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What is the difference between a parcel service and a courier?

So you need to send a package, but you are not sure what the next step is or who to contact to set the process in motion. Maybe you are unsure about differences in terminology. Is a parcel service not the same as a courier?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In this post, we will explain the difference so you can make sure that you choose the right service for you.

What is a parcel service?

A parcel service exists to send small, lightweight, individual packages. It may be a one-off parcel to a family member or a small package that you need to send for work.

However, parcel services often have size, weight, and commodity restrictions on what they will send for you. In addition, they are often limited in scope; they may not be able to offer next day or express delivery to overseas destinations.

Customer being served at Post Office counter

Parcel services are usually unable to offer specific delivery windows and will estimate arrival by a certain date. Similarly, while some form of parcel tracking can be offered, this will often be limited. For example, it will be possible to tell when your parcel is in the depot and when it is scheduled to arrive, but real-time updates beyond this will not be available.

Finally, parcel services will charge the recipient any duty and tax due for international shipments. By contrast, courier services may offer a ‘deliver duty paid’ service whereby the sender pays the courier any duties due. This reduces the risk of delivery delays caused when waiting for, or arranging payment from the recipient.

The Post Office is a typical example of a parcel service. It is often cost effective for sending small, light items. However, it can become increasingly expensive to send large, bulky or unusually shaped packages, a significant volume of items, or any delivery that is highly time-sensitive. Such services rarely collect parcels from the sender, which can make the whole process time consuming.

What is a courier service?

A courier service is usually a private company that ships anything: from documents and parcels to larger, bulkier items. Some couriers provide a full menu of services, while others specialise.

Couriers usually provide a range of service levels, such as the inclusion of parcel collection or drop off.

A key focal point for a courier’s service will be the speed and efficiency with which they can deliver packages. If your business depends on frequent domestic or international shipping, and speed and cost are of the essence, then a courier service is likely to be the better choice for you.

Crates being prepared for shipping at courier depot

What can you expect when choosing a courier service?

Time-sensitive delivery

Suitable for next-day delivery to Europe or North America. Likewise, if you need fast delivery (i.e. 2 to 3 days) to other parts of the world.

Specified, timed delivery may also be useful if you need same-day delivery locally or nationally, or guaranteed next-day delivery.

International shipping

Most courier services provide international delivery. Some may be able to offer different international delivery options, such as by air, land, or sea.

Tracking and import services

Most courier services now include tracking as standard. Many also offer real-time tracking and international tracking. They may also be able to manage the import and customs arrangements for your overseas item, although this may incur an additional cost.

Courier services are ideal for heavier or bulkier items which may require customised delivery requirements, according to cost and speed of delivery. Overall, you are likely to receive a faster, more affordable service from a courier when sending larger parcels. Some parcel services may not accept larger items at all.

It is worth noting that there are delivery service providers who offer both parcel and courier services. What is best for your situation will come down to a balance of the considerations explored above.

Customer taking delivery of a parcel from courier

Making the right choice for your parcel delivery

Businesses need package delivery to occur reliably and efficiently. You don’t want your parcel delayed. You also do not want to pay more than you should.

If you need to send parcels regularly, a reliable and trustworthy courier will:

  • bring peace of mind
  • improve your reputation
  • save you money
  • enhance the profitability of your business.


At Impact Express, we provide a flexible, premium courier service. As a trusted partner of DHL, we offer competitive and efficient shipping options guaranteed to deliver within the time range you need, both domestically and abroad. Get in touch today for a discussion of your requirements, and how our services can meet your delivery expectations.

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