We’ve recently been the grateful recipients of a couple of packages from home, thoughtful family and friends wanting to give us reading material and DVDs to watch. It’s always appreciated since English language books, magazines and movies are hard to come by around here. When I do find a book in my madre lingua it costs at least double the usual paperback rate, if not more. Besides, receiving mail is always fun!
Until la dogana comes a’calling, that is. We learned the hard way that in Italy sometimes mail is held for ransom. While it’s not perpetrated by thugs demanding bundles of unmarked bills, the Customs officials do sometimes request hefty sums before they’ll hand over the goods. Payment must be made on delivery, so while we rummage through the purse, scour the house, and check the sofa cushions for enough money to pay them off, the oh-so-friendly delivery person waits downstairs pushing the door buzzer every 20 seconds to remind us that they are waiting. It makes the gift-receiving just a little frustrating.
One large envelope containing two magazines cost €14.00. Another small box bearing used DVDS and a couple of books set us back a whopping €56.14. I could have ordered new ones from Amazon for about the same amount.
Why they arbitrarily pick some packages rather than others to extract money from us is a mystery. How they arrive at the required fee is another imponderable. But we have learned a few lessons along the way that can ease some of the wallet pain of your loved ones if you’re shipping things overseas.
How To Mail Stuff to Italy:
*Write the Right Stuff
On the customs form when it asks you to disclose the contents of the package, be as vague as possible. Rather than itemizing each and every gift, write “personal care items” or “used goods”. Never state that it contains media objects; it seems that books, movies and magazines are more likely to draw the attention of the customs folks.
*How Low Can You Go
I know it is tough for Americans to do this, but seriously undervalue the contents. Well-intentioned friends think they are being helpful by stating a higher than realistic value in case the package goes missing. In actuality, Customs calculates the charges based on the stated value…the higher the number, the more they’ll ding us. It costs us more to get the box out of hock than worry about replacing the stuff if it gets lost. The Customs Declaration you form you fill out is used to assess - you guessed it, Customs Duty value. Never, ever (never!) give a value higher than $30. $20 or under is better still.
*Stuff it In
If it can fit in a large envelope instead of a box, shove it in there! Boxes draw inquisitive eyes that want to know what’s inside. Envelopes are less beguiling. They also tend to be delivered faster or often don’t require a “pick me up at the main post office” slip, as well.
*Pack It Right
If you do use a box, it’s always well-appreciated if you use the local newspaper as packing cushion. Bryan especially enjoys smoothing them out to read the news from home. Sure, some of the news can be found online, but sometimes you just want to see it in print. Besides, how else are you going to see the marriage announcements, the grain report, and who showed up for the K of C dinner? Okay, maybe that’s just in our home-spun, home-town papers.
*Send it Out
Normal airmail is usually the best route. I can tell you from experience that sending gifts the cheapest rate puts it on a slow boat that takes a couple of months to traverse the ocean. Our immigrant relatives had a faster trip from their remote villages. Airmail arrives within about 10 days on average. It may also help to have it blessed by your parish priest or to say a little pray as you drop it into the hands of the postal service. Sooner or later it will (normally) arrive.
And preferably it won’t arrive in the hands of a customs agent demanding cash on delivery.
c. 2007 Valerie Schneider