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Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
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Taking the Stress Out of Sending Packages to Troops: How to Properly Mail to the War Zone

By Karen Santaguliana


When you're brand-new to sending care boxes to the troops in war zones, I suspect for some of you that a mild panic attack is setting in. Your mind races crazily: Will I do it right? How do I know what to send? How do I address the label? Where is that carton of Ben & Jerry's ice cream I bought for stress emergencies?

Relax! Even if you do it wrong, the FBI will not come and haul you away. The postal inspectors however, will (I'm just kidding!).

LCpl Smith in Iraq thanks everyone back home who wrote letters and sent troop care packages.
Photo credit: nukeit1, Flickr | Creative Commons license


LCpl Smith in Iraq thanks everyone back home who wrote letters and sent troop care packages. Photo credit: nukeit1, Flickr | Creative Commons license

Now take a deep breath, and put down that spoonful of Chunky Monkey ice cream! I have information that's easy to follow. So calm your nerves, and we'll make sure together that our heroes "in the theater" get your military care box of books, Girl Scout cookies, socks, AA batteries, and beef jerky just fine.

The Mandatory Shipping Form

There is a form that you must include with any packages weighing more than a specified weight (right now, it's 16 ounces, but knowing the Post Office, that could change). It's official name is Customs Declaration and Dispatch Note.

The US Post Office has these declaration forms on hand and they are free to customers. You can also order them over the phone or online for free (more information on that, as well as how to get free flat-rate boxes and packing tips, is provided in our article Send It Secured: How to Properly Pack Your Morale Box for Troops). Most of the lines on the form are fairly easy to figure out on how to fill out (like Sender's Name and Address), but I'll explain the more tricky ones.


Sample of USPS International Shipping Form


Oh, and never have the total value of the package be more than $10-$15.

It's as easy as pie! Make mine blueberry, please. :-)

Are you unstressed now? I hope so!

Important Do's & Dont's

Now, let me give you a few very important do's and don't's for your international customs form. When filling out the Addressee's name, DO NOT fill in what country it is going to! You know where it is going, the Post Office knows you know, but they don't want anyone else to know! Especially the bad guys...

The APO-AE # is their military zip code. Do NOT write Iraq or Afghanistan or Kuwait anywhere on it. I've put in some examples below. Just write the address exactly as you've been given by the soldier or the organization that provided you with the address (these are not actual addresses of actual military troops, so don't send letters or packages to these; they're just examples).


Smith, SGT John
APO AE 09354

Or, the address could look something like this:

Ramirez, PVC Luis
HHC 589th BSB
41st Fires BDE
APO AE 09317

Or, like this:

Wallace, CPT Elvin B.
A BTRY 3/321 FA
FOB Salerno
APO AE 09314


Military addresses are strange-looking and not like what we're accustomed to, with many acronyms and abbreviations and random numbers. Just be sure to write down everything that was given to you, in the order it was given. Don't try to unravel the dark mystery of military addresses – it will give you a headache.

Use print, not cursive, handwriting for legibility. Press down hard with a ball-point pen (not marker or Sharpie) when filling out the form, because there are multiple copies to the form.

The recipient sections on the customs form that are labeled Business, Street, Post Code, City, State/Province, and Country are left blank.

"Country of Origin of Goods" is always listed as USA.
Line #10 on the form: Always check "Surface/Nonpriority"
Line #11 - Always check "Gift"
Line #'s 12-15 - Leave blank
Line #16 - Sign and date the form
Line #17 - Always check "Return to Sender." This way, if for any reason, it cannot be delivered to the person that it is addressed to, it will eventually come back to you. It may take 3-6 months, but it will return one day.

Once you get to the Post Office, be sure to have the form completely filled out (and DON'T forget to sign and date it) before you're at the counter. The postal employee will check it over, fill in a few boxes on the form, and stamp all the copies. One copy will be given back to you; all the other copies will be either kept by the Post Office or slipped into a plastic sleeve with strong adhesive that the postal employee will stick to the front/top of the box. You'll be asked if there are any hazardous, breakable, or liquid items in the box; since you know NOT to include those items, you can confidently say "no." If you're not sure what you're allowed to send, go to No Pork in Iraq: What to Send in Care Packages for Troops.


Related Reading:
Send It Secured: How to Properly Pack Your Morale Box for Troops
Yuletide Reminder: Cards and Letters Mean Everything – 'Tis the Season for Writing to Our Troops
Troop Support Opportunity for Children in War Zones: Beanies for Baghdad
No Pork in Iraq – What You Can Send in Care Packages to Troops
Let's Say Thanks Program – Free Cards for Our Troops
Cakes Ready-to-Eat for Our Troops