A Guide to Barrels and Drums – Shipping Basics
*Post updated 13th February 2019*
Have you ever noticed a big blue plastic barrel sitting incongruously by the roadside in Jamaica, or displayed in the window of an overseas shipping agent and wondered what it was used for?
Maybe you have thought about sending some items to loved ones in Jamaica and want to find out more about barrels and drums first?
This post will give you a Guide to Barrels and Drums, the shipping basics. So you know what barrels and drums are all about, prior to getting into the nitty-gritty of arranging shipping to Jamaica and traversing through customs.
Brief History of Shipping Barrels to Loved Ones in Jamaica
If you have ever visited Jamaica you may have noticed the amount of recycled drums and plastic shipping barrels that are harboured 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.
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.
Shipping a Barrel to Jamaica for an Extended Visit
The lure of shipping a barrel is one that might start to cross your mind when you are travelling 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 over here for a while.
I will warn you know 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!
More information: Sending a Crate or Barrel to Jamaica
Where to Buy a Shipping Barrel
Barrels are usually sold by shipping companies and shipping agents, where they 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.
More Information: Looking for assistance with finding Shipping Solutions? Try our sister website for Assistance with Shipping and Logistics in Jamaica
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 earlier life.
The plastic barrels aren’t always blue, but it is a very popular colour!
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 afterwards.
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 the 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, but 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 manoeuvre around – but will be great for cutting in two when emptied to make a jerk pan in Jamaica!
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 litres / 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 (More information: The Art of Packing a Barrel – Part One)
- 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
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 authorised 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 travelling 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.
Labelling your Barrel Correctly
Be sure to use a thick black permanent marker pen to write your name (or the receivers 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 is easily identifiable at the wharf. Misspelt, incorrect and illegible names and addresses will not aid you in a speedy and stress free shipping process on the other side.
Benefits of Shipping a Barrel to Jamaica
- The large barrels hold about 205 litres / 55 Gallons (some hold more), with a mouth of up-to 23cm making it easy to load bulky, heavy or fragile items
- 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
- You can pack some home comforts alongside gifts for friends and relatives, without compromising on your luggage allowance on the flight
- Some items such as fixtures and fittings, housewares, soft furnishings and kitchen ware are very expensive or hard to get in Jamaica compared to the deals and choice you get overseas
- You are able to send down specific and much needed items for loved ones and dependents in Jamaica when you are living overseas
- 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
What Can you pack in a Barrel?
I would recommend filling your barrel with what you love, need and want for yourself or the recipient, alongside things that are hard to find or expensive in Jamaica.
When choosing the contents be aware of the other costs involved, as the fees to be paid in Jamaica are related to the type and value of the contents.
You also need to sort your items and pack your barrel in a certain way to ensure that the contents reach the destination without spillage or breakages.
More information: A Guide to Shipping a Barrel to Jamaica
Do you have to pay Tax when Shipping a Barrel?
The short answer is YES!
Regardless of the fact that you have bought all the contents and the barrel and paid for shipping to Jamaica. Anything imported into Jamaica is liable for shipping costs, customs fees and taxes. The same as most other countries around the world.
Barrels containing a mixture of food, (used) household and kitchen items, cleaning materials, toiletries, used clothes and other sundry items have the lowest tax bracket as they are considered to be items for personal use.
When I asked the shipping agent in London how much customs tax I was likely to pay for one barrel containing these types of items they said it would be from $6,500 and would be payable at the wharf in Jamaica.
Please Note! There are other fees to pay on top of the customs fee.
More information: A Guide to Clearing a Barrel at Kingston Wharves Jamaica
What Happens to the Barrels after they are Emptied?
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.
A shipping barrel is an ideal way to transport goods to Jamaica from overseas locations. They are sturdy, water-resistant, secure and surprisingly roomy.
The cost of a barrel is reasonable and the charges levied by shipping companies and shipping agents is very affordable compared with other methods of international delivery.
Further Information About Shipping to Jamaica
We have plenty of guides about shipping a barrel or crate, or anything else for that matter.
Check out our other posts to read the whole series on Shipping to Jamaica
Sweet Jamaica Guides to Shipping
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