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1/11/09 Sending Care Packages - Tips

I've been wary of posting anything like this, because I don't want to seem like I'm saying GIMMEGIMMEGIMME, but enough people have asked me how best to ship care packages to Peace Corps Volunteers that I'm going to go ahead and share some tips.

(1) Use the USPS Flat Rate Boxes. This will keep shipping costs to less than half what they'd otherwise be. International shipping is hideously expensive, but at least the US Postal Service is trying to help. I've had more than one care package whose shipping costs were several times the value of the items inside, and that made me feel really bad for the shipper. (Note: they're only "Flat Rate" up to 20 pounds, for international shipping. That said, it's really hard to fit 20 pounds worth of anything into a package about the size of two shoe boxes, unless you're shipping rock samples or freeweights. So **stuff** these things. You're paying for the volume, not the mass; go nuts! Also, the less free space there is, the less your contents will shift (and risk breaking) during shipping).

(2) You'll need to fill out the package label with my (or your PCV's) name, address, etc, plus there's a space for "Detailed Description of Contents". Yes, fill this in, but if the box has lots of different things, it's OK not to enumerate *all* of them. Don't put more items than there are lines for.

(3) Don't list any individual item as having more than $10 in value, if you don't want your Volunteer to have to pay a customs fee to pick it up. If it's pretty obviously worth more than that, write "used" in the description section ("used sweater", "books, used", whatever) and make sure it's not in any of the original packaging. Also, avoid words that imply value to the unscrupulous, like "camera" or "computer". You want your PCV to receive this, right? I've had at least one package go completely astray, and I've had batteries stolen out of a couple packages.

(4) Check the box that says GIFT. Which is actually true for most care packages, anyway. :) Gifts are assessed fees much less often than anything the customs officials suspect you mail-ordered.

(5) Double-bag anything powdery. Sending hot cocoa packets? Cake mix? Instant coffee? Astronaut ice cream? Add an extra ziplock bag around the item's own packaging. Nearly every time I've received anything like the above, at least one of the packages had been cut into, I assume in order to check for drugs. (Do people actually smuggle cocaine by putting it in a Betty Crocker box?) The customs folks are good about rewrapping and retaping the contents of the box, but if there's no extra ziplock, the cut item will scatter its remaining powdery mess all over the contents of the care package. (Until we figured this out, nearly every care package I got from my parents had cocoa powder sprinkled everywhere.) Besides, ziplock bags are handy; your PCV will appreciate having them. :)

In 22 months of care packages (you know who you are, and THANK YOU!!!), I've only been assessed a shipping fee once, but it was a doozy. The item in question was marked as having a value of $65, and was still in the original packaging. I had to pay the equivalent amount of Moroccan dirhams - over 300Dh, which is 15% of my monthly stipend - just to pick it up. The point of the fees, as far as I can tell, is to deter the practice (formerly common) of folks importing goods and reselling them for a profit. Customs officials calculate that if they can double the price of whatever you're getting - by charging you an import fee equal to the item's value - it will take a huge chunk out of any potential profit margin. But when you're living on $225 a month, it hurts to have to pay for your care packages.

OK, that's all I can think of for now. And on behalf of whoever you're planning to ship to: Thank you so much! :D


  1. Care packages are the sweetest things one cou;d receive through the mail. It shows ones love and care for the other person.

    -Panamerican Shipping

  2. GEtting ready to send a package to Tanzania for a friend's daughter there

  3. I appreciated the list of items that would be good to double bag if you're putting them in a package. No one likes cleaning up powdery substances. It's a good thing I haven't sent off the care package for my friend yet.

  4. I've had more than one care package whose shipping costs were several times the value of the items inside, and that made me feel really bad for the shipper. צ'רטר לחול

  5. Great info as I get ready to ship my first care package to The Gambia West Africa!!!!


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