A Guide To Shipping Barrels (what they are and where to buy them)

(post updated July 2022)

Sending barrels to Jamaica is a long-standing tradition that started when persons who were working overseas would send back barrels to loved ones in Jamaica filled with groceries and clothing. If you are thinking about shipping a barrel to Jamaica, whether for you or a loved one, the first thing you need to do is get your hands on a barrel to pack everything into.

This post will give you a Guide to Barrels and Drums, and the shipping basics. So you know what barrels and drums are all about, prior to getting into the nitty-gritty of learning how to ship a barrel for Jamaica and traversing through customs.

6 Benefits of Using A Shipping Barrel

  1. The large barrels hold about 205 liters / 55 Gallons (some hold more), with a mouth of up-to 23cm making it easy to load bulky, heavy or fragile items
  2. You can send grocery items to cut down on weekly shopping bills in Jamaica, such as, detergent for clothes, washing up liquid, bleach and other cleaning materials. Tinned foodstuffs, rice, oil, foil, teabags, coffee, breakfast cereal, snacks, and so on
  3. You can pack some home comforts alongside gifts for friends and relatives, without compromising on your luggage allowance on the flight
  4. Some items such as fixtures and fittings, housewares, soft furnishings and kitchenware are very expensive or hard to get in Jamaica compared to the deals and choice you get overseas
  5. You are able to send down specific and much-needed items for loved ones and dependents in Jamaica when you are living overseas
  6. The total cost of shipping a barrel, compared to the amount/weight of goods shipped is very economical when compared to sending by air mail, or a courier service

Where Can I Buy a Shipping Barrel?

Barrels are usually sold by shipping companies and shipping agents, who may offer free, or low-cost delivery in the local area.

I have also seen barrels sold at international Money Transfer shops and e-commerce websites, such as eBay and Gumtree.  

Shipping companies and international money transfer shops are popular in areas where there is a high population of migrant workers, such as London, Miami, and Toronto, and in areas where there is a shipping port or transport hub.

It may be trickier to find barrels and drums in rural and inland places, but if in doubt you can search online, to locate the nearest supplier.

What does a Shipping Barrel look like?

The most popular type of barrels used for shipping are made of plastic and are often recycled, after being used to transport raw materials of some kind in their previous life.

The plastic barrels aren’t always blue, but it is a very popular color! 

Check the inside of the barrel for cleanliness and aroma, as some have an over-powering smell that may affect the taste of any food items you may wish to pack inside afterward.

If in doubt just leave the cover off for a day or two prior to packing, so that it can air out a bit.

Plastic Barrels are widely available in two sizes and are supplied with a plastic or metal cover, which has a separate ‘belt-like’ levered locking fastener to secure the cover firmly in place.

The barrels with the metal covers have a larger diameter, but the covers have a tendency to get bent at the edges making them harder to open and close after a time.

Whereas the plastic covers are generally smaller in diameter, they are sturdier and easier to fit creating an air-tight seal on the barrel. Make sure you check the barrel opens and closes effectively before taking it home.

You can also buy metal drums or cardboard barrels if you prefer. Just remember, whilst slightly cheaper, the cardboard barrels will be lighter, not as sturdy, and will eventually be affected by the ingress of water.

Conversely, the metal barrels will be heavier before you have put a single item inside and will be harder to maneuver around – but will be great for cutting in two when emptied to make a jerk pan in Jamaica!

What Are The Dimensions of a Shipping Barrel?

  • The largest and most popular plastic barrel is about 36″ high and has a diameter of about 22-23″
  • The wider the mouth of the barrel, the easier it is to pack and unpack the contents
  • Large Barrels hold about 205 liters / 55 Gallons
  • Plastic barrels cost in the region of £32.00 in the UK, or $25.00 – $40.00 in the US
  • As far as I am aware there isn’t a weight limit to the contents (don’t go above 450 lbs!), as long as it can be moved by two men and the bottom does not fall out when it is moved!
  • You can ship almost anything in a barrel from food, household goods, clothes, and toiletries to car parts, paddling pools, and light tools
  • Do NOT overly stress the barrel when packing it, as it will be stacked like for like in a 20 or 40ft container, and transported on a cargo ship which will be tossed around in the high seas potentially for weeks on end
Dimensions of a Shipping Barrel

How Is A Shipping Barrel Secured?

Once you have packed your barrel the shipping agent generally collects it from you and a small tamper-proof seal is added to the lever.  

The seal should not be removed until the person authorized to clear the barrel is present to witness the customs officials strip the barrel at the wharf to work out the tax payable in Jamaica.

There is no key for the seal as the sender may not be traveling to Jamaica to receive the barrel, so it just needs strong pliers to cut it off.

If you are concerned ask the shippers to write the unique ID number on the security seal on your paperwork. Then the person that goes to collect the barrel at the wharf would have a record to check the barrels have not been tampered with.

How Do I Label My Shipping Barrel Correctly?

Be sure to use a thick black permanent marker pen to write your name (or the receiver’s details) and address clearly on the barrel and the cover, so it is easily identifiable at the wharf.

Do not forget to include the local post office in the address (despite the barrel being delivered to the wharf). As this is the address they will use to contact the receiver if need be.

The shipping agent will generally add their own label as well, but it is best not to rely on it.

In short, YOU are responsible as the sender to make sure the barrel is clearly marked and easily identifiable at the wharf. Misspelled, incorrect and illegible names and addresses will not aid you in a speedy and stress-free shipping process on the other side.

Dimensions of a Shipping Barrel
How to label a shipping barrel for Jamaica with dimensions of a shipping barrel

FAQs About Shipping Barrels

These are the answers to the most popular questions asked about shipping barrels:

Why Do People Ship Barrels to Family In Jamaica?

If you have ever visited Jamaica you may have noticed the number of recycled drums and plastic shipping barrels that are incongruously sitting by roadsides, or harbored by residents across the island?

These barrels and drums arrived in Jamaica aboard a cargo ship at one time or another. After being filled by a ‘pack a barrel’ genie overseas, who invariably knows all the tricks of stocking up on bargains and stuffing every piece of available space inside the barrel until it is ‘cork’ (full to the brim).

Shipping barrels back home ‘to Yard’ is a long-standing Jamaican tradition, especially at Easter, Back to School, and Christmas time. As Jamaicans that live and work overseas would send over items for the children, parents, and other relatives they have left behind in Jamaica.

When a barrel full of love from overseas is carefully packed and sent over to loved ones, or dependents still living in Jamaica, these barrels are highly anticipated and the recipient is full of excitement when fishing into the depths to see what is packed inside.

It is a way to keep in touch, reach out and support loved ones living in Jamaica when they are apart from you.

Is It Worth Shipping a Barrel to Jamaica To Myself If I’m Going For An Extended Visit?

The lure of shipping a barrel is one that might start to cross your mind when you are traveling to Jamaica for an extended stay, or when planning a trip to visit friends and family on the island. 

It’s the kind of thought that appears in your mind as a light-bulb moment, when the headache starts and the panic sets in over your luggage allowance and whether you can fit all the things you want to take with you in your suitcase.

I would highly recommend shipping a barrel to Jamaica, as it is a great way of contributing to the people you are staying with or lowering your grocery bill if you are living independently in Jamaica for a while.

I will warn you though, once you do succumb to shipping a barrel it is easy to get carried away, when you find the one intended barrel, becomes two, and two becomes three… I could go on, but I think you get the idea of what has happened to me before!

What Can You Use An Empty Shipping Barrel For?

The plastic and metal barrels that once carried the goods, gifts, and belongings of someone ‘dere a farrin’ to the hands of someone ‘back a yard’ are seen all over Jamaica in their retirement phase.

Recycled drums and barrels are used as water storage containers, clothes storage facilities, food storage, containers for personal belongings, jerk bar-b-q’s (metal barrels only!), garbage bins, and other types of storage vessels.

More Information on Shipping A Barrel

As I have 10 years of experience personally clearing barrels myself, I know it can be intimidating the first time you arrange to do it for yourself, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you do a little research on all the stages.

  1. What Are Barrels: This post is all about shipping barrels!
  2. What to Pack in a Barrel: Ideas and advice on what to purchase to fill your barrel
  3. How To Pack A Barrel: The best method of packing a barrel
  4. How To Ship a Barrel: How to find a shipping agent and arrange to ship a barrel to Jamaica
  5. How To Clear A Barrel: This post is all about how to clear a barrel in Jamaica!