We get tons of questions about how to mail military care packages. Imagine the frustration so many people experience: You spent the time assembling your service member’s favorite foods, magazines, and toiletries. You’ve painstakingly selected photos of family, pets, and included letters from grandma and grandpa. You have put together the perfect care package for your service member: a little slice of home to sustain your loved one while they serve abroad. You fill out all the forms, drive to the post office, and stand in line before being told you did it all wrong. It's enough to drive anyone bonkers.
That's why we've created a step-by-step guide for mailing a military care package to make it quick, simple, and easy to do. So let's dive in:
Step #1: Figure Out Your Service Member’s Military Address
Military addresses are a little different from what you’re used to. A basic civilian address may look like this:
City, State Zip
A military member’s service address is structured similarly, but usually looks like this:
PSC 101 Box 200
APO, AE 10101-1001
The number one question we get has to do with confusion over this format. We'll summarize them breifly here, and more in depth below.
Like normal addresses, this is just the name of the service member.
In the example above, these would be the second and third lines of the address. Your service member will provide you with this information. Lots of times, it just looks like jumbled letters and numbers, but enter it as instructed. Military branches love their acronyms, and military addresses are no different.
This last section is what normally throws people off. The APO/FPO part is just the city, while the AP/AE, etc., is the state. The country is always United States. Below is a list of the most common acronyms you'll see and what they stand for. Keep this in mind if the address seems unfamiliar.
AA: Armed Forces America
AE: Armed Forces Europe (includes the now-defunct "AM" designation, which covers the Middle East)
AP: Armed Forces Pacific
APO: Army Post Office
CMR: Community Mail Room
DPO: Diplomatic Post Office
FPO: Fleet Post Office
OMDC: Official Mail Distribution Center
PSC: Postal Service Center
UMR: Unit Mail Room
Above all, trust that your military member has given you the right address. The military is very good at getting the packages where they need to go, even with little information. All you need to do is get it to the unit, and they’ll know who to give it to, usually by name. So if you don’t know the exact division, and your service member hasn’t given it, don’t worry!
The numbers at the end are just the military zip code. It will either be a 9 or 5 digit zip code, just like in civilian addresses.
Step #2: Locate the Proper Form at the Post Office
At your post office, they will have a form called a Customs Declaration and Dispatch Note. It may be at one of the desks in the lobby, or you might have to ask a postal worker for one. In either case, this is the form you need to fill out in order to ship your package.
The form looks like this:
You will fill it out (as outlined above) and affix it on the top of the box.
Step #3: Fill Out the Form
Sometimes the addresses can look quite complex or confusing, but not to worry! We will walk you through line by line. The top section on the customs form is just your return address, which you enter as you normally would. The biggest errors come in "To" fields, where you have to fill in the military installation information. We'll tackle those line by line.
Line 1: Addressee's Name
The first line should just have the first and last name of the service member. Rank is optional, but not required. If you have it, put it in, since it may just make it easier for it to get to the service member once it's at the unit.
Line 2: Business
This can normally be left blank. If your service member is in the Navy, this line can be used for the ship name. Again, it's optional, but having the ship name (e.g., USS Spruance) can't hurt, especially if you make an error elsewhere.
Line 3: Address
This is where you put all of the information after the name, but before the APO/FPO section. Examples include things as simple as "DDG 111" or "OI Div, CVN 68" (Navy) or as complex as "HHC 1-123 AIR, 2ACT 82 ABN Div" (Army). Just fill in whatever your service member gives you.
Line 4: Postcode & City
This should include the 5 or 9 digit number at the end of the address (the military zip codes usually start with 0 or 9) in the "Postcode" box.
In the "City" box, you should enter one of APO/FPO/DPO-- whichever one your service member gave you. If they are in the Marines or Navy, they will generally be FPO. If Army or Air Force, they will usually be APO.
Line 5: State/Province & Country
Military mail is divided up into "Armed Forces" regions, denoted with a two letter abbreviation based on the region. AE is Armed Forces Europe. AA is Armed Forces Americas. AP is Armed Forces Pacific. One of those two letter codes should appear in the "State/Province" box.
The "Country" box should always be United States when sending to an APO/FPO location. The most common error when sending to an APO/FPO address is that loved ones will put the country that the service member is stationed in, rather than United States. This will result in the package being returned. Don't make that error!
Finally, don't worry about anything on the right hand side. That's all for commercial shipments. Stick to filling out the left side as fully as possible. The only thing left on the form for you to fill out is the customs section, which we tackle below.
Step #4: Fill Out Customs Information, and be Specific!
The bottom part of the sheet will require you to fill out a detailed description of the contents of your package. This is where you have to be a little specific. The post office does not want vague descriptions in case there might be prohibited items included. If the description is not specific enough, the package will be returned.
Specificity doesn't mean you need to list each item in the box. For example, if you had a box with candy, protein bars, playing cards and a board game, you could list "Snacks" on one line and "Games" on the other. But being overly vague, like listing "Care package" or "gift" would not be allowed.
Generally, the Post Office is looking to stop alcohol, compressed gasses, explosives, flammable items, and unknown items from being shipped. So long as your package is clear that it does not contain these items, you're generally in the clear. Take a look at our page on military care package restrictions for more information.
After you list your items, it’ll ask you to put a dollar value estimate next to each item. This will determine the total monetary value of your package, which will play a role in insurance (which we will discuss below).
Next, it asks for quantities and weights of each. Feel free to fill in the quantity as "1" for each item, if it doesn't lend itself to easy counting. For example, if you have a pound of candy and some protein bars, just putting "Snacks" and a quantity of "1" is fine.
Unless you know the weight of your package, leave the weight section blank until you go to the desk to get it weighed. The individual weights of each item must add up to the total package weight. Again, this doesn't require perfect measurement, and is mostly used for insuring the package.
The BIGGEST customs form error is signing and dating the bottom of the form. Make sure you do so! Thankfully, it's the easiest to fix!
Step #5: Bring Your Package and Completed Customs Form to the Postal Worker
You're almost there! Just bring your package and completed form the the postal worker at the front desk. They'll ask you some standard questions to make sure your package doesn't contain any explosives or hazardous chemicals, and verify your answers against what you've put on the customs form. This will also be the time that the postal worker will review your form to make sure it is filled out correctly. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask them for help.
If you estimate the contents of your package as over $100 in value, the postal worker may ask you about insuring your package. This is something to consider for the military, since boxes frequently are lost in transit. Insurance prices vary based on your estimated value of the package. If you include something valuable in the package, it's worth considering. If you ship priority mail (which we recommend: it's how we send all of our Hero Care Packages) your package will automatically be insured for $50.
For more information, check out our detailed post on getting the best shipping rates, filling out online shipping forms, getting free shipping supplies, and restrictions on sending a military care package. Also, check out our posts on what to put in care packages, including ways to save on care packages, great product ideas for what to include, and (just as importantly) what not to include! Be sure to sign up for our blog post updates (above) to get an alert when we publish other helpful information!
Questions or concerns? Feel free to email us: firstname.lastname@example.org!