have examples of.

I ought to let you know, everyone is delighted with their Calamityware. And with your decision on international shipping, just imagine the rarity value, as one of us in Edinburgh serves an off-world guest a draught of their preferred lubricant from a T.C.G.W. mug.

But still: denied our modest pleasures (there are a scarf, a T-shirt, and a bandana or two I’ll have to live without) how much worse can it get for us?


July 03, 2021

I had no idea things were so complicated for you guys. Totally get the decision. I imagine your Robot has probably worked out where the bulk of problems, and additional costs to you, occur and if they are happening in every country you post to… But, if not, could you survey international customers (like me!) and see which countries are less problematic? I’ve ordered a few times from Australia and while it usually takes longer than anticipated I always receive everything eventually and in excellent condition. Honestly I don’t see how anything could arrive broken given how well you package everything! But I respect your decision and will weep quietly in the corner. Thanks for all the awesome stuff!

Constantine Preston

July 03, 2021

So sorry for you guys! Will miss that beer stein I was going order… still [quoting Muddy Waters] “You cain’t spend what you ain’t got and you cain’t lose what you ain’t never had!” I still love getting your emails however. Our plates, the Xmas dangly thingies and my Non-Specific Hoodie send their warm regards.
All the best Team Calamity but if things improve and you start sending overseas again without telling me I will be miffed, fritzy, upset and sorely putout!
Cheers, Con

Liew from Singapore

July 03, 2021


Sad to hear of this, but fully understand.
I’m glad I placed (and received) my orders much earlier before this kicked in.

Hope that things will get better and we can order again, all the best.


July 03, 2021

On the plus side, so long as we don’t break our mugs, we’ve got our mitts on some collectibles now! I had lovely outcomes buying your goodies – granted, Sydney isn’t not Kazakhstan – but I completely understand your pain.

As someone once said, So long, and thanks for all the robots, Don!

Rosemary Race

July 03, 2021

Don l couldn’t get any of my kangaroo orders on your website to koala cling drat no double drat…l understand your calamity in not being able to fluke it. Although your course of action like a swift parrot l will relentlessly follow the flight. Consider yourself you aren’t extinct fossil fuel

Connie Weaver

July 03, 2021

Well, you learn something new everyday. I would make the same decision

Susan Loveland

July 02, 2021

Wow! That was a great explanation. I knew there were hoops to sending things internationally, but I had no idea there were so many. Yikes!

barbara tyger

July 02, 2021

i am a retired postal clerk. i would ask foreigners how is your mail. canada, new zealand, japan, uk, germany, scandanavia all seemed pretty happy. central, s america, former russian colonies, africa iffy. russia and nigeria especially corrupt. middle east countries all theocracies and forbid anything against religion or morals. i could only tell them i know nothing about jewish or moslems ideas on morals. they forbid it they take it. can she send a dental text to saudi arabia with a pic of a male dr tending a female? a lot of the iffy countries have customs forms basically serving as a shopping list for customs and mail people. bye bye tshirt. the express $1000 guitar to russia. tracked and delivered. customer said not. 6 months still no refund. the computer to nigeria express tracking ins. i kept asking the man but do you have the mon ey in your hand. scanned tracking number. 10 mins later he was back. the customer took the money back from account. i ran for the dispatch truck and got the pkg. once in country forget it. yeah the whole thing should be easier. and costs can be high for heavy weights like plates.


July 02, 2021

Fully understand and appreciate. And shipping from outside the States or Canada to here is completely unreliable. Thanks.


July 02, 2021

This was fascinating to read and it sounds like you made the right decision!

Kim mcclung

July 02, 2021

Thank you for taking the time to explain this so well. This whole situation calls for a new Calamityware pattern that illustrates the evil web of government bureaucrats across the planet and the destruction they cause!


July 02, 2021

Fair enough. You’ve tried to navigate treacherous waters and gotten sunk by baddies and incompetents. There’s no sense in wasting the team’s time and hazarding its sanity. Thanks for the detailed explanation.


July 02, 2021

Disappointing for many (including your team) but I can appreciate the decision. Hopefully at some point a better shipping method rises from the ashes. It’s 2021 – can’t shipping companies and bureaucracies do better and let us peasants have our meager pleasures?

Gaye Elder

July 02, 2021

Dear Y’all, as I am elderly I am “downsizing.” This means I must stop one of my favorite activites— buying beautiful and/or amusing things. Otherwise I would be an enthusiastic customer. I know, that and $6 will buy you a cup of mocha soy no whip at Starbucks. But I want to thank you for the delight your amusing emails bring me.

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