Tricks for sending care packages to Germany

What to put on label to minimize customs interest

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Hi All,

As you can see I am new to this forum. My reason for joining is my daughter recently began her undergraduate degree at Bremen. Neither I nor my daughter speak German (she is in an English language program but is taking beginner German).I have found this site to be very helpful on a number of logistics and so I thought I'd join and pose a question I didn't specifically see addressed.

When shipping foodstuffs from the US to Germany, what tricks are there for completing the label for the contents so as not to have the package held up in customs. We've already has this happen on one of the two packages that we've sent over with some additional items that wouldn't fit in her suitcase. To be fair, the customs office in Koln was very efficient in advising what paperwork my daughter needed to provide to attest the package was a "removal of contents" not subject to import duties and once that was done the package was on its way.

Like every good helicopter parent in the US, I'd like to send my daughter little care packages with stuff from home. Nothing perishable, just instant oatmeal, popcorn, cup of soup, that sort of thing. Before I'm flamed yes I know she could probably buy all of that or similar items in Germany (we lived in the UK for 8 years so we know Europe isn't another planet!!) but in short she likes to get things that are familar from home.

Now i know from reading the customs website certain things "technially" can't be imported but it seems things like chocolates, tea, etc are allowable. Does anyone else know some standard foods that will pass through customs smoothly? Any other general tips on the label ie; gift vs student abroad vs personal effects, would be greatly appreciated.

(oh and if I can reciprocate on anyone looking for information re: the US please let me know, i'll try to help-I'm based in the NY area)
Maybe you'd like to read this.
john g.
cayman: at first, I thought "oh no, not again" (this kind of post is common on Toytown)- then I saw your last sentence!. You´re helpful so I´m sure there´ll be some nice Toytowners along to give tips! Cheers!
Beuel, thanks for the link....the list of british foods brought back memories. I used to have to buy crunchie bars and maynards wine gums for my mother when ever we were visiting home when we lived in the UK. I used to have to bring my British friend twiglets too....blech...i guess that's what the rest of the world thinks about American's love of Peanut Butter!!

I do remember reading somewhere on the Zoll website about tea and chocolates being ok but other things not. I'm really sending just stuff that when mixed with hot water produces something tasty-like kraft mac n cheese single servings.

I know that she could probably go out and buy most of these things and that it is likely to be far cheaper for me to just send her money to do that then to pay the shipping costs, but we're talking about a 17 year is most likely the last thing she's going to be spending her money on. Besides who doesn't like a little bit of home when they are away.

I do know when I had to ship a Christmas Promo gift of wine to one of my client's in Europe the shipper put "olive oil" on the label...went through no troubles. So i'll just try tea, chocolates, and old used clothes and see how we get on.

As to the rest of the Toytown community I know I can't contribute too much but i am cognizant of not just being a taker from the forum but try to give back where i can. So areas of expertise in the US are: Colleges, general American Life, New York, and to some extent visas (H1-B, F-1, L-1, OPT etc). I am not an attorney but I work in HR in the banking industry so I deal with a lot of these issues on a daily basis.
They're generally concerned about animal/plant diseases (no unprocessed meat/dairy products), food safety (no mushrooms from Eastern Europe, dairy/meat/soy/formula from China, no dodgy weight-loss products) and food/drug declaration (drugs and wine in particular). I don't know whether or not Kraft Mac & Cheese would be considered a dairy product, but I'd probably guess no. A detailed listing of the contents usually helps because they want to make sure you're not importing stuff for resale without paying customs/VAT. A medium-sized parcel could easily contain several grand worth of iphones or new, brand name clothes, so that may be why they're holding them up.

Personally I would probably put something like:
Processed food - 4lb - $30 (gift)
Used clothes - 4lb - Umzugsgüter
Do bear in mind that the German word "gift" means poison.
Just to be on the safe side you might consider using the English word "Present" or the German word "Geschenk" instead.
I'm 40, have been living over here for over 5 yrs and my mother still sends me care packages. When we first moved over, there were a lot of things that I missed from home and she sent it all. It gave her a way for us to feel connected and helped tremendously with my homesickness.

Now there are very few things that I haven't been able to locate, substitute or make myself but she still sends the care packages. She enjoys looking for things for me and feeling like a part of my life. Since I don't ask for much, she sometimes has taken a one-off request as a repeat order, which is why I'll be handing out Coffee Nips for Halloween since I'll never eat 20 boxes myself.

So, to answer your question, we haven't had any problems and I receive 3 - 4 boxes per year (Christmas and birthdays). She always sends Costco sized peanut butter for DH, 2 jars, so the boxes are invariably heavy. She's sent instant oatmeal, Irish oatmeal (can't find McCann's here), Kraft dinner, Jell-O pudding, Costco sized microwave popcorn (taken out of the box, she uses the individual packages as a shipping buffer on the sides of the box to me), Costco sized chocolate chips, etc...

Over the years, I've only had a few boxes held by Customs. Once, she sent Benadryl and put it on the declaration. It's illegal here, so they took it. Keep in mind they're also looking for things that look like they may have been purchased off e-Bay. Here's what works for us:

1) After the Benadryl, my mother has become much more generic in her descriptions. Instead of "chocolate chips, baking powder and pudding mix", she now writes "goods for baking"; instead of "Benadryl, NyQuil and Q-Tips" she'll write "toiletries".

2) She also writes "Private Geschenksendung" and undervalues the contents. Now that the limits have changed, this isn't necessary, but she remembers what it was in 2005 when we moved here.

3) If she takes something out of the original box, she includes a flattened box and/or a clearly written label (she put the Irish Oatmeal in a Ziploc baggie with a label, for example)

4) She includes a personal note/letter to me on the top. This establishes it is in fact from my mother and not an e-Bay purchase.

5) If possible, she includes personal mail as well. Easy for us as she's my US address and gets random things, which she saves for said purpose.

6) If she sends clothing, she removes all tags / labels.

If I were to have to go into Customs, this way we don't have to worry about providing receipts or anything. I also figure that if something gets confiscated, it's that one item and I'll get the rest of the box. I personally have only ever had them take the Benadryl.

The boxes she sends are usually fairly large, inevitably heavy (remember the peanut butter) and postage runs $75. I've tried to get her not to send them, not to send them as often and have even left signed checks for her to use at least for the postage. She insists there is very little that she can do for me with me over here, so I've learned to leave it be and appreciate what I have. And, honestly, every time I get a box from home, it does my heart a world of good!
caymandriver: Don't be embarrassed! This is a nice idea; keep it up! Last spring I hosted an American student in my home for a couple of months. My daughter and I are both American, and we did our best to help her feel comfortable here... speaking English, inviting her to our healthy, home-cooked meals, etc. Still, she was always pleased when she stumbled on some American-style, pre-packaged food in the supermarket (brownie mix, etc.). And when her mom sent a big package of treats for Easter, she was thrilled. She was quite homesick a lot of the time, and the packages and letters from home made a big difference! (Oh, and BTW, she was 22!) The "damage" inflicted on her body by a slightly-less-healthy "instant popcorn" is nothing compared to the good it will do for her spirit & soul to feel the love from home!
anne k
Another way you could get American goods to her is to order them from an American shop in Germany - some places deliver for free over a certain amount. The range won't be as wide, of course, but perhaps you could send some things this way, so it might cost you less to send the other stuff from the US.
The English Shop in Cologneactually does American stuff too, for example, and there are American places such as Trendjumpers(haven't tried it myself) - a Google search for American shop Germany finds a few.
Another thing you could try is to send your daughter some extra cash (if student life here is like mine was, I barely had enough to live) and ask her to send you things she's come across in Germany that you can't get in the US. That way you can share part of her experience.
Care packages always go down well, whether you are 17 or 40-something!
Whilst in hospital last year, and unable to get out and about, my favourite cousine in the UK phoned and during the conversation asked what I really miss from England - I thought at the time that it was just general chat, but a few days later I received a parcel in the post!
There were silly things in it like salt and vinegar crisps, and cadbury's cream eggs, and also a chunk of mature cheddar!!!
My cousin both amazed and delighted me with ehr presents!

So, caymandriver, you just get on and send over whatever you think your baby requires - she´ll love you all the more for it!
Anne K has a good point about shops selling strictly American Based products (and not the funny products that come out occasionally at the Norma and Aldi stores. There's a '50 style store that is in Aschaffenburg that has a lot of fun items. I mean, where else can you get Root Beer and Betty Crocker? Here's the name for those interested:

Daniel`s american corner, Aschaffenburg

Ok, so i have access to these items elsewhere, but FYI to the A-burg area.

Any other info is greatly appreciated as well, such as a link to a english page of the Zollamt that covers this or info about value limits and such.
Wait a minute. Benadryl is illegal in Germany?
The zoll know what the US means with gift. Our customs form has that as an option you have to check the box, no one thinks it is poison. Nor do you have the choice to cross it off and write the german word, it is a preprinted english form.

My mom just writes snacks. Everything has come through from mac and cheese, to gold fish crackers, even mccormicks seasonings and gravies. Never once was anything stopped.

For other items she writes used returning to owner.

Also never write the value as anything over 45 euro then it is taxable.

No meat what so ever is allowed. If any gets through you are damn lucky. No dairy as well, but items containing milk ect such as cookies, gravy mix ect are allowed. No plants, no produce.

Read the US postal policies on package to Germany here

And you can read the german zoll website as well here

But if you avoid meat, dairy, produce, and perishables, you are fine.
So does the sender or recipient of the package receive some kind of notice that a package has been held up in customs?

A friend said he sent me a package of books and tortillas (I desperately need some Tex-Mex) about two weeks ago, and I still haven't gotten anything. My mom sent me a package of winter coats about a month ago, and I received them within four days. That's what making me wonder about the tortillas.
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