Military Care Packages: How Do I Fill Out the Customs Form?

military-care-packagesIf 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, 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


Add yours
  1. 1
    Barbara A York

    Needing a proper address for USS Kearsarge. I sent our son a birthday box, and he said the address had changed, but did not give us a new one. Would the box have been forwarded? USPS tracking said it was delivered to the FPO in Chicago.

  2. 3
    Stephanie buzo

    So I’m in a bit of a dilemma with the care package I just sent out yesterday. I accidentally used form CN22- senders declaration instead of ps form 2976. When I approached the counter at the post office the man did not say anything and went ahead and went through the whole process. I put the proper address and details of what the box contained, do you think it will be sent to my deployed husband or will they return it to my home address?

  3. 5

    I went to the post office today to mail a second package to my husband. Only to find out that when I sent the first one there was no mention of a customs form. Will he get this package?

  4. 8

    I pick up Form CP 72 when I’m at the Post Office picking up a flat rate priority mail box (the large box gets a $2.0 discount to APO addresses). This form is fairly easy to fill out. The from part in the top left corner is pretty basic. The middle left is the TO section. Put the recipient’s name in the correct spaces. Leave the Business line blank. Put the Unit in the Address line. Put the Zip code in the Post Code space. The city is APO. The State/province is AP or AE depending on where you’re mailing it. Do not fill out the country space.
    In the detailed description section, you will need to list each item (if you have more than 4 different things, you’ll need to grab an extra copy of the form) List each item, its quantity, weight, and value. Always leave the weight of one item blank. The total weight needs to include the packing material, so once the postal clerk gives you that, you’ll need to do some quick math to figure out what the last item weighs.
    In box 5 check gift
    In box 9 decide what you want to do if they can’t deliver the package
    sign and date in box 12.
    Other than box 9, the entire right side of the form is unnecessary.

    Here’s a link to the USPS page for mail to APO addresses

  5. 10
    Carole Smith

    I’m still wrestling with the customs form. As an example, let’s say I am sending:
    Granola bars
    Body Wash
    Jello mix
    Powdered drink mixes

    Can any of item be lumped together under 1 heading? That would require several forms otherwise. I wanted to mail my package last week, but am stuck on how to do this correctly. Should I just resign myself to filling out multiple custom forms?

  6. 11
    Charlotte Woodard

    I have to say I’m having the same problem at this moment I’m sending two boxes with the same items and I don’t have the answers just wanted you to know your not alone. This almost makes me not want to send any packages but my son is worth the headache. Good luck

  7. 12
    Susan Kraha

    When I used to send military packages I would put snacks, books, etc. Some post offices accept that, some don’t. The Ace Hardwares that has postal service usually always accepted it that way. Also if you’re sending something electronic, I suggest not putting that on there. Sometimes it doesn’t make it to the person you’re sending it to…just saying.

  8. 13
    Barbara H.

    What types of items need to be quarantined? I am sending food items like Hickory Farms, store bought cookies, chips, and also homemade baked goods. Do any of these items require quarantine? I do not know what box to check on customs form.

  9. 14
    Alice A.

    I found this all a bit daunting, so I found a nice website ( which is veteran-run. They do it all for you. My son really loved it. Thought I’d pass it on because of the great work they’re doing!

  10. 19
    Naomi Mcc

    Hey there! I just sent my first care package… the lady at the post office told me the quantities dont have to be exact? She actually filled it out for me and put a quantity of one for snacks and toiletries when there was probably 25+ of each. Will my package make it there if its that vague? Or did she just screw me out of $100

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