by Meg Flanagan
You’ve got your care package all wrapped up and it’s ready to send. Now, just to stroll into the post office and hand it over, right?
Wrong! Before you send your carefully wrapped gifts on their way, you’ll need to complete a USPS customs form first.
It’s definitely overwhelming to complete the customs form for the first time (or the 9,000th). But we can 100% get through this together. Trust me, I’ve been sending mail to and from OCONUS locations with USPS customs forms since 2010. If I can do this, so can you.
Note: This process is for USPS Form 2976 and Form 2976-A. Form 2976 is a smaller physical size, but contains all the same information as the longer Form 2976-A.
Step 1: Find the USPS Customs Form(s)
Really, really important note: If you are not sending from a military post office , you will have to have a customs form completed digitally. Since 2020, USPS will no longer accept handwritten customs forms; they will be returned to sender. The only exception is military post offices (as of 6/2021) until the necessary technology updates are made at military post offices. Make sure that you check with your individual post office if you have questions.
I’m going to assume that this package sending isn’t a one time deal. Go ahead and grab a stack of customs forms right now. (The customs form is officially called PS Form 2976-R .) Not only is it good to have some on hand just in case. Plus, if you’ve got multiples you won’t need to run back out to grab more when you make a mistake. (That’s a tip coming from vast experience, right there.)
But! You can also fill out an online customs form. The clerk will use that to create a label for you.
Step 2: Locate Your Destination Address
Your loved one should have provided you with their military address format. Military addresses will include either an FPO (fleet post office) or an APO (army post office) location. You can also use the customs forms to send mail overseas to regular civilian addresses, too.
For this article, let’s use a pretend mailing address:
Pvt. John J. Jones
PSC 555 Box 000
FPO AP 96307
Step 3: Add Your Address to the Form
The first address you put onto the form will be your own. On the standard customs form, you will start inputting your information in the top left section.
Remember to follow Last Name, First Name Middle Initial when adding your name. Under that you’ll see business. You can safely ignore this section and leave it blank, unless you are sending this package as part of your personal business.
Next up: your physical address. Use your PO Box information, if applicable. Include your city and state. The form says to use your zip code +4. However, it’s okay if you don’t know those extra four numbers.
Last, you will need to include your email address or phone number. It’s another just in case measure should there be any problems with the package. In 11 years of sending packages OCONUS, I’ve never had them call or email me.
Step 4: Add Their Address to the Form
This is the part that can trip people up, especially with military or non-US format addresses. The recipient address is located directly below the sender’s address section.
Start by writing their name.
You’ll write it as: Last Name, First Name Middle Initial
Then put their mail address.
For military address format, this is the line that might start with “PSC”. Treat this like the first line of a normal street address. In our example, you would put: PSC 555 Box 000
The next box is the post code.
That’s just international USPS for zip code. For a military address, this is the last series of numbers. In our example, you would put: 96307
Add the city information next.
This is the APO or FPO. In our example, we are sending this to an FPO.
State or province is the two-letter code.
In our example, this is AP.
Other codes are: AE (Europe and Africa), AA (North and South America except Canada). AP is for the Asia Pacific region.
Last, for country, put US. That’s it!
NOTE: If you are sending the forms to a non-military OCONUS address, obviously don’t put US for the country. Put whatever country you’re sending it to. You should also triple check how their country’s addresses are formatted compared to US addresses.
Step 5: What Are You Sending?
Truth time: you can’t send just anything in a package going OCONUS. Seriously. Don’t do it. In order to send your package, you’ll need to explain what’s inside. The section, right below the addresses, says “detailed” but you can be more general.
You don’t need to write “6 pairs socks – 2 green, 2 khaki, 2 white”. Just writing “socks” is perfectly fine.
However, it is important to be very clear about what you’ve packed, too. This is for everyone’s safety and to make sure that your gifts are legit. Lack of clarity might make your package a target of a random postal inspection.
That’s not to say that a very specifically labeled packaged won’t also be inspected. It’s like screenings at the airport, random but more likely if you’re acting suspicious.
There’s a section for value. This is important, especially if you’re sending pricey items (which I do not recommend ever). You can pick an arbitrary value, like $10, for items. Or you can, again, be very specific and put down the exact cost of each and every thing you packed. Totally personal preference.
Your package will be insured for a base rate of $50 if you used USPS Priority or Priority Flat Rate packaging.
Step 6: Finish the USPS Customs Form
You’re almost there! The finish line is in sight!
Under the description of your items (and their quantity and value), select the option that best fits the description of this care package. Generally, that’s gift. Ignore box 10 and skip to box 12, where you’ll sign and date.
On the right side of the USPS customs form, you’ll also leave all boxes blank (unless you’re a business and then please complete that info).
Step 7: Label the Actual Box
Yes, you have the lovely USPS customs form completed. The military address format is perfect, too. You’re ready to mail this…after you finish this one step.
Put the addresses on the actual box (and, you know, tape everything shut securely). It’s easiest to use one of those giant address label stickers, also available from the post office. But you can use a Sharpie in a pinch.
Label the address sticker just like an envelope. Your information should go on the top, maybe slightly to the left side. Their information, using proper military address format, should go on the bottom and under your info.
Slap that sticker on the box. Maybe put a layer of clear packing tape over it to prevent any water damage. Just in case.
Step 8: Proceed to Actually Shipping Your Care Package
You did it! I’m so proud of you.
Now, head to your local post office. Slide your box, properly packed and labeled, across the counter. Follow up with the correctly completed customs form. Pay the postal worker, collect your receipt and hit the road. That’s it!
Pro Tip: Batch Your Customs Forms
After you’ve successfully completed one form, stop right there and use it to make another one. You’ll use this second copy as your master for additional packages in the future.
Or if you’re super industrious, you can whip out a batch of completed USPS customs forms to last you for a few months. When you have a few on-hand, you’ll be better prepared to send out spur of the moment boxes and gifts!
Looking For More Care Package Ideas? Try These:
- 40 Ways to Save Money on Care Packages
- The Gigantic List of Free Care Packages for Deployed Service Members
- Here’s What Troops Really Want in a Care Package
Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey. You can find Meg on Facebook. Meg is also available as a freelance writer and personal education advocate!