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Tips for Shipping Abroad

As much as I wanted to fit everything I would need for 7 months (and three seasons) abroad into two suitcases, I just wasn’t able to. I succeeded in packing everything I would need for the winter and spring, but my summer shorts and dresses just didn’t fit.

I also wanted to bring some sheets, a duvet cover, towels, and a couple other household odds and ends. It has been my experience in Florence (because I am living in the historical center) that these items are quite pricey and difficult to find (so are notebooks and office supplies oddly enough). The best solution is to ship these items (and my remaining summer clothes) to myself in Florence and I thought with many people in similar situations studying abroad, I would share some tips for shipping personal items abroad.

I say personal items because it is important that you stick to personal items and things of low value. This is to avoid customs taxes and duties. Most countries have allowances for personal shipments within a certain value, or certain item quantity, however, if you exceed this, they can and will impose an import tax on the value of your shipment. This is to avoid people buying things, like iPhones, that are much cheaper stateside, and then reselling them abroad without paying appropriate taxes. But if you stick to shipping personal items of little to no value you then you can avoid these taxes/fees, which are usually 20%! Moral of the story, don’t ship electronics, jewelry, or anything in bulk (more detailed guidelines here).

Tip #1 – Only shipped “used” clothing and things of little to no value.
Let’s say you are studying abroad and you need (or want) clothing or shoes. You can’t find anything you like in your host country, so you want to have a loved one purchase something for you and shipped over. I think it’s natural when filling out customs and insurance forms to high-ball the value of the item just in case something happens. But if the customs officials see an expensive item, you bet they will want to collect those taxes. My advice, rip off all tags and on the forms simply write “used clothing,” and then specifically list each item, which brings me to tip number two…

Tip #2 – Be specific on your forms.
You want to avoid customs have any interest in, or questions about your packages. So specifically list everything and don’t leave anything to the imagination, even your “used” clothing. Even if the value of the shipment is low (which it needs to be) you still want to detail everything and give it a small value. You can find more info on customs forms here (via USPS). And before you head to the post office, make sure you have the following:

  • Recipient address
  • Package weight
  • Package value
  • Shipping service
  • Contents’ value
  • Contents’ weight

Tip #3 – Be careful where you ship.
If you are studying abroad or sending a care package abroad, I advise sending it to the school’s main office or reception rather than a student’s rental apartment or dorm. Sending packages to rented apartments is difficult since the post office or parcel service will not have the temporary renter listed (especially if they are students). Also, students abroad are rarely home and if they carrier needs a signature or to collect taxes and the recipient isn’t there, it can be a struggle to relocate your package. Sending it to a business will ensure the package will be received and most study abroad campuses will even pay necessary taxes to have the item delivered and then have the student reimburse them.

Tip #4 – Save your receipts.
If you do decide to order something from back home while abroad (like I did last year with J.Crew), make sure you go through a reputable international shipping company, you pay the special taxes, and you keep all records of your purchase and taxes/duties levied. This way if they try to charge you again you can provide proof you have already paid (I had to do this with my J.Crew order).

Tip #5 – Avoid foodstuffs and suspicious looking items.

Every country will have different restrictions on what types of foods can be shipped and how you need to package them (vacuum sealing is typical). If you want to send a food item, it is important that you do your research. Also, avoid suspicious looking items. Catnip and sugar will never make it through customs unchecked (because they look like other illegal substances… although I don’t know why you would be shipping these, but they were the only examples I could think of lol).
I am not going to lie, getting packages from home of your favorite clothing or candy is really great when you are living abroad and missing home. And today it’s pretty easy to get packages to loved ones abroad in a decent amount of time and for a reasonable price (especially flat rate USPS boxes). Hopefully these tips will help you send and receive packages without complication!
Anyone else have any tips for personal experience to share?