When you have a missionary out serving away from home, there is nothing more important at holidays and birthdays than ensuring they get a care package from home. Whether it is simply homemade cards and letters or a thoughtfully purchased tie, your missionary needs to feel the love from you.
And you need to have the peace of mind in knowing that your package gets there safely.
My son is serving in Chile, and (according to the mamas on our mission facebook page) most of the packages make it there intact. They don’t always arrive on-time, but most have made it to the elder or sister eventually.
For best practices to your specific mission, you should check with other moms who have had success. In my son’s mission, the missionary is liable for extremely high customs fees if I send anything through carriers like UPS or FedEx, but has no problem or fees if I mail with USPS. I have always done the Flat Rate International boxes, but was told by the USPS worker at Christmastime that one of my packages would have cost $10 less had I mailed it in a regular box and paid by the weight instead. The large Flat Rate box costs me about $87 each to mail, so any savings would have been welcomed.
You can track your missionary packages via USPS very easily. On the receipt that you get from the post office, there will be listed a “CUSTOM” number. I mailed my son two packages last week (his birthday and Valentine’s Day), and you can see both of them on the receipt here:
If you go to the USPS website and search under tracking, you will find a form that looks like this. Be wary of other companies (who will likely be listed first in your google search) that require you download software to track packages . USPS does not require any special software. Their tracking page looks like this:
You can enter your tracking number (or multiple tracking numbers, all separated by commas) and hit “FIND.” It will pull up a screen that looks like this:
On the right hand side, you can click the blue arrow to open a drop down menu. Entering your cell phone or email address will allow you to receive notifications via text or email when your package makes any progress.
This was especially helpful at Christmastime. I mailed his packages in mid-November, thinking it would give them plenty of time to arrive. One made it there in about three and a half weeks; one literally arrived two days before Christmas. I was able to compare notes between the stop each package made and it helped me estimate whether the second one was going to arrive on time or not.
While I was not able to do much about the slower package, it was helpful to know every time that it was moving.
Keep in mind that different countries have different customs processes and it is best to research so you know what you can and cannot send. For instance, I thought I would be able to mail my son an over-the-counter allergy medicine. I found out that it is illegal to mail medication of any kind and that he could be arrested for drug trafficking on his end.
Also, some of my friends have had problems with customs, as well. One mother of a missionary in Mexico sent a Christmas package to her son. He received a photo of the items in the package (that had obviously been opened) and was told by customs agents that he could select ten items out of the package to receive. And they were generously going to offer him his own property for about $400. No reasons given as to why he could only select ten items or why they were being held hostage in the first place.
It nearly broke her heart, but they were not willing to be extorted for a few bags of candy and a tie or two. Corruption, unfortunately, is a reality all over the world.
I’ve also heard tale of using the infamous Mary and Jesus stickers on your South American packages. We were advised that the corrupt folks in mail centers had gotten wise to us missionary mamas, and that they purposely opened and ransacked packages with those stickers, knowing they contained rich American goods. Some mamas swear by them; some mamas won’t risk it. So far we’ve had good luck without them.
Another thing to think about – companions. My son’s current companion is from Peru has never received a package from home. Culture and his family financial circumstances are extremely different than ours, so I made sure to include a few Christmas presents for him in the packages I sent to my son. Nothing extravagant, but I sent a new tie, some socks, and a little bit of American candy for him. Imagine how hard Christmas morning would be if you received nothing, were terribly far from home, and had to watch your companion open his loot in front of you. It’s good to be mindful if you have the means.
Whatever you do, make sure to keep your missionary emails coming. Packages may come and go, but letters from the heart mean everything.
What has your experience been? Have you had any problems mailing items overseas? Any tips for our fellow Missionary Mamas?