I talk a lot about decorating care packages and what to put in them, but that’s really only half the battle! All of the decorations and fun contents mean nothing if your care package never makes it to your loved or is ruined when it finally does arrive. While you can never be 100% sure that a care package will make it on time and intact, there are definitely a few care package shipping tips you should follow to give yourself the best chance.
Disclaimer: at some point, you are at the mercy of both the USPS and the US military so I can’t guarantee that these tips will be 100% successful 100% of the time. But I’ve yet to have a care package come back to me or get really lost en route to my husband.
Care Package Shipping Tips
Secure all the seams on your box.
It goes without saying that you should double or triple tape the seams that hold the box together, but I highly suggest taping ALL of the seams shut. It’s not completely unheard of for bugs or rats to get into care packages and the extra tape offers a little more protection. Use heavy duty clear packing tape and add multiple layers!
Follow the rules on what can and cannot be shipped.
Honestly, if you follow only one of my care package shipping tips, please have it be this one. I know it can be tempting to send your loved one something they really miss, but if they aren’t allowed to have it per the country’s rules or per the USPS’s rules, please don’t take the risk.
The biggest one that gets brought up a lot is alcohol and it’s just not worth sending for a variety of different reasons. It’s illegal to send alcohol via the regular mail (which is how you ship a flat rate box). A lot of countries where US troops are deployed don’t allow alcohol period and when service members are deployed, they’re not supposed to drink. If you do take the risk, your loved one can get into serious trouble as a result. Just don’t do it.
The USPS has a list of prohibited items that apply at all times, both domestically and internationally. If you’re not sure about an item, check there first. Another good resource is your FRG (or the equivalent in your branch) as they often have a list of banned items for the country in which your loved one is deployed.
Put liquids in plastic baggies. Do the same thing with scented objects.
Liquids are a risky thing to ship: the pressure changes during shipping can cause things to explode, ruining everything that’s in the box. Additionally, they could get crushed or broken during the journey (never send glass bottles) and arrive as a giant mess. If you have to send liquids like shampoo or lotion, consider getting the travel-sized items instead. If they do explode, they won’t create as big of a mess and they are designed to withstand pressure changes a bit better. Put them in plastic baggies so that any leakage stays contained.
While scented items may not explode, they can leak scent to all of your other items, especially if temperatures are high. This goes for air fresheners and soaps. If you seal them in a separate plastic baggie, the scent will stay trapped.
Keep items in their original containers if possible.
You know who feels bad when an entire package of crackers shows up as dust because you took the sleeves out of their original box? Yeah, you do. While the extra layer of cardboard doesn’t guarantee that things will sty intact, it offers one more layer of protection. It can also help keep contents fresher longer.
Mail service while deployed can be questionable, even during the best of circumstances, but circumstances are rarely the best in locations where service members are deployed. I’ve seen shipping times range from 7 to 10 days all the way up to a month. You will never really now for sure, but give yourself as much time as possible if you want your care package to arrive for a certain occasion. This is especially true around the holidays when mail volume goes up significantly.
Avoid items that melt.
No matter what you do to chocolate, it is going to melt after a two-week journey to the Middle East in July. That’s just fact. If you do send it, make sure to put it in baggies so it doesn’t ruin your entire box.
Chocolate is not the only item that could melt: candles, gel air fresheners and a lot of candy could also create a melty, gooey mess. Avoid these items entirely if you can or find non-melting alternatives. For example, you could replace a gel air freshener with the kind that hang on your rearview mirror.
Fill out your customs form properly.
When I sent my first care package, I had literally never seen a customs form before and had no idea what I was doing. Luckily, a very kind postal worker took me through it step by step and I’ve been rolling ever since.
- Your information. I have always been told to include a phone number or email address in addition to my physical address.
- Your loved one’s name and rank (if required).
- Your loved one’s address, including unit, platoon, company, etc. This is the main chunk of your loved one’s address.
- APO/FPO AE/AP/AA and the zip code.
- List of the box’s contents, quantity and value. I don’t add weights in this section. Keep your contents specific, but vague. I will never advocate for shipping expensive items, but I know that a lot of folks do. If you’re shipping something that’s pricey (and would be a potential target for theft), don’t put it on your customs form, but do get the additional insurance that will cover the cost if it doesn’t make it.
- Select “Gift”.
- Add a total value.
- Sign and date here.
- Choose “Return to Sender”.
Hopefully this customs form tutorial helped, but keep in mind that you may need to tweak my example a little bit to fit your loved one’s address. I have found that writing it similar to an American address works fine. If you’re unsure, ask at the post office when you go to ship you care package.
Shipping a care package can be a little overwhelming, especially if it’s the first time. But if you follow my care package shipping tips, the process will be a little smoother for you!
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