Shipping early is the first tip for sending gifts to missionaries. Once you have the best birthday/Christmas present for your missionary well in advance, how do you get it to them?
Before you pack it all up, make sure what’s going in the package doesn’t violate shipping restrictions. Check both the domestic and international restricted lists, as some seemingly harmless items are restricted for very good reason. If your missionary needs medications, know they must be shipped by DEA registered distributors. For those favorite treats, candies, or snacks, checking specific rules for shipping food (even shelf-stable items) will help guarantee your package isn’t booted right back to you.
International packages require customs paperwork. Before you decide to gift wrap all those individual gifts, you’re going to need to weigh, value, and record each item on the customs forms. This can be a painstaking task. You can pick up and complete forms at your local post office, print them off online and do them by hand, or fill them out online with USPS’s online service. Visit www.usps.com, follow the “International” tab and select Complete Customs Forms.
How you choose to pack your presents could mean a huge shipping bill. Whether your missionary is only a few states away or halfway around the world, flat rate shipping boxes could mean $100 or more difference in the final bill. Sizes and rates for flat-rate boxes can be found on the USPS website as well, and the physical boxes are free! Be sure to allow room for cushioning fragile items, but you can fit an amazing amount into them. Just be sure they don’t surpass the maximum weight limit for the size.
If you’re using a packaging method other than the flat-rate options, be aware these come with size and weight-based charges. Kiosks in many USPS locations allow patrons to weigh and measure their shipments without waiting in line, though sticker shock may send parents into a panic. You can enter the information online with the Click-N-Ship system at USPS.com to “weigh” your options with your custom box vs. flat-rate prices.
Use soft items or unpack smaller items to act as packing material. This minimizes extra packaging in the limited space of flat rate boxes and helps cushion more fragile items during shipping.
Concerned about thieves? Abby Miles recalls a trick her mother used to send her sister packages in Brazil: “She would put a picture of the Virgin Mary [a familiar religious icon in heavily Catholic Brazil] and tape it onto the package.” This is repeated by many, but some simply opt for making their package as inconspicuous as possible to go unnoticed.
Never hesitate to ask your missionary what they want or need. Some items common at home might be hard to come by in their areas.
Personalized, simple gifts are more meaningful and easier to ship—so don’t stress too hard about what to send, but do spend some time considering how to send it safely so that your missionary receives that care package.