Universal Postal Union (UPU) Tracking for Ecommerce Orders: Is It Reliable?

Verified & Reviewed

Written By

Written By

Subscribe for More

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) was established in 1874 after the Treaty of Bern was signed, and is one of the United Nations’ specialized agencies. It consists of four bodies: Congress, Council of Administration, Postal Operations Council, and the International Bureau.

It was established due to a high demand for an international mail postal system with lower rates and faster turn around times. Prior to its establishment, mailing letters and small packages internationally was expensive and difficult since every country had its own postal agreements. This led to issues such as the need to add multiple stamps to a letter for each country it passes through.

Today, the UPU’s sole purpose is to encourage global postal growth by coordinating policies amongst its 192 member countries. They set technical and security standards across postal operators for international delivery and bring unity to the process of sending letters and small packages across borders within the member states.

For many ecommerce businesses selling products in developing nations, you might come across UPU tracking. But is UPU tracking reliable? In this article, you’ll learn more about what UPU tracking entails.

What is Universal Postal Union tracking?

The UPU itself is a specialized agency of the United Nations, which is in charge of setting technical and security standards across postal operators for international delivery. In cooperation with shipping operators, the UPU established the International Postal System (IPS), a universal application to manage mail processes, which includes tracking of international parcels and mail. 

How does the UPU track a package?

With UPU tracking, once you ship a package, you will receive a 13-digit code that looks like this: XX000000000XX. The initial two letters refer to the type of package, while the final two letters are the country of origin’s code. 

Once the barcode is generated, it is scanned and all the courier’s information is inputted into the tracking system. This includes details such as the time the parcel left the agency, to be delivered, where the mail came from, and where it’s headed, etc. The item then reaches another branch of the agency, located near the buyer’s location, where the shipping barcode is scanned again. These new details are stored in the system, including the time at which the parcel was received. 

The item is once again scanned at the agency before being sent out for delivery. This information is stored in the tracking system, including the dispatch time. Finally, the tracking system updates the delivery status after the item reaches the buyer. Packages can be tracked online using the tracking code. The UPU continuously tracks the package and can provide your customers with tracking details through the online tracker here.

What are the issues with using UPU tracking?

Recently, the Trump administration threatened to withdraw from the UPU, unless a deal was made. In September 2019, the UPU and the Trump administration reached a deal and has agreed to let the US determine its own rates for small packages. You can get more insights on this topic here.

Though a deal was reached, some changes still impact businesses. Between the postage increases in January 2020 and ones that took effect in July 2020, postage rates for international small packages from the US to other countries have increased.

These continuous changes can impact UPU tracking and its reliability. Here’s an overview.

Higher tariffs from China

Because of the ongoing US-China economic trade war, higher tariffs are being imposed on imports from China to the U.S, and vice versa. Consequently, ecommerce businesses are having to spend lots more on international shippingIn 2020, USPS raised the fees it charges for incoming parcels. International shippers, including from China, now have to pay $2.87 per package and $3.95 per kilogram (2.2 pounds). This is a huge increase in shipping costs on small parcels from China to the United States

Unreliable tracking

The UPU’s tracking system can be unreliable since transit times would depend on individual agreements between the US and different countries, rather than through the UPU. Because of this, it can be a challenge to accurately track packages depending on what countries it must travel through to reach its destination. 

Higher terminal dues

The UPU meets every few years to renegotiate its treaty to ensure it is economically feasible for someone in a developing country to send international mail. To do this, the UPU charges lower terminal fees to economically disadvantaged nations. An agreement that took effect in 2018 raised terminal fees for certain countries with strong economies, such as China. However, the higher fees still don’t cover the full cost for the USPS to deliver packages to countries like China.

Using 3PL fulfillment for more reliable shipping

A third-party logistics (3PL) provider like ShipBob offers best-in-class fulfillment and logistics services for ecommerce brands. By outsourcing fulfillment to ShipBob, you can easily optimize your logistics operations while saving time and money in the long run.

ShipBob offers years of experience in order fulfillment, an industry-leading software that integrates seamlessly with ecommerce platforms and solutions, and a growing, international fulfillment network.

Having a large number of fulfillment centers, all strategically placed, makes it possible for ecommerce brands to expand their customer reach by storing inventory across multiple locations. Utilizing fulfillment centers that are closer in proximity to your customers reduces shipping costs and last-mile delivery times. For international orders, you can bulk ship inventory to our international locations and have orders fulfilled and shipped within the country, or ship to these countries from our US locations. You can accurately track the status of all customer orders from one single dashboard. 

“When I found out ShipBob was expanding into both Canada and Europe, I knew we wanted to expand our physical footprint with them. This would offer us the ability to reduce taxes and tariffs that come with international shipping.”

Nikolai Paloni, Co-Founder of Ombraz Sunglasses


By partnering with a global fulfillment provider, you’ll be able to spend less time navigating the complexities of international fulfillment while growing your business. ShipBob offers fulfillment locations across the world. ShipBob also partners with major shipping carriers to offer negotiated international shipping rates for our merchants.

To learn how ShipBob can help your ecommerce business grow, click below to talk to a fulfillment expert and to request pricing. 

Universal Postal Union tracking FAQs

Here are some answers to the most common questions about Universal Postal Union (UPU) tracking. 

What is the Universal Postal Union tracking system?

UPU tracking allows ecommerce owners to use online international tracking systems to track international registered parcels and mail. The UPU itself is a specialized agency of the United Nations. 

Is the UPU reliable for ecommerce?

The UPU’s tracking system can be unreliable since transit times would depend on individual agreements between the US and different countries, rather than through the UPU. Because of this, it can be a challenge to accurately track packages depending on what countries it must travel through to reach its destination. 

What the UPU alternatives?

An alternative to UPU by partnering with a 3PL like ShipBo. This way, you get access to negotiated shipping rates from major shipping carriers including USPS, UPS, DHL, and FedEx for domestic and international orders. You also have the option to split inventory across different countries, while tracking order status all from a single dashboard.

Order fulfillment services

You omnichannel fulfillment partner that's an extension of your brand, from unboxings to 2-day shipping.

Warehouse management

Have your own warehouse? Get ShipBob WMS to reduce mis-picks, save time, and improve productivity.

Global scalability

Grow into new geographies with ShipBob's international presence in the US, UK, EU, Canada, and Australia.

Written By:

Shannon Callarman is a Content Marketing Specialist at ShipBob. She researches and writes everything you need to know about the latest trends and best practices in ecommerce.

Read all posts written by Shannon Callarman