You know what they say about people who assume things: They avoid shipping to APO/DPO/FPO addresses because they assume it’s too hard. OK, so no one in the history of the world has ever actually said that, but it is accurate.
Because it’s foreign (literally) to most Americans — most have probably never mailed anything overseas — the consensus is that the process is complicated and pricey. If you have ever been stationed at an overseas location (commonly called OCONUS — because you know we have an acquired taste for alphabet soup), then you’re no stranger to answering the same six questions, broken-record style.
- Do I need to use a special stamp?
- Where do I list your country?
- How much are the international shipping fees?
- How do I fill out the customs form?
- When will my letter/package arrive?
- What am I allowed to send you?
So, here’s a sweet little care package: the truth about mailing to APO/DPO/FPO addresses all in one place. Share this with your Mama, your friends back stateside, your sweet Memaw, and your favorite online retailer who won’t take the plunge and mail to APO/DPO/FPO addresses.
How to Address an APO/DPO/FPO Letter
Sending a letter to an APO/DPO/FPO address is exactly the same as sending it to a U.S. address — EXACTLY. Write your return address as usual, and write the recipient’s information like this:
Mrs. Super Spouse
PSC 000 Box 0000
FPO AP ZIP
Think of APO/DPO/FPO as the city and AA/AE/AP as the state. In place of PSC, you may instead have UNIT or CMR followed by a number. Once the ink is dry, slap a regular old stamp on it, drop it in a USPS mail slot, and you’re done!
This explanation is going to grate geography buffs — apologies in advance. Even though you are mailing to a location that is physically in Japan, or Germany, or floating in the middle of international waters (if you happen to be mailing to a Navy ship), you are mailing to U.S. territory in that country (or ocean). If you need to list the country for any reason — whether on a customs form or at checkout at an online retailer, always, always, always list the United States. The easiest way to get yourself frustrated or get your package lost in the international abyss is to list Japan, or Germany, or the Pacific Ocean as the destination country.
Knowledge test: What country are you mailing to? Correct, United States!
Millions of Dollars in International Shipping Fees…Not
There was once an eBay shopper living in at a Marine base in Japan who purchased an authentic 1970s leisure suit because she takes Halloween costumes very seriously. The seller told her that she would send a separate request for funds to cover the overseas shipping costs.
Having already done her homework, the buyer kindly informed the seller that if shipped via the U.S. Postal Service, there should be no additional fees. For good measure, the buyer even hyperlinked to the information. The seller was so appreciative of the information, and the two ended up emailing back and forth. The seller told the buyer the story of how her husband wore the leisure suit to one of their high school reunions and how handsome he looked (swoon). The buyer promised the seller she would take good care of the suit.
The takeaway: APO/DPO/FPO shipping knowledge brings us all closer together. But, more than that, the cost to mail to APO/DPO/FPO addresses via the USPS is the same as shipping to a domestic address.
The Dreaded Customs Form for APO/DPO/FPO (Dun, Dun, Duuuunnn)
First, if you plan to mail more than one package to or from an APO/DPO/FPO address, then do yourself a favor and just grab a stack of customs forms next time you’re at the post office. Unless you just enjoy spending quality time at the post office, you can fill customs forms out at home where you have access to your address book and examples.
Second, print cleanly and press down hard enough to ensure you imprint upon all the carbon copies.
Third, don’t stress because customs forms are like snowflakes, you’ll probably never fill one out the same way twice. Take your best guess. Remember that APO/DPO/FPO is the city, AA/AE/AP is the state, and the country is always, what? The United States, well done, you.
Finally, just guesstimate the value of the items, it’s not a math test. And, for the love of humility, don’t feel like you have to get too specific on item descriptions. The same likable eBay buyer mentioned above once picked up a package at her OCONUS post office from one of her favorite online retailers. Imagine the red hue of her cheeks when the Marine behind the counter asked her to confirm the package was hers and directly under her name and address, “UNDERWEAR” was boldly typed on the customs form. “Clothing” is sufficient — there’s no shipping discount for oversharing.
Perfect Timing for Shipping to APO/DPO/FPO
Shipping times to APO/DPO/FPO address will vary slightly, especially if you’re mailing to a ship or a conflict area or there is an unforeseen issue, like bad weather on the route. Items can take anywhere from five days to eight weeks to arrive, so it’s best to plan ahead.
2019 Holiday Shipping Deadlines
Dec. 9 — APO/FPO/DPO (ZIP Code 093 only) Priority Mail and First-Class Mail.
Dec. 11 — APO/FPO/DPO (all other ZIP Codes) Priority Mail and First-Class Mail.
Dec. 14 — USPS Retail Ground.
Dec. 18 — APO/FPO/DPO (except ZIP Code 093) USPS Priority Mail Express.
Thanks to the USPS for always keeping us up-to-date.
If you need it there fast, always opt for the Priority shipping option. Anything else will take the slow boat. And remember, the shipping you’re paying extra for is what gets it to the state-side sorting facility fastest, everything else goes space-available to the APO/DPO/FPO.
What Can You Pack in an APO/DPO/FPO Package?
Let’s start with what you can’t pack: aerosols, alcohol, ammunition, explosives, fresh fruits and vegetables (no matter how expensive a watermelon is in Japan), and a few more you hopefully wouldn’t think of sending anyway.
Liquids (that pass the exceptions above — aerosol, alcohol, etc.) can be mailed, but, as you might have guessed, our favorite eBay buyer has another cautionary tale. When it comes to liquids (or anything really) proper packaging is everything. The eBay buyer was shopping another favorite site and discovered she could order a case of cardboard cartons of her favorite soup that her commissary didn’t carry. When she picked up the box, it was smashed on one side, and the soup cartons had busted (all 12 of them). This must have happened early in the package’s journey because the entire box was covered in fuzzy mold. The package was trashed and our poor eBay buyer was, once again, soupless.
Per the USPS, “All containers of liquids and substances that could easily liquify must be packed, with enough absorbent material to take up all leakage in case of breakage, inside a second sealed waterproof container.” And speaking of things that “could easily liquefy,” check the temps before mailing a box full of chocolate.
Also, remember that your package won’t be handled by dainty fairies, it will be handled by U.S. service members — known more for strength than grace — and hourly government employees. Anything breakable can break, honestly, even things that shouldn’t be breakable can break. Pack it with care to prevent shifting of items in the box. Just stuff it to the gills, and add enough packing paper or bubble wrap to cushion the delicate items, and you’ll be in good shape.
And, that’s a wrap. If you walk away from this article with one thought, let it be that mailing to an APO/DPO/FPO address is pretty much the same as mailing to another U.S. state, the only difference being a customs form for packages. Addressing is the same, postage is the same, the country is the same, and — unfortunately — waiting in line at the post office is, you guessed it, exactly the same.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out Living Like a Local: Wiesbaden, Germany
Photo Credit: Pixabay
References: USPS Shipping Restrictions: https://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/703.htm#ep1113846
USPS Military and Diplomatic Mail: https://www.usps.com/ship/apo-fpo-dpo.htm?pov=international