Can I Ship That? A guide to what can – and can’t – be shipped

Posted by Marty Boyer on

A guide to what can – and can’t – be shipped through the big three delivery services 


Your guide to shipping for business

  • The United States Postal Service (USPS), United Parcel Service (UPS) and Federal Express (FedEx) have many similarities but some key differences in what businesses can ship using their services
  • Some items that are eligible for ground shipping may not be eligible for air shipping (and vice-versa)
  • Following guidelines ahead of time can prevent wasting time, energy and most importantly, money when it comes to shipping
  • 3D Corrugated regularly works with businesses throughout Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky to address shipping concerns
  • You are ultimately responsible for shipping items safely. There may be variances in shipping internationally where harmonization codes, duties and other things may apply. Always contact your respective carrier directly with questions before shipping any item.

If you visited your local post office recently to ship a package, you may recall being asked about its contents before being able to proceed with the rest of your transaction – and for good reason. That’s because the United States Postal Services (USPS) has a full slate of guidelines regarding what you can and cannot ship using their service, as do both UPS and FedEx … And there’s some variance between domestic and international items, too. A lot of the items should likely equate to common sense, but there are some variances between each of the “Big 3” companies worth noting, especially depending on your business needs and services.

As the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region’s premier supplier for corrugated boxes and shipping supplies, we at 3D Corrugated know firsthand just how time-consuming preparing packages for shipment can be. Thus, the last thing you need is the added trouble of finding out you can’t ship what you need or that it has to be repackaged in order to meet the criteria of the shipping service you are using.

One general rule of thumb is that the dangerous/inflammable/explosive the item, the more likely it is to need to be shipped via ground services as to avoid any potential for an explosion while traveling aboard a plane. While USPS, UPS and FedEx each offer ground and air services, the differences between them are important to recognize before attempting to ship a package.

To help, we’ve put together a guide to help you better understand the important ‘need to knows’ when it comes to shipping boxes with each of the “Big 3.”



As an agency of the government, USPS has plenty of things it does not allow you to ship domestically, let alone internationally and others it will … With some restrictions. While some of the items might seem like common sense, others might be a little surprising.

Items prohibited from shipping domestically through USPS are:

  • Vehicle air bags
  • Ammunition
  • Explosives
  • Gasoline
  • Marijuana (including medical)

Categories or items that fall into restricted territory domestically through USPS are:

  • Aerosols and alcoholic beverages
  • Cigarettes, cigars and tobacco
  • Cremated remains
  • Dry Ice
  • Firearms
  • Fragile items
  • Glue and hand sanitizer
  • Lithium batteries
  • Live animals
  • Matches
  • Medicines and prescription drugs
  • Nail polish
  • Paint, perfumes, perishable items and poisons

The good news is restricted domestic shipping items can still be sent through USPS. The trick, however, comes in making sure you have met the guidelines for each item that will allow you to do so.

For example, hand sanitizer (and wipes) must be shipped using USPS Retail Ground, Parcel Select or Parcel Select Lightweight services, all of which are only available through a local Post Office branch. Likewise, since they contain materials that are flammable in nature, they are limited to surface transportation in domestic mail and cannot be sent internationally at all through USPS.

Other items have unique restrictions. For example, some perishable items can be sent through USPS, but they (1) Are sent at your own risk and (2) Must be specially packaged and mailed before they begin to deteriorate. Additionally, some poisons may be sent by air and ground transport with others only by ground. Ordinary fragile items that are breakable do not need special handling if they are packed with proper cushioning (see our void fill blog for more) and marked “FRAGILE.”



Whereas USPS has a smaller list of explicitly prohibited items, UPS is expanded and very specific. Prohibited from shipping through UPS are:

  • Ammunition (except as expressly provided in UPS’ Tariff/Terms of Conditions of Service – United States guidelines)
  • Bank bills, notes or currency (besides coins)
  • Corpses, cremated or disinterred remains
  • Fireworks
  • Hazardous waste
  • Ivory
  • Marijuana (including for medical use)
  • Postage stamps
  • Shark fins
  • Any other shipments prohibited by law
  • Watches exceeding $500 in USD value

In addition, UPS’ has a series of other regulations and restrictions listed on its web site worth reviewing depending on what exactly it is you’re looking to ship, including “shipments with inherent vice.” Internationally, goods moving under ATA Carnet, FCR, FCT and Cash Against Document (ACD) are prohibited, too. 

So why, then, do so many companies seemingly use UPS for shipping? That’s because there are items that are prohibited that will be accepted on a contractual basis for shippers with regular volume and the ability to comply with all applicable regulations. That list of items includes:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Animal products, non-domesticated like mother of pearl inlays
  • Articles of high value
  • Biological substances
  • Dangerous goods
  • Electronic cigarettes
  • Firearms and weapons (including inert and replica explosive weapons)
  • Furs
  • Gold or other precious metals
  • Live animals
  • Perishables
  • Personal effects
  • Plants and seeds
  • Tobacco

While UPS does not spell it out as explicitly as its competitors, the company offers different speed and service levels for shipping items. Whereas UPS Ground is used to ship among all 50 states plus Puerto Rico, UPS Standard is for North America only (Canada, the 48 contiguous states and Mexico). The company also offers plenty of options whether you are shipping a package inside, outside or into the U.S., the details of which you can find here.

UPS will not, however, deliver to a USPS P.O. Box, which can result in delays, will not be covered by the UPS Service Guarantee and will require an address correction change, most likely to be picked up at approved pickup location.



FedEx does allow alcohol can be shipped domestically and internationally when both the shipper and recipient are licensed to import/export it. All types of tobacco products, however, are prohibited, as are explosives and poisonous gas. Hazardous materials must be shipped via FedEx Ground shipping, can domestically be shipped within the contiguous U.S. (and in some cases, Canada) and meet their strict criteria for shipping as well as weight and volume limits.

Dangerous goods must be shipped via FedEx Ground. Examples of dangerous goods include:

  • Aerosol sprays, airbags and ammunition
  • Butane and batteries
  • Car batteries and cologne
  • Dry ice, fireworks, gasoline, jet fuel, lighters, lithium batteries and matches
  • Nail polish and nail polish remover, nitrogen-refrigerated liquid, paint and perfume
  • Solvents and certain chemicals

Speed-wise, FedEx offers Home, Ground and Express delivery services. FedEx Home Delivery claims to be faster to more residential locations than UPS Ground and deliver to more residential locations than UPS Ground on weekends since they deliver every day of the week. FedEx Ground is used exclusively for businesses.

The company also offers FedEx Evening Home Delivery (between 5 and 8 p.m.) and Appointment Home Delivery (delivery during a chosen 2-hour window), which can be useful to recipients with time constraints and/or needing to sign for a package. Like UPS, however, FedEx does not deliver to P.O. Box. It can be held for pickup at local FedEx locations. A detaild list of FedEx shipping regulations can be found here. 

Like UPS, FedEx tasks customers with identifying, classifying, packaging, marking, labeling and completing documentation for dangerous goods in accordance with government regulations. They will not accept hazardous material packages prepared under the International Air Transport/International Civil Aviation Organization (IATA/ICAO) regulations. All packages offered and prepared under a Dept. of Transportation Special Permit (DOT-SP) must provide a copy of said paperwork to the FedEx station of origin. This is why the company has a dedicated dangerous goods hotline at (800) 463-3339 to assist customers with its various restrictions.



Reviewing the various restrictions noted above, the overarching solution to the question of “Can I ship that?” is simple: It’s better to be safe than sorry by checking in advance to see if your item fits your preferred shipper’s guidelines. 

We at 3D Corrugated pride ourselves on finding solutions for all the businesses we serve throughout the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area and beyond. Learn more about how we can help you meet your packaging and box needs today by emailing or give us a call at (513) 241-8126.


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