If you’re going through a deployment, or other military separation, you know that one way to keep your loved one beaming with anticipation is to send them a care package. Some go-to care package items might include a couple of DVDs, video games, maybe a bag of popcorn, some pictures of the family, and some toiletries. (All the comforts of home, right?)
But then you get to the post office, wait in line, and find out you don’t have all the paperwork. Paperwork? To mail a package?
It’s true. And that little customs form from the US Postal Service (USPS) can be confusing. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with some tips on sending care packages, and how to fill out that confusing little form:
Make sure you have the correct address. A no-brainer, right? One little mistake and it could take weeks, if not months, to get to your special recipient. Or worse: it gets returned to sender (hope you like popcorn!). Making sure the address is important, especially if it’s going overseas; remember, it might be going around the globe and will need to make it through customs.
To send a package via USPS, you’ll need a customs form to send a package overseas. I found PS Form 2976 online, but you can also create an account online with USPS and fill out the form, print your own label, and schedule a pickup. You can go to their website for more information. It’s fairly simple once you create an account and begin the process.
The customs form is easy to complete, but there are different forms depending on the value of what is being sent. It does take some time to get them filled out, but you can keep a stash of the forms at home so you can complete them prior to heading to the post office. Some post offices keeps the customs forms behind the counter, but it shouldn’t be a problem asking them for more than one.
There are step by step instructions on the PS Form 2976, but I’ll break it down for you:
In the FROM section of PS Form 2976, fill out all of your information. Make sure, again, that you provide all the necessary and correct information. One wrong number and you could literally be sending this package to Timbuktu!
In Block 1, you’ll have to get a little detailed, so make sure you take a picture of what you are sending so that you can enter all that in here. Sometimes I write down everything before I pack it up, for easy remembering!
Blocks 2-4 ask for quantity, net weight, and value of each item you are sending. Keep your receipts and find this information from the package of each item before you close the box.
Make sure you check in Block 5 to indicate that none of the items you’re sending are prohibited. Things like DVDs, movies, popcorn, pictures, and some toiletries are safe. When in doubt, ask.
If there are any restrictions, you’ll list them in Block 6 of the form, otherwise, leave it blank and continue.
In Block 7, you’ll enter the total weight of the package.
Block 8 is the total value of the package, and Block 9 serves as directions in case the package cannot be delivered. Make sure to put your address in Block 9 so it gets returned to you if, for some reason, it doesn’t make it to its destination.
In Block 10, refers to exemption information. If you are mailing to an APO/FPO/DPO, this may not apply.
If you are sending something that has quarantine restrictions, like plants or food products, you need to check Block 11.
You’ll sign and date Block 12.
Blocks 13 and 14 serve as the Sender’s Customs Reference, which may be a tax code, or importer code. More often than not, this won’t apply to you.
Block 15 is optional. You’ll fill out the Importer’s information, if you have it, which in this case, might be you.
In Blocks 16-18, you’ll fill out the license, certificate, and/or invoice number, if it applies to you.
Blocks 19 and 20 are for commercial senders only. You’d enter a Harmonized Tariff Schedule number, and Country of Origin of Goods.
All of these blocks must be completed, unless they do not apply to your shipment.
Take all of the forms and put them in the PS Form 2976-E, the Customs Declaration Envelope. Remember: all of the information must be visible. Finally, attach it to your package on the address side.
Make copies of the form before you sign and/or fill out the contents information, so that you don’t have to keep doing that every time and you can actually save some time.
Remember to get your package insured, depending on the value of the items. You can always file a claim if something happens to it, so make sure you have receipts and pictures stored somewhere safe. You might not consider this a necessity if you’re sending lower-cost items.
Another tip: Include your address or the address where the package is going INSIDE the package. Your box may travel far and wide, and though it’s rare, could accidentally break open, lose pieces, or even have the address rub off.
Plan on sending multiple packages? Have the USPS deliver boxes to your doorstep and avoid packing up your care package while in line to mail it!
You can always go to the post office to fill it out with an USPS employee to get any additional questions answered. You can also call the USPS customer service line at 800-275-8777.
There are also other ways of sending care packages; Operation Gratitude and Adopt-A-Platoon send packages to soldiers overseas, but with some restrictions. Check their websites for more information. The Department of Defense’s OurMilitary.mil, lists various other organizations which send out care packages to troops. Make sure to do your due diligence when sending care packages through third party organizations.
I know, I know: this was pretty daunting. But it’s totally worth your loved one’s expression when they open the package on the other side of the world.
If you have any great tips for sending a care package, or have found another method of sending packages that is much easier, please share them here!
Posted by Sylvia Salas-Brown, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer