This article will explore how to ship certain items in the post, the relevant rules & what you can send, including sending foods, drinks & other perishable items.
As one of the UK’s leading brands in online mail management, we have years of experience dealing with the national and international delivery of parcels and goods. Using our service, we can help you to deliver and forward parcels containing a wide variety of different items. There are, however, many items that are either restricted or even prohibited entirely by the couriers that we work with within our service. This blog article will explore what these UK prohibited items are, the differences between them, and why they are restricted.
What is a Prohibited Good?
A Prohibited Good or item in terms of mail delivery is simply any item that is under no circumstances allowed to be delivered via mail. Different types of postal services worldwide, such as the Royal Mail and the US-based United Parcel Service (UPS), may have differing lists of goods that they prohibit. Prohibited goods can also be affected by the countries rules and regulations that you are trying to send mail in. For example, the UK may have a different set of rules concerning one particular good compared to the US.
What is the difference between a Prohibited Good and a Restricted Good?
Prohibited Goods and Restricted Goods have some similarities, and there may be some overlap between items in both categories; however, they are not two terms that can be used interchangeably. Unlike a prohibited item, restricted goods can sometimes be delivered, but only when specific regulations are adhered to. For example, in the UK, certain items such as types of firearms and guns are not explicitly prohibited, as with the proper licenses you are allowed to import them into the UK. Still, the movement of these goods is heavily restricted.
Why are some Items Prohibited?
The reason many items are restricted or prohibited by postal services and mail couriers is to adhere to all of the national and international regulations that govern mail. These laws are in place to ensure that the contents of post are safe for everyone handling the mail, whilst also preventing the trafficking of any illegal substances or products.
While these laws and regulations are in place to prevent the movement of certain goods, you are the one that is ultimately responsible for sticking to these rules. It is up to you to check whether or not the items you are looking to send are prohibited or restricted by the postal service you are using. As well as this, when shipping items internationally, many countries and organisations, such as the UK and the EU, will have their own restrictions. These restrictions are known as sanctions, and are used to show you what you can and cannot send to certain individuals, organisations or countries. For more information on the types of goods that have restrictions on them, you can read on for a comprehensive list of the types of goods you may expect to see prohibited or restricted.
The UK’s Common Prohibited & Restricted Items
When it comes to what you can safely ship under the UK’s laws and regulations, you will find that it is a mixture of products ranging from the obviously dangerous to commonplace items you might find in your home. For this reason, it can be easy to be caught out regarding what is acceptable for shipping and what isn’t.
The following lists of substances and materials includes any items that may be sent by some postal services and couriers with the appropriate restrictions. In all instances, the sender’s name and return address must be clearly visible on the outer packaging.
Aerosols for toiletry or medicinal purposes
This category of goods includes any aerosol products that are designed for either medicinal or toiletry use. Items such as the following would fall under this category:
- Deodorants and body sprays
- Hair Sprays
- Hair Removal & Shaving Creams
- Medicinal Aerosols for prevention and cure; such as flea sprays
These goods can sometimes be shipped so long as the correct packaging guidelines are adhered to. You should ensure that the valves of the aerosols are appropriately sealed to prevent the contents from releasing unexpectedly. Restrictions on the number of aerosol products are to be expected too, such as no more than two aerosol items per parcel and the maximum volume of the item (for the Royal Mail, aerosols must not contain more than 500ml of liquid).
Alcohol: 24% to 70% ABV (Alcohol by Volume)
This category encompasses alcoholic beverages containing these metrics of ABV (this should be displayed somewhere on the packaging). Includes drinks such as:
Beverages like this can be shipped, providing the correct guidelines are met for the service you are using. They should be wrapped in polythene, sealed with tape, and surrounded by an absorbent material for added protection. Maximum volumes and number of items per parcel must be met, and as with any fragile materials such as glass, the parcel should be marked clearly as “FRAGILE”.
Alcohol: Under 24% ABV (Alcohol by Volume)
This category, similar to the previous one, includes alcoholic beverages with less than 24% ABV. This includes drinks such as:
The same packaging guidelines must be met with these beverages as with the previous category, pertaining to maximum volumes and amounts, and making sure that the glass bottles are appropriately secured and marked as fragile.
Batteries (Alkaline, Nickel, Zinc)
This category covers the following types of batteries:
- New alkaline metal,
- Nickel metal hydride (NiMH)
- Nickel Cadmium (NiCd)
- Zinc Air
- Zinc Chloride
When being sent, these batteries must be brand new and sent unopened in the original retail packaging they came in, as well as surrounded with a cushioning material such as bubble wrap.
Batteries (New Wet, Non-Spillable)
This category covers the following types of batteries:
- Sealed Lead Acid Batteries
- Absorbed Glass Mat (ABM) Batteries
- Gel Cell Batteries
When packaging these types of batteries, there should be no more than one battery per parcel, with a maximum weight depending on the courier used. The batteries must also be properly insulated and protected from short-circuiting.
This category covers any biological substances that are used for diagnoses, including items such as:
- Animal Remains
The total mass and volume of these substances must adhere to the maximums enforced by your courier of choice. They must be packaged in compliance with the Packing Instruction 650 regulations.
Electronic Devices sent with Lithium Batteries
This category covers any of the following products, wherein the battery is not sent connected to the device. This includes items such as mobile phones and digital cameras. The devices the batteries come with must be packaged so as to prevent accidental activation.
The maximum number of lithium batteries allowed in each parcel is the minimum number required to power the device plus two spares while adhering to maximum size restrictions. The batteries must also not be defective or faulty in any way, insulated and protected from short-circuiting.
Electronic devices connected to Lithium Batteries
This category covers any of the following products, wherein the battery is sent connected to the device. Like the previous category discussed, this includes items such as mobile phones and digital cameras that must be packaged in a way that avoids the risk of accidental activation.
Each parcel must contain no more than four cells or two batteries installed in the device, and faulty or defective batteries are forbidden.
Environmentally Hazardous Substances
Samples of any environmentally hazardous substances must not exceed the maximum amounts of your courier of choice. For the Royal Mail, for example, this is 5 litres or 5 kgs. The substances must be packaged in a leak-proof container, protected by a cushioning material within a rigid outer packaging.
Guns For Sporting Use
Any guns for sporting use refer to guns that fall under Section 1 and Section 2 firearms. Examples of such firearms include the likes of air-powered weapons and their component parts. These weapons must be sent in compliance with UK law, as well as subject to any regulations regarding the possession of firearms.
Human or Animal Ashes
Ashes of humans and animals may or not be prohibited depending on the postal service you use. The Royal Mail is an example of a service that accepts these substances with restrictions applied. In this instance, they must not exceed a volume of 50g, and need to be securely packaged in sift-proof containers with strong external packaging.
Human or Animal Samples
As with ashes, these items may or not be prohibited depending on the chosen service and are also allowed with restrictions via the Royal Mail. These substances may only be sent by or at the request of qualified medical & dental practitioners or by other recognised laboratories and institutions.
Under the Royal Mails regulations, the total sample size must not exceed 1kg, and only solids may be sent. All samples must comply with Packing Instruction 650 regulations.
Liquids over 1 Litre
This category only covers liquids that are not classified as being dangerous goods. These substances must be securely packaged in leak-proof internal and external containers, with the appropriate maximum restrictions depending on your courier of choice. Any substances kept in glass bottles must be clearly marked as “FRAGILE”.
Liquids under 1 Litre
As with the previous category, only liquids that are not classified as being dangerous are covered here. These substances must be packaged in secure, leak-proof internal and external containers, with the appropriate maximum restrictions depending on your postal service of choice. All substances kept in glass bottles must be marked as “FRAGILE”.
Live Creatures, Insects and Invertebrates
Live creatures are another category that is dependent on the postal service you opt for, in terms of whether they will be prohibited entirely or a restricted good. With the Royal Mail, the live creatures included in this category can be found with this link.
The packages containing the creatures must be clearly marked with the following message, “URGENT - LIVING CREATURES - HANDLE WITH CARE”. They must be packaged securely in a way that protects the animals and the couriers from harm, with 1st Class used as the minimum service.
Nail Varnish, Polish or Gel
The packaging guidelines for these types of products may differ slightly depending on the service used, but for the Royal Mail, the volume per item must not exceed 30ml, and no more than four items must be packaged in any one parcel. Packages must be firmly cushioned to prevent any breakages and spillages.
Perfumes and Aftershaves
Similarly to the previous category, the regulations may differ depending on the service used, but for the Royal Mail, the volume per item must not exceed 150ml, and no more than four items must be packaged in any one parcel. Again, packages must be strongly cushioned to prevent any breakages and spillages, and they need to be sent in their original retail packaging.
Perishable items such as flowers and foodstuffs, frozen and chilled, are eligible for postage provided that the appropriate packaging regulations are adhered to. 1st class postage must be used as the minimum service, and the perishables should be able to withstand a journey of up to 48 hours in the UK. These products must be suitably sealed to prevent any leakages or the tainting of other items. These parcels must also be clearly labelled as “PERISHABLE” on the external packaging.
All of the materials, items and substances in the following section are commonly deemed to be prohibited under many postal services rules and regulations. However, there may be slight differences between these different services concerning what is and isn’t prohibited. As with the restricted goods, it is down to you to check whether what you are trying to send is allowed or not. With this in mind, unless expressly stated otherwise, all of the following items are entirely prohibited from being sent in the mail.
This category includes aerosols for any purpose other than a medical or toiletry one. This can include items such as spray paints and air fresheners.
Alcoholic Beverages (70% ABV)
UK postal services prohibit any alcoholic beverages containing more than 70% alcohol by volume.
All forms of ammunition for weapons and firearms are banned from being sent through the mail, with the exception of airgun and airsoft projectiles, such as lead pellets.
Used Batteries & Batteries classed as Dangerous Goods
Damaged or defective batteries of any type are considered a banned substance, making them a prohibited item. As well as this, the following batteries when having already been used are not permitted:
- Wet spillable lead acid/lead alkaline batteries (such as car batteries)
- Used alkaline metal, nickel-metal hydride batteries (NiMH)
- Used nickel-cadmium (NiCd), zinc-air batteries
- Solo lithium batteries
- Power banks
Unconnected Lithium Batteries
This category of item includes any batteries that are sent unconnected with any kind of electronic device, specifically lithium batteries. Power banks are also included in this category.
For more information on the shipping of Lithium Batteries, you can read our blog on Posting Lithium Batteries.
Clinical & Medical Waste
Clinical and medical waste products cover items such as contaminated dressings, bandages and needles.
Controlled Drugs & Narcotics
This category encompasses any controlled narcotics and drugs, covering a wide variety of different substances, including the likes of:
Postal services and couriers prohibit materials that are classified as corrosive substances. These substances can take the form of things like:
- Corrosive paints and dyes
- Rust removers
- Caustic Soda
- Gallium Metal
Environmental waste products prohibited from being sent as mail include the likes of used batteries and engine oils.
All forms of explosive products are prohibited by postal services, including the following items:
- Blasting Caps
- Party Poppers
All forms of flammable liquids are prohibited by postal services, encompassing a wide variety of different items such as:
- Petroleum products
- Lighter Fluid
- Certain types of Adhesive
- Solvent-based paints
- Wood Varnish
- Nail Varnish Removers
As with flammable liquids, any items that are classified as being flammable solids are banned from being sent through the post. This includes chemicals such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium, as well as products containing zinc powder and firelighters.
Gases as a product are not suitable for postage, including all gases from the flammable and non-flammable, to toxic and compressed gases. This covers products such as:
- New, used and empty gas cylinders
- Fire Extinguishers
- Scuba Tanks
- Soda Streams
- Life Jackets
- Culinary Foaming Devices
Rechargeable, battery-powered balance boards of all types are a form of prohibited good, including the likes of:
- Electric skateboards
- Self-balancing scooters
- Stand-up unicycles
Infectious Substances and Pathogens
Includes all infectious substances and pathogens classified in the latest editions of the Technical Instructions for Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air, published by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Lighters containing Flammable Liquid or Gas
Lighters containing flammable liquids or gases are a prohibited product, including used butane, petrol cigar and cigarette lighters.
As defined by the Royal Mail’s regulations, magnetised materials with a field strength of 0.418A/metre or more at a distance of 4.6 metres from the outside of the packaging are classified as a prohibited substance.
All forms of matches are prohibited from being sent via mail, including safety matches.
Oxidising Materials or Organic Peroxides
This category of prohibited item includes products such as disinfectants, nitrates and hair dyes or colourants that contain peroxide.
All forms of pesticide are classed as a prohibited item by most postal services, including any products used to kill pests and insects and items such as weed killers.
Couriers we Work with & Prohibited Goods
The two above lists are an amalgamation of every single type of product or good that may be restricted or prohibited for shipping. But there are many different postal services out there, that may have slight differences in their policies regarding what they can and cannot ship. You can see what these common postal services and couriers have in their respective lists with the below links.
With this article, we hope to have illustrated the breadth and scope of many of the postal services prohibited items lists. The items covered in this article are comprehensive, but it is always vital for you to check with the postal services or couriers that you use; to see whether any of the items you are looking to send are on their respective lists. For more information on the topic of moving goods nationally and internationally, you may find our page on electronic customs content data helpful.