Holiday shipping through APO

by Erin Elizabeth Eskew, Contributing writer

Photo7aAs the Christmas season approaches, military families living abroad have a special opportunity to connect with family and friends in the United States through Christmas cards and presents from their host country.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Darian Lira, postmaster at the Ramstein Northside Post Office, offered some insight on getting holiday packages and letters to their destinations in a timely fashion.
Christmas cards come in all sorts of beautiful shapes and sizes. But when making their way through the mail system, each side must fall between the standard 5 to 11 ½ inch length or extra postage will be charged, Lira said.
Cards must be less than a quarter inch thick and weigh less than 13 ounces to be covered by a regular postage stamp, he said.
“Normally, a family photo will not push the letter over its 13 ounce limit,” Lira said. “However, a newsletter may. Also, if there is anything other than paper enclosed in the card then a customs form will be required.”
Customs forms are available at all the post offices and can be picked up in advance. The forms require basic information about the items in the letter or package, the value of the items and destination they are going to.
Part of the customs form will be affixed to the letter or package at the post office and a receipt will be given to the customer so they can track their package.
Personalized wrapping and festive decorations for Christmas packages may be fun, but they add risks of a package being lost in the mail entirely.
Holiday wrapping on boxes can tear easily and the address or postage can fall off, Lira said. A non-reused box with a clear address is most recommended.
If festive decor is extremely important, consider drawing festive decorations directly on the box or adding wrapping paper to the box after the address is written on it, with cut outs for the address and postage, so if the paper falls off, shipping information will remain intact.
While purchasing gifts for loved ones, keep in mind alcoholic beverages, ammunition or explosives, perishable items, lithium batteries, nail polish and perfumes, and kinder eggs are all restricted items unable to be mailed through the APO.
Post office staff is happy to answer specific questions about mailing a package or a letter, and additional restrictions and other information is also posted online at
Once the mail leaves your local post office, it is trucked to the Frankfurt Mail Terminal and separated by destination hub, whether it is going to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami or numerous other destinations, Lira said. Each of the local APO post offices have their own shipment and work separately — with the exception of the Northside and Southside post offices on Ramstein, which work together.
“All mail leaving our post office is shipped via air from Frankfurt with the exception of mail being sent from Ramstein to another APO within Germany,” Lira said. That mail is transported by truck, he said.
When sending packages and letters back to the states, it is important to plan enough time for them to travel to their desired locations.
For space available mail, the estimated delivery time is between four and six weeks, Lira said. First Class and Priority Mail, including most Christmas cards, should take between seven to 10 days to deliver, he said. Priority Mail Express is guaranteed to arrive within three working days, not including the day it was mailed or Sundays, Lira said.
As the holiday season gets busier, customers can ask for an updated arrival estimate from the postal worker processing their packages.
Mail coming to an APO box can come by plane or by boat, depending on the method used to send it. Family and friends sending packages to Germany can check with commercial companies, post offices and shipping companies to be sure whatever they are mailing will arrive in a timely fashion.
“Every company processes their orders differently,” Lira said. “I would recommend reviewing the company’s shipping policies prior to placing an order.”
In addition to understanding a company’s shipping methods and speeds, customers should note that various companies still will not ship to APO addresses.
“We don’t have a listing of those exact companies. The best way to find out is to actually check on the company’s site to ensure that they will ship to APOs,” Lira said. “If a company will not send to an APO address the only real workaround is to have items sent to a family member or friend in the states and have them ship the product.”
Some packages may take longer than others to deliver based on the mail type, the location of origin, improper addresses or weather at the origin,” Lira added.
The APO system does not work hand-in-hand with the German post office, so they cannot compare transit times or costs, Lira said. But packages mailed to the U.S. will generally cost less to ship through an APO box.