One great way to stay in touch with your spouse during deployment is by sending some love in the form of a Care Package. Now, there are tons of ideas on Pinterest telling you how to decorate a care package, and there are already some wonderful lists of what to put into a care package (like the list here from SemiDelicate Balance). But this post is about how to get the actual packages–FOR FREE– and how to mail them.
First, a word to anyone who has never used the post office before. Technically, you can place anything in any box and send it in the mail. Leftover boxes from Amazon, for example. BUT if you do that, you will be charged by the weight, and it will probably be very expensive. So the cheapest way to do it is to use the Post Office’s Flat Rate boxes. These come in multiple sizes, but most people use a large because it has the most room. No matter what you put in a Flat Rate box, the shipping price will be the same. For the large box, it is about $15.
How to get free care package boxes from the Post Office
Next, you do NOT have to buy these boxes at the Post Office! You can get them for FREE! The Post Office offers 2 options. First, you can get the “Military care package kit” for free by calling the USPS at 1-800-610-8734. This kit includes four boxes of different sizes, plus tape and customs forms. You can get as many kits as you need, all free. It will take about one week for the supplies to get shipped to you.
The other option, which is also FREE, is to order a large set of APO boxes from the USPS website. If you click here, it will show you all the shipping materials that the Post Office offers for free. Make sure you choose a FLAT RATE BOX, preferably the one marked for FPO/APO addresses. You can order any quantity and they will be sent to you in about a week. You will also need to use one customs form for each box you send. I’ll tell you how to fill it out in a moment, but consider adding Customs Forms (ALSO FREE) to your package order. Then you won’t have to pick them up at the Post Office. But you can always grab them at the Post Office counter and fill them out there if you forget.You can get free shipping materials from the Post Office for your next care package! Click To Tweet
How to address a box for someone deployed overseas
Now that you have all the supplies you need and you have filled up your box, let’s talk about how to address it. When your military member is sent overseas, you do NOT pay for foreign shipping rates. The military gives them a special address, and the USPS agrees to deliver mail there at the same price that you pay domestically. Good deal, right? The address your service member has will look strange. There will be a Unit number, then a bunch more letters and numbers. Instead of a city and state, it will say FPO AE (if they are in Europe or the Middle East) or FPO AP (if they are in the Pacific). Fill out the form as if the Unit Number is the street, FPO is the name of the city, and either AE or AP is the state. DO NOT write the country anywhere on the box. Even if you know they are in Afghanistan, do not write it anywhere. This will simply delay the package because it will get re-routed from the military to the civilian local post offices. Also, remember to include their rank, first name, and Company so that they actually get the mail. There are a lot of Smiths and Gonzalez’s in any unit, so you want it to get to yours!
Finally, every box that goes overseas needs a customs form. This doesn’t get taped to the box yet, you can just fill it out and hand it to the postal clerk. You fill out his address the same way as described above:
Rank, Last Name, First Name
Company (on the 1st address line)
Unit number (on the second address line)
FPO (for city)
AE or AP (for state)
Completing a customs form for an overseas care package
The customs form asks you to describe the contents. You don’t need to put weight, just number of items and approximate value. For example: Beef Jerky, 4, $15. Some people say you should not list tobacco products or liquids like Monster cans on this form, other people say they haven’t had any problems getting it delivered when listing those products. I always list tobacco, but I wouldn’t list liquids, because technically those are forbidden items, even if they are in a sealed bag. Of course, DON’T send any alcohol products! Not only will these get your service member in trouble, but they are forbidden in some countries and won’t get past customs.
Once you have your free boxes packed, taped up, addressed, and accompanied by customs forms, it is time to take them to the Post Office! You can mail from any office during the hours they are open. (Always check hours ahead of time!) One final note: there is no need to pay extra for insurance or for tracking. Because the mail will be delivered to a military processing center, the USPS is not responsible for it once it is handed over to the military, so they won’t really cover any damages or lost packages. You would NOT get a notification when it was actually delivered to your husband’s unit either. In fact, the USPS tracking number will only get it as far as the international military processing center (generally the one in Chicago) and that after that you won’t see any updates. So, you just need to pay the $15 shipping charge and your package will be on its way!
Bonus tip: Some companies will ship directly to a deployed service member. You can also order things online and have them shipped directly to your service member to save on shipping it twice. When ordering online, use FPO as the city, and AE or AP as the state, then just fill in USA for the country. It will get there, it will just take much longer than the “estimated delivery time” listed on the website!
Are you ready to start sending care packages?
You can find more care package tips here.