Shipping to Military Addresses - APO, FPO and DPOMany Americans have friends and family serving overseas in the military. The holidays bring particularly tough times as spouses, parents, children and friends cope with the absence of their loved ones. While serving on foreign soil, soldiers also struggle with being far from home during a time usually reserved for family gatherings and homecomings. Imagine the joy felt by soldiers as they receive Christmas gifts and letters from their families back home. These gifts from loved ones surely brighten the holiday. To guarantee that soldiers receive Christmas gifts on time, online retailer Arttowngifts.com recommends shipping before Thanksgiving.
Rule # 1 - Shop and Ship Military Holiday Gifts EarlyWhile the shipping process for sending packages to military addresses can seem confusing at first, just follow a few simple rules to insure that your soldier smiles this holiday. Keep in mind that calculating a delivery date for a military address is difficult if not impossible. Instead of a regular daily or weekly scheduled delivery time, the delivery process for military addresses depends on a combination of the location and available transport. This lack of a delivery schedule makes it necessary to ship packages very early to account for uncertain delivery time frames. Start shopping now for holiday gifts and send presents early and accurately to be sure your soldier receives their Christmas gifts on time.
How Does A Military Address Work?What do we mean by military address? The military assigns special addresses to personnel serving in a branch of the military or department of defense. While military addresses conform to regular postal addresses, they do include some odd abbreviations such as APO, FPO or DPO in place of the city. The price of military mail postage is normally the same as domestic postage. In some cases the postal service offers a special discount on flat rate boxes. Military addresses are still considered domestic even if the final destination is on foreign soil. The first leg of the trip for a military address must start via the US Postal Service. The USPS delivers these packages to one of several holding centers based on the ultimate destination of each package. Military addresses include one of three acronyms AA, AE or AP which stand for regions and replace the state reference in the address format. Here are references you may find helpful:
- - AA stands for Armed Forces Americas, serving all of the U.S., Central America and South America, excluding Canada.
- - AE stands for Armed Forces Europe, serving Europe, Canada, Africa and the Middle East
- - AP stands for Armed Forces Pacific, serving Asia and the Pacific
This designation determines the holding center to which the USPS will deliver packages. Those marked AA are delivered to a holding center in Miami. AE designated packages are routed to New York City, and AP marked packages are sent to San Francisco. At these holding centers, the postal service transfers custody of the packages to the Military Postal Service Agency (MPSA). From there the military handles transport and delivery to the recipient's unit location.
Packages sent via Express Mail, Priority Mail or First Class will be transported overseas via an airplane, usually taking one to two weeks for delivery, while packages sent with standard rate postage will be shipped overseas via a cargo ship, taking a month or more for delivery. Once having reached its respective continent, the mail is still subject to transfers and delays.
Since the MPSA uses available transport, there are no established shipping times or pickup times. This makes it impossible to calculate or determine a specific delivery date. If the recipient's station is in a particularly remote or risky area, delivery may take extra time. Peak holiday times also result in slow delivery, so account for this as well. To further complicate shipping to a military address, tracking normally stops when the postal service completes the hand off of the package to the military. Joseph Few, owner of Arttowngifts.com explains, "In regards to the shipping time, we only have control over how long it takes to ship to the collection center for the military. Once a package arrives at the military collection center in the states, the military picks up the packages and takes over the delivery process. From there we are blind and do not have the ability to track the packages or expedite the process."
Due to these uncertainties, it is essential that packages destined for military stations overseas be sent extremely early; it is best to ship before Thanksgiving or shortly thereafter as delivery times can range anywhere from one week to six weeks.
Make Sure the Military Address Format is CorrectA correct address looks something like this:
SGT John Doe
PSC 802 BOX 74
APO, AE 09499-0074
The final line is usually the most confusing. One of three types of postal offices, an APO, FPO or DPO is designated first in place of the City reference. APO stands for Air/Army Post Office. Packages addressed to APO's are taken into custody by the Army or Air Force. FPO stands for Fleet Post Office; these packages are claimed by the Navy. DPO's are Diplomatic Post Offices for delivery to embassies. AA, AE and AP designations replace the state designation as discussed above. These acronyms are followed by a nine digit zip code. The address must include the full name of the recipient, as packages addressed to "Any Service Member" are no longer permitted by the USPS. Check and re-check the address before sending, as military addresses can be confusing and difficult to understand.
Correct Addresses Are A Must!Making sure that your soldier receives their holiday gifts starts with a correct address. What may seem like a simple mistake such as a one digit zip code error will likely mean the package will be lost. Please don't guess or assume that the postal service will correct the address. If in doubt, confirm the address with the recipient before shipping your package. Make sure that you print and write very legibly. Also, make certain that the recipient actually has a military address. For example, if a friend is visiting a soldier, the shipped package still has to be addressed to the soldier even if the gift is for the visiting friend. In most cases, undeliverable packages are not returned to the shipper. Even with that caveat, Mr. Few adds, "The few lost military shipments we have encountered started with an address error. As long as the address is correct, the packages arrive at their destination."
Consider Before Sending - What Can Be SentBe sure to check on military mail restrictions before sending. Mail going to personnel through the Military Postal Service Agency is subject to the host country customs requirements. Contact your local Post Office, or visit the USPS website for a list of restrictions. Common prohibited items include alcohol, firearms, perishable food items, batteries, flammable materials and fruits. Soldiers serving in the Middle East or Afghanistan cannot receive a bulk amount of material contrary to the Islamic faith, pork or pork by-products or material considered pornographic or politically inflammatory. Be sure to consider the amount of time your package may likely be in transit. Arttowngifts.com reports that they frequently turn away orders for fresh bakery items due to their perishable nature. Obviously, the transit time prohibits fresh flower gifts. Even chocolates should be avoided in most cases due to the fact that temperature controls may be lacking during transport. Desert temperatures typically exceed 100 degrees; this can damage delicate goods such as electronics. One last caveat, please do not send mail addressed to "Any Service Member" or any other formulation that does not name a specific individual. Due to security concerns, such mail will be rejected and returned to the sender.
Pack Gifts CarefullyPackages addressed to military addresses often have a long trip to make so choose the right box. The postal service offers free boxes for smaller sizes. Waterproof the contents by lining the box with a garbage bag. Then package items so that they are secure and cannot move around. If the item is fragile use bubble wrap. If you are shipping several items in the same box, make sure that you put anything that can spill inside a baggie. To make receiving more fun, wrap each item separately. This will also help protect the items and is particularly true if you mix the contents. The less items inside your care package can move around, the better. Do not over stuff a box; if the box is too full it might open on the way to the destination. Now add a copy of the recipient's address to the inside of the box. This way if the outside label is torn or becomes unreadable, the package will still arrive. Finish the process with lots of clear packaging tape. Seal the box shut on all sides and then tape along all of the box seams. Be sure to add a return address to your box. Take your box to the post office and ask for a customs form. The clerk will help you complete the form if you need assistance.
Send Care Package Gifts Designed for SoldiersCare packages and gifts specifically designated for military members make wonderful options for sending to soldiers. Arttowngifts.com features a selection of care packages boxed in disposable containers to help soldiers avoid the hassle of carting around bulky packaging. Care packages like the Trooper's Snack Pack feature an assortment of fun snacks and sweets, plus puzzles and games to ward off boredom. If you want to send food, avoid the temptation to send fresh baked. It is too dangerous. Instead look for food items with a long shelf life such as beef jerky, jelly beans, snack mixes and sunflower seeds. Other ideal gifts include personalized gifts such as multi-purpose tools, flash lights, knives and dope bags. Some military sites recommend razors, word puzzles, baby wipes, socks, disposable cameras, duck tape, lip balm, reading materials, writing materials and mints. Include cards and letters from various friends and family members to make gifts very personal and pleasing. It is difficult to spend holidays away from home, so be sure to send gifts that comfort and remind the soldier that he or she is missed and loved.
Not All Online Retailers Ship to Military Addresses Keep in mind that many online and brick and mortar retailers do not offer shipping to military addresses. There are several reasons:
1. Content restrictions
2. Inability to determine a delivery date
3. No overnight or expedited shipping
4. Lack of tracking and delivery confirmation
5. Packages cannot be shipped via UPS or Federal Express
6. Additional paperwork required by military
7. Packages must be actually delivered to the postal service and each package processed individually
8. Insurance doesn't apply once a package reaches foreign soil.
For larger operations that rely on shippers to pick up large shipments, it isn't feasible to run to the post office. Mr. Few explains, "Our staff members volunteer to make the trips to the post office on their own time to show support for the troops. We are all still taking turns making trips to the postal service to handle our military shipments." There are some alternatives such as ShipitAPO or APO Box. Using these services, you can place an order with any online company and send the order to their location and they will reship to the soldier for a handling fee plus the additional shipping charges.
Final Rule - Start Early!When preparing to send holiday gifts to loved ones overseas, consider the location of the recipient's station, the amount of risk at his or her location, and the mail class being used to determine an approximate delivery time. Remember that mail delivery lags during peak holidays, so Christmas delivery can be expected to be especially slow. Start very early and send in mid-November to assure the timely arrival of the package. Before sending your packages, check and re-check the address for errors and be sure that items sent are permitted. Ship gifts of warmth and well wishes to the deserving men and women who serve our country and in whom we are so proud. There are none more deserving than they.