About a week ago, I sent my first package overseas to my brother who is deployed in the Middle East. I had never sent one before, but I had many tips and pieces of advice to follow from those who have. I thought I was fully prepared, and with everything packed up, I left the precious package in the hands of the USPS and waited the 2 weeks for him to receive it. The package contained some simple items, all of which were acceptable according to customs’ restricted list. It contained a phone charger, hand warmers, books, a thermos, and some other simple items. We were so excited to hear from him because I know he really looked forward to getting mail. I knew it would make his week so much better.
Then the unexpected happened. He received the package, which had been rummaged through and torn up, and there was barely anything in it. It was so hard for him to tell us, because he knew how sad we would feel. Not that we lost the items, but that instead of making his day, it ruined it. Mail is a huge deal during a deployment, and our track record so far is not off to a good start.
I was completely naive to what can happen to mail and packages as they travel overseas. I prepared myself for the obvious: it gets lost, it gets damaged, or customs takes it. But I didn’t prepare for someone to be so cruel. I didn’t prepare for someone to steal heartfelt gifts out of a package from a family to their beloved service member. I kept asking myself, “Who the hell would do this?”
In an effort to help others avoid the worst from happening, I wanted to offer my advice when sending packages overseas. There are plenty of obvious things to avoid, but it’s hard to know how to handle these issues, and avoid them for next time.
1. Damaged Contents
It’s a given that when sending something overseas, the package is going to get beat up. It’s going to rattle around and bump into a million other packages, and there’s a good chance that it could even bust open. Customs will search any and all packages that they deem necessary, and you shouldn’t count on them being gentle either.
Make sure that you don’t ship fragile items, or anything that could fall apart inside the box. For example, my brother wanted a nice water bottle for patrols that wasn’t plastic. Those fancy glass water bottles are all fine and dandy until the package drops 10 feet and it breaks. We got him a rugged, steel thermos instead, which can withstand the trip and the use it’ll get upon arrival.
2. Lost Packages
Packages get lost all the time unfortunately, and sometimes, there’s little that can be done. If there’s an option to pay an extra $5 or $10 for insurance on the package, I highly recommend it. Most carriers have this option, but not all will offer it upfront so make sure you ask. This will insure that any items that are lost will be reimbursed to the sender. Care packages are not cheap, and there’s so much time and creativity that goes into them. Getting reimbursed doesn’t make the loss of a package any better, but it’s a small compensation.
3. Delivered to the wrong location
Make sure you keep those tracking numbers on hand. You can follow the package as it travels and it’ll notify you when/if it gets held up in customs. You can also see if a package has been delivered to the wrong location, and who signed for the items if a signature was requested. This way you don’t have to sit around wondering if it will arrive this week or next week, and it makes you feel like you have a bit more control over the process.
If a package does get delivered to the wrong location, and the recipient is cooperative, you can have the carrier set up a call tag pickup. This mean the carrier will come get the package and deliver it back to you, or continue on to the planned destination. On most military bases, even overseas, packages can end up with the wrong unit or battalion quite easily. Your service member can speak to their commanding officer in the event that this occurs, and sometimes they’ll be able to retrieve it.
4. Stolen Packages or Items
It’s not too common for a package to be stolen entirely, because that would be a bit obvious. But I’ve learned through this experience that it’s very common for the contents to be stolen. It’s so sad that this is something we have to prepare for, but we have to know how to avoid it as best we can. Thanks to some of my other friends whose boyfriends, husbands, and family are deployed or have deployed, I learned some great tips on how to avoid this:
– Hide important contents underneath some undesirable things, such as underwear or a blanket. They might not both to rummage through it if it appears there’s nothing they want.
– People who are stealing these contents are doing so quickly in most cases. Don’t make it easy for them.
– Use a larger box with other small boxes inside, making it harder for someone to look through for the wrong reasons.
– Wrap each item in bubble wrap with packing tape. This could deter someone from taking the time to steal it if they don’t know what it is.
Lastly, if your package or contents are ever stolen, report it! It’s very likely that other families are dealing with the same issue, and the more people who report it, the more likely they’ll find out who’s doing it. Sometimes it’s people within distribution who have been doing this for years without being caught. I highly recommend calling them about the issue rather than communicating through email. Their help hotline is 1-800-275-8777.
What advice do you have for sending packages overseas? Have you ever dealt with these issues?