I offer two kinds of shipping: DHL and registered Hong Kong Post. Both of them have proven to be very reliable.
Hackvana PCBs are produced in and around the city of Shenzhen China, which is right on the border with Hong Kong.
When boards are shipped by DHL, they're picked up from the dispatch office by a DHL staffer who takes them and punts them into DHL's system. No surprises there. The next step for anything sent by DHL in Shenzhen that's bound for outside of China is that the packages make their way to Hong Kong. This involves clearing customs in China and Hong Kong. From when the package leaves the office to when they're safely tucked away on a plane out of Hong Kong takes about a day.
When boards are shipped by HK Post, they are collected from the dispatch office by a private contractor. This contractor takes the sacks of packages from the office in Shenzhen across the border into Hong Kong. Once they're in Hong Kong, the packages are handed over to Hong Kong Post for the rest of their journey.
Side note: Last year (2013) there was a time where I was forced to use China Post. Packages sent by China Post get bagged and sent to the city of Xiamen a few hours up the Chinese coast. Delivery took four weeks in many cases, and many packages got lost. I'll never use China Post again. If your supplier in China suggests China Post, run away.
When your boards ship, I'll send you a tracking number (for DHL) or a registration number (for HK Post). What's the difference between these two kinds of number?
DHL's tracking number lets you see what's happening with your package in real time. You can visit DHL, enter the number, and find out where it is. You can even ring DHL and give them alternative delivery instructions.
The status of packages sent by HK Post is not live, and the information is not updated in real time. In fact, there's no guarantee you'll be able to find out anything about your package. However information about where your package has been does come through and you can visit 17track.net and get some information. The first scan can take several days to turn up.
My experience with Hong Kong Post is that it is super-reliable. There have been a small number of problems, but these have been either a problem at the customer's end (twice, a customer's partner has received the package and then stashed it somewhere the customer didn't know), or a problem with the local mail delivery service in the customer's country. There was also a time last year when all HK Post packages were suspended because of an issue with Lithium ion batteries. That's what forced me to go to China Post).
You might ask "so if Hong Kong Post is so reliable, why pay the extra USD3 to send it registered?"
There are three reasons. The first is to confirm that I sent your package to you. HK Post has been so reliable that I'm certain your package will get there. However if it hasn't turned up, you might be concerned that it was never sent in the first place. Registration lets you and me verify that it was sent.
Second, registration lets me confirm that delivery was attempted. if your package didn't turn up, you're going to be writing me an angry letter asking me to remake your boards. And being able to see that delivery was attempted steers us clear of it being my word against yours that it was sent. If you want me to consider replacing your boards, better send it registered. I certainly won't replace them if it wasn't sent registered.
The third (and most important) reason is that when a postal worker sees the registration sticker, well, they won't throw your package into the bin, or over a hedge, because they know that if they do, I'll be able to track them down. So sending it registered is a bit like a magic spell which keeps your package safe from postal workers!
So, what are some other good things to know?
Well, with DHL I have to declare the true value of the package, so if the customs service in your country charges steep duty on everything (for example, Britain charges 20%), then paying this on entry is going to be a bit annoying. Packages sent through HK Post by our shipping partner (goodluckbuy.com) are declared to have a value of USD10, and usually no duty is paid on them (Germany is an exception).
HK Post is generally faster than people think. The average delivery times to England, France and Germany is about 7-8 days. The average time to Australia and the USA is about two weeks. Some European countries can be 3 weeks or longer. It really depends on the efficiency of the postal service in the country the package is going to.
HK Post has a weight limit per-package of about 2-3kg. If your PCBs weigh more than this, your PCBs may be split up into separate packages. With DHL there's effectively no weight limit and your items can be sent in one package. I have sent packages of boards and parts weighing nearly 40kg, and I know DHL are happy to move objects weighing more than a tonne. You'll pay for it though.
HK Post can deliver to a PO Box, whereas DHL won't. With DHL you have to give the address of somewhere that can accept a package for you during business hours.
DHL costs more than HK Post, but if you want to get your boards quicker, it's the way to go. I offer "combo shipping" to help with the shipping price. If you and your friends want to order at the same them, then I'm happy to ship them together. Each person gets their own Hackvana paperwork and organises their own payment with me. At delivery time, all the boards are put into the same bag. This means that shipping for each person will be lower. This is a good way to go if you're part of a club and can organise to get boards made at the same time.