Surface mail, also known as sea mail, is mail that is transported by land and sea (along the surface of the earth), rather than by air, as in airmail. Surface mail is significantly less expensive but slower than airmail, and thus is preferred for large or heavy, non-urgent items and is primarily used for sending packages, not letters.
The term "surface mail" arose as a retronym (retrospective term), following the development of airmail – a term was needed to describe traditional mail, for which purpose "surface mail" was coined. A more recent example of the same process is the term snail mail (to refer to physical mail, be it transported by surface or air), following the development of email.
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In 2007, the US Postal Service discontinued its outbound international surface mail ("sea mail") service, mainly because of increased costs. Returned undeliverable surface parcels had become an expensive problem for the USPS. The discontinuation has been criticized by independent booksellers, by other small businesses which ship internationally, by the Peace Corps, and by military personnel. Domestic surface mail (now "Retail Ground" or "Commercial Parcel Select") remains available.
Alternatives to international surface mail include:
- International Surface Air Lift. This service is available to commercial senders only. The service includes neither tracking nor insurance; but it may be possible to purchase shipping insurance from a third-party company.
- USPS Commercial ePacket. This service is available to commercial senders only. The service is trackable.
- Ordinary first-class international airmail.
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- Cognitive English grammar, by Günter Radden, René Dirven, p. 4
- "USPS International Mail - Frequently Asked Questions". Archived from the original on September 29, 2007.
- DWTripp. "USPS mail changes - international surface mail going away". BoardGameGeek "Chit Chat" forum. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
Internal newsletters detailed a huge loss for the USPS in the failed delivery of packages sent from the USA via surface. Since the USPS cannot dictate how scores of different countries handle surface mail, and since it's agreements required the USPS to take back undeliverable parcels, the losses were mounting.
- "Why nobody offers USPS International Surface Air Lift for international shipment?". BoardGameGeek "General Gaming" forum. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
The reason, probably, why no other dealers offer it: ... it is very difficult and time-consuming to do. Plus, there is no tracking, no insurance, and lots of complaints — as those packages can easily take 60 days to arrive.