How to Post things to Italy

You might think that mailing something to Italy would be as simple as popping it in a letter box.  You would be wrong though, for this is often when the trouble starts.

I’ve lost count of the number of stories I’ve heard from expats in Italy who have lost things in the post here.  More often than not it is items sent to Italy which tend to disappear into the ether.  I know, I have had direct experience of this.  Two things which stick in my mind are a Christmas card which never arrived, and a few humble pairs of Marks and Spencer’s socks which my mum sent to me a few years back.  Said socks never made it to my house in Italy.  Yes, I know that these items were not life threateningly important, but losing them was annoying, and others have lost much more valuable items.

Other more costly items which I have heard of that have gone astray include a watch, and a Sony PlayStation, plus many other things which simply never arrived at their destinations here.

It’s not just sending things to Italy which can be haphazard, but also sending items out of the country.  Whether or not the letters, packs and parcels reach their destination tends to be down to chance.  I cannot say whether it is Italian postal workers who take a shine to whatever people are sending to one another, or whether it is the postal people in the countries through which the post passes, but I have my suspicions with regard to Italy’s post people.

This how-to post, if you’ll excuse the postal pun, may help you avoid losing things to this country’s rather erratic postal system.  And if you think I’m being paranoid, then take a look at the comments which this post has attracted since it was first published in May 2009.

By way of an update for 2011, an Italian friend of mine in Genoa who often buys things online and uses the Italian post office to have them delivered has not had any problems, and has not lost anything, nor has he had packages opened. I suspect he has the things he orders posted to his offices, but I’m not sure – I’ll ask him about this the next time I see him.  The point is that posting items to Genoa (Genova in Italian) seems to be safe.  This information may help someone.  Genoa, for those who do not know, is in north Italy.

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December 2014 – the Missing Pure Mains Adapter

On November 9, I ordered and paid for a mains adapter for a Pure digital radio from Pure in the United Kingdom. A month has now passed and there’s no sign of the item which was dispatched on November 10. I emailed Pure but received no reply. Have now Tweeted at Pure in the hope of obtaining a response.

Pure has now responded via Twitter and are posting me another mains adapter. Fingers crossed that this one makes it to me in Italy. Will update one way or another in a week or two.

Where did the original mains adapter end up? Who knows. Yet another victim of Italy’s hit and miss postal service?

October 2011 – Credit Where Credit is Due

Although this post does not paint a great picture of Italy’s postal service, recently, I ordered some camera gear (a wireless flash kit to be exact) from a maker called Phottix in Hong Kong.  The package arrived in Milan, where I live, in good time and in perfect condition.

More Credit January 2012

I ordered, via Amazon.it, a memory card from a German company for my camera on January 6th.  It arrived at my home in Milan, Italy on January 10th using normal postal service.

Live in the USA? Please Read this Paragraph

Right, before you read on, if you live in the United States of America please read this USPS list of items which you cannot mail to Italy or you can only send to Italy if they are packaged correctly and please read the rest of the page too – before you send anything to Italy.  There are also specific rules regarding labelling and other aspects of parcelling items which you need to refer to.

For quick reference, here is the USPS list of prohibited items – correct as at 8th November, 2013, but I still, strongly, recommend clicking on this link to see if the list has been updated and to check the rest of the information on the page USPS list of items which you cannot mail to Italy ):

  • Albums of any kind (of photographs, postcards, postage stamps, etc.).
  • Arms and weapons.
  • Articles of platinum or gold; jewelry; and other valuable articles unless sent as insured Priority Mail International parcels.
  • Artificial flowers and fruits and accessories for them.
  • Bells and other musical instruments and parts thereof.
  • Cartridge caps; cartridges.
  • Clocks and supplies for clocks.
  • Compound medicaments and medicines.
  • Coral mounted in any way.
  • Ether and chloroform.
  • Exposed photographic and cinematographic films.
  • Footwear of any kind.
  • Haberdashery and sewn articles of any kind, including trimmings and lace; handkerchiefs; scarves; shawls, needlework including stockings and gloves; bonnets, caps, and hats of any kind.
  • Hair and articles made of hair.
  • Human remains.
  • Leather goods.
  • Lighters and their parts, including lighter flints.
  • Lithium cells and batteries — including items containing lithium cells and batteries under 135.6.
  • Live bees, leeches, and silkworms.
  • Live plants and animals.
  • Nutmeg, vanilla; sea salt, rock salt; saffron.
  • Parasites and predators of harmful insects.
  • Perfumery goods of all kinds (except soap).
  • Playing cards of any kind.
  • Postage stamps in sealed or unsealed First-Class Mail International or First-Class Package International Service shipments.
  • Radioactive materials.
  • Ribbons for typewriters.
  • Roasted or ground coffee and its substitutes; roasted chicory.
  • Saccharine and all products containing saccharine.
  • Salted, smoked or otherwise prepared meats; fats; and lard.
  • Tobacco.
  • Toys not made wholly of wood.
  • Treated skins and furs.
  • Weapons of any kind and spare parts for them.

No doubt some of the items on the list will surprise you. If you ignore the list and send items anyway, they may be seized or returned to the sender.  Exactly which of the two will happen is unclear.  If in doubt, don’t mail it to Italy.

With thanks to reader Helena for drawing this list to my attention.

Residents of other countries should check with their postal services to see what can and cannot be mailed to Italy.

The Italian postal service cannot be blamed if items on such a list do not arrive at destination in Italy.  I imagine the Italian postal service has a similar list too. If someone knows where it is, tell me and I’ll add a link.

Now, for items not on the list above, or on any other list for that matter:

Covert Operations!

Boring Envelope

A Boring Envelope

Red envelopes shout ‘rip me open!’.

Mail workers are wise to the fact that colourful envelopes from overseas may well contain greeting cards along with cheques or, even better, cash.

When sending simple things like greeting cards, do not use that flashy red or sky blue envelope that came with it.  No, pop the card in an envelope of the nice ordinary buff brown variety, like the one on the left.

If you like, you can still put that card in its original glorious technicolor envelope, as long as both are placed in an anonymous-looking boring brown envelope.

The dull brown envelope creates the impression that the contents are official, and thus of little or no value.  This discourages tampering, especially when there are all those other nice bright red and sky blue envelopes to tinker with.

December 2011 Update

22 December, 2011:  A reader who sent a colorful package to Milan from the south USA on December 2 contacted me to say the package had not arrived at its destination in Italy.  The unlucky reader had not read this how to post before sending the pack to Italy.  Remember those covert operations ;)

Box It! Feel It!

If you can understand what is in a pack from feeling it, then you can be dead certain that someone else will too, especially someone who makes a living handling parcels.  However, it is possible that the extensive list of items which cannot be sent to Italy from the USA – linked to above  – may be to blame for certain items never arriving at destinations in Italy.  Those living in the USA need to check the list carefully before assuming Italian postal workers are light fingered.

To keep curious hands from understanding whether something is worth stealing, if you are sending things to Italy, pop items like DVDs, CDs or clothes in a rigid cardboard box.  Otherwise the chances of these things mysteriously evaporating will be considerably higher.  But note that packages may well be opened to ensure they conform to the restrictions mentioned at the start of this post.

Hold your horses for a moment.  Resist the urge to rush off to the mail box, as you are still not yet ready to post something to Italy.  Please read on.

Print that Address

Scribbling the target address on that ordinary envelope or parcel is a big no-no.  Hand written addresses are a dead give-away.  They shout ‘personal‘, ‘gift‘, and ‘money‘.

Instead, invest in those self-adhesive labels you can run through an ink jet or laser printer, and print that address.  Use a formal looking font, too. Times New Roman, maybe.  Printed addresses add, along with the boring brown envelope, to the ‘this is official, and thus of no value’ impression.

In case you can’t be bothered to take a trip down to the local stationers or computer shop to buy those self-adhesive labels, a piece of white paper on which the address has been printed, and which is then taped or, better, glued to a boring brown envelope, could be used as a do it yourself sticky label alternative.

You could, of course, simply print the address directly onto your envelope, if your printer is able to do this.

Your package or card is still not ready for the mail box just yet though.  There is the address itself.

Send it to a Business Address

From experience, I have discovered, well, my parents have, that sending a parcel, card or letter to a business address, which means a company name with ‘Srl’, ‘SpA’, or ‘SAS’ after it in Italy, tends to build upon the impression that the contents are probably boring stuff like brochures or a report.  This little distraction technique keeps those who love to tamper from fiddling with packages.

Instead, these despicable types home in on the more obviously personal packages.  You know, the ones in bright red, pink or pretty flowery envelopes, Christmas packing paper, or the things that can be squeezed.

Christmas and birthday cards disguised as official mail can probably be sent to home addresses in Italy quite safely using the boring brown envelope and printed label trick.  Well, this works for me.

December 2011 – The Christmas Mail to Italy Arrives Safe and Sound

My parents, who live in northern England, recently sent three Christmas parcels to Milan, where I live in northern Italy – with the technique of disguising the parcels shown here: using printed addresses and sending them to a business address.

I’m please to be able to report that all three packages arrived in good time – around a week – and the contents had not been tampered with.

Register and Insure the Item

To add some icing to the postal cake, sending your item by recorded/registered post (and insuring it) also seems to help ensure (but does not guarantee) that whatever it is you are posting will arrive at its destination in Italy, or in the country outside Italy to which you are sending something.  You may even be provided with a tracking number which can help if the package does not arrive at destination.

Oh, and beware of writing just what is in the package on it to help those nice customs people – they should have X-ray machines anyway.  Write something anonymous like ‘books’ or ‘gift’, or whatever else you can think of which will broadly describe the contents without giving too much away.

The package containing the watch I mentioned at the beginning of this little how-to guide arrived at its destination – minus the watch, most probably because the sender wrote on the parcel just what it contained.  Indeed, I know for a fact that the sender did indeed write ‘watch’ on the pack.  To be quite honest, it is best to avoid sending anything of value to or from Italy by post – unless you won’t mind losing it.

Wait

Once you have actually sent the item off, be patient.  Posted items can take up to two weeks to pop through that Italian letter box.  Once the two weeks are up, start checking – and read the next section too.

Customs Duty and VAT

If you are sending goods of value, such as electronic components, clothing, or furniture to Italy from outside European Union countries these could pass through customs without being flagged, however if the mail is checked and computer parts etc. are found, then someone – the recipient of the package, for example – will be required pay a 4% customs duty on the value of the item to allow it to enter Italy and Italian VAT (IVA) of 22% will also have to be paid. Some items qualify for lower VAT rates. VAT is calculated on the value of the goods, plus international shipping costs and insurance, and any import duty due.

Note that if nobody presents themselves at a customs office to claim ownership and pay duty and/or VAT, after a certain amount of time the item (or items) will be sold at public auction, so always ensure packages are not stuck in customs!

Here’s the website of Italy’s Customs service – though it is not entirely clear from the website contact section who to contact in order to understand whether your package is stuck at customs and awaiting the payment of customs duty and/VAT.

With thanks to reader Raffaele for this tip.

DHL, Fed Ex or TNT it

DHL it!

DHL it!

Last, but by no means least, if you really have to send something to Italy which is either highly important, very valuable, or extremely fiddly to replace, like a birth certificate or passport, for example, then use DHL, Fed Ex or TNT.

The cost will be high, but the chances of the package going astray will be greatly reduced.  But never, I repeat never, send raw cash this way, unless it is fully insured, and even then, it may well become lost, resulting in the long drawn out process of making a claim against the courier service’s insurance – if it covers lost cash, that is.

Sending Money

As stressed above – best avoid it, and simply do not send cash using normal postal services, especially not to or from Italy.

Indeed, US residents can only send cash and banknotes to Italy if they are placed in special packaging.

If you really must send money, either transfer it electronically via your bank, or use a service like Western Union.  A non-transferable cheque can be sent, as even if this never arrives, not much can be done with it – although the information on the check could end up in the hands of identity thieves, which is something to bear in mind.

There, I hope that helps.  The suggestions contained in this post are not foolproof, but should increase the chances that post to Italy really does get through, and arrives in one piece.  Similarly, sending items out of Italy will also benefit from a little ‘camouflage‘.

Let me know how you get on, and if you have any losses to report.  Please say whereabouts in Italy you are sending items to and from, if you do leave a comment – this might help us all identify the trouble spots.

I hope you found this post on the ‘post’ interesting.  Let me leave you with one final thought.

Ever wondered why Amazon took so long to set up shop in Italy?  Well, this post might explain why.  I hope that Amazon does not end up losing buckets of money as a result of high-ticket items never getting to where they were supposed to go.  I could be wrong, but… ;-)

23 November 2010:  Amazon decided to brave the Italian market – but Amazon read this post first: Amazon Lands in Italy, but Visited ItalyChronicles/BlogfromItaly.com first

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Comments

  1. Aishling says

    Hello! This may seem silly..do you think I could ship pancake mix and syrup from the US to Italy or will it be taken? Thanks!

    • T says

      My mom sent me 5 boxes of mac and cheese and I didn’t have any problems. I also sent her chocolate, pasta, and seasoning to the USA without any problem.

      • says

        Good to hear that T. That’s the thing about the mail service – you never really know what’s going to happen! People who comment here have had problem’s – those who have not commented probably have not. I don’t know what the ratio is between problem free mailings and those with problems though I do hear about problems and have had a few myself (including one at the moment!).

        Best,

        Alex

        • Mary Lynne says

          I sent off a little package to a pen-pal in Italy. It didn’t have any great value so I decided to just take my chances. It took close to three weeks but she got it so that was nice. I’d suggest trying the pancake mix and syrup and putting “gift” on the customs slip with a negligible value. If it doesn’t make it, at least it won’t have been something valuable (except to the person who was looking forward to pancakes!) :)

          Also, I’m the person who left all her favorite earrings at my last hotel in Italy and finally they are now in the mail to me. The hotel had taken them to the post office and labeled them jewelry and the post office told them to ship them by private service which I was told would cost around 80 E. I told the hotel to ship them to the pen-pal person because she is familiar with shipping things to the US. It took a while to get from Sicily to her and then it took her a while to get it in the mail, but it’s on its way now and I am fervently keeping my fingers crossed. I miss those earrings every day!

    • says

      Not a silly question. From the USPS list, sending pancake mix and syrup to Italy should be OK (but I can’t be 100% certain) – but check neither contains saccharine. Both should be unopened and in their original packaging.

      As to whether the items will be ‘taken’ – depends who takes them – customs for light fingered postal workers. Customs will confiscate items which are not acceptable.

      Do speak to the service you are going to use to send the items to Italy before actually sending them – they should be able to tell you whether or not the items will get through. And if you have a moment and remember, let us know if the items made it to Italy.

      Best,

      Alex

    • Aishling says

      Hello! I am happy to report that my package ( consisting of pancake mix, syrup, mixing cup and an espresso mug) made it safely to my friend. It took about 2 weeks and it was shipped to Umbria with no issues. Thanks for all your help!

  2. Steve says

    I sell to Europe via Amazon. I can confirm that the Italian Postal service is the worst in Europe. Milan is particuarly bad. I have had 2 Italian customers who say that have direct evidence that postal staff steal things. I would say that about 10% of my orders to Italy do not arrive. Even if it’s tracked. They are total scumbags. And what does the British Postal service do bout this. Absolutely nothing.

    • says

      To be fair to British mail service, Italy is not their problem and out of their control.

      Interesting to hear Milan is a trouble-spot although I’ve seen inside a Milan sorting office – it looked chaotic.

      Best,

      Alex

    • T says

      I will say that I finally received all of my packages after much work, but nothing was stolen. None of the boxes were opened and I didn’t have to pay any additional fees.

  3. Andrew says

    Hi. I’m planning to mail (7) 5lb gift packages to family in Sicily via USPS.

    Plain brown boxes with printed labels. Small items, about 20 bucks total value per box.

    Your article has me terrified that they won’t arrive, and I’m stumped on what to list on the customs form. How accurate do I need to be? Here’s a list of what I’m sending.

    Maple Syrup -very small container ~6 oz.
    Home Made Blueberry Jam
    Home made cookies
    Dried Pecans 6 oz
    Candy – 6 oz of hershey kisses
    Lip Balm
    CD of pictures
    Fans (japanese-style hand-fans, really just arty)
    Cheese NYS cheddar 1/2 pound block.
    Knits

    What do you suggest?

    Thank you!!

    • says

      Hi Andrew,

      Don’t panic! Try writing “gift” on the label – worked for Mary Lynne – see her comment on November 30, 2014 at 6:45 pm. You could also try sending the items to business addresses if possible – this might also help increase the chances of the packages getting through.

      Italy’s mail is a little hit and miss – the mail might get through or it might not – and it’ll probably take longer than you expect.

      If all your items do make it, please do come back and let us all know. Thanks.

      All the best,

      Alex

      • Andrew says

        UPDATE on wisdom of using just “Gift” and not listing contents and values.

        So far 4 out of the seven recipients has emailed us to let us know that they need a list of contents and values. We sent the 4 lists over and 2 of the people have sent the lists to the post office and have now received their packages. No word on whether the recipients had to pay tax or anything.

        So far the experience says: a) There is no such thing as a surprise gift (from overseas): you must be in communication with the receiver.
        b) expect delays (but you already know that from reading this blog.
        c) My personal take: Don’t list the contents, but be prepared to send a list to the recipients if the P.O. asks for it.

        My dad says: we should’ve just sent a gift from within Italy (flowers, gift basket from an Italian company). I say, it’s been OK: homemade stuff, NYS stuff sent from the heart has been received and appreciated.

        I’ll post again when it’s all said & done. Thank you for this Blog!!

  4. Nicole says

    I would like to send a SASE to an Italian actor to request an autograph but so far am not having much luck getting things together. Even though his website says I only need to send a self-addressed envelope I thought it would be polite to toss in postage, too. But the United States Post Service no longer sells International Reply Coupons and my search for Italian post has only ended in several frustrating dead ends. Do you have any recommendations in addition to the tips listed here?

    • says

      An interesting one, Nicole. Not sure how you’d solve this (and it might entail coming to Italy!) – would have to research it but if the actor only requests a self-addressed envelope – without a stamp – then don’t worry too much about being polite and do it! The postage won’t cost that much. You could always offer to send the cost of postage via Paypal or some similar system.

      Best,

      Alex

  5. Ivy daley says

    Hi Alex,
    I need to send a couple of credit cards that arrived after my daughter left for a semester in Florence. What is the best way to send those. Sending to her school’s address (SACI). Thanks for all your information here!

    • says

      Hi Ivy,

      I’d say you should send the cards using a courier service such as DHL or FedEx – ask the services whether they are happy to send cards before arranging for shipping – don’t think it will be a problem but don’t know. The credit card companies may be able to offer some advice too.

      And I would recommend sending the cards to the school’s address not to a private address – but inform the school first and ask them if it will be OK for you to do this. That’s probably going to be the safest way to do it, if not the cheapest. I would not recommend using a normal postal system even if you use a recorded delivery service.

      If you have a moment, let us know if the cards get through safe and sound.

      Best,

      Alex.

    • t says

      My school has a specific mailing address for students. She probably has one too. My mom sent mine via regular mail to my apt and I got it fairly quickly.

      • says

        Glad to hear it, t. I don’t hear of people losing credit cards in the mail but that’s not to say it does not happen.

        Hopefully Ivy will be OK.

        Best,

        Alex

  6. Angelo says

    Hello,

    This list of prohibited items is specific to USPS or is used also with other shipping carriers (for example, DHL, FedEx, etc.)?

    Thank you.

    Angelo

  7. rews2 says

    I once had a woman in Italy purchase a book from me about antique dolls. The book was out of print and loaded with amazing pictures, to help with the identification of rare and antique dolls. The book was shipped well-packed. My packages do not fall apart. Tape is cheap. Lost merchandise isn’t. Nevertheless, the woman never got the book. She went to her post office several times, to inquire. They didn’t know a thing about it. Finally, after weeks of waiting, I was just on the verge of reimbursing her, when she emailed me to say that she got the book! Her father went to the post office, to pick up the mail. And he did what older and smarter Italians routinely like to do– he looked behind all the doors at the post office, and there, behind one of them, she wrote, was her book, standing up, leaning against a wall, minus all of its’ wrappings and paperwork, but standing up, behind the door, basically for anyone to take that wanted it.

    The woman explained to me that this happens a lot. Postal workers open up the parcels, take what they want, and whatever they don’t want, gets put behind some door or other, for whoever else might want it, because the exterior wrappings are conveniently long gone. They just try to make it look like the parcel fell apart, so they don’t know who the goods were meant for. Between that and two other Italian buyers who never got their parcels either, I finally made the decision to not to ship there anymore. I couldn’t afford the losses.

  8. John Doe says

    I sent a book and a letter in a beige envelope (one that would encompass both the book and the letter) to Roma.

    Should I be concerned? The items are not worth much monetary value. Quite personal though.

  9. Glynnis says

    Well thought you might like to hear about my two recent disasters sending stuff from Italy to another country. Today I queued for several hours at three different post offices in and around Foggia, the first only had a huge box far too big for my gift….you must have a particular box for gifts sent outside Italy. the second had no box and had never sent a package abroad before so was really uncertain. The third which was the main post office kept me waiting 45 minutes while the staff had an argument before I was able to purchase my correct box. I then waited one and a half hours with my ‘ticket number’ only to be leaped frogged by the two previous numbers by the satff at the desk. They did not like me complaining at all. Then I was told I could not send any package without Italian ID….I am British. They would not accept the passport or any other ID.Apparently the law changed in January and you cannot send things out of the country without a Fiscal number. do please tell me why this is if you can even work it out? At the PO they said it was incase I placed a bomb in the box…but they had packed it and knew it was a cushion. No explanation it’s just ‘the law’.What about EU laws on Free trade and employment I ask?

    The other incident was my attempt to send a package of gifts ( I have just read about homemade clothes etc) of clothes I had made for my daughter and grandsons and which I had already paid tax on the fabric when it was sent here from USA. I sent it from Lucera to her ‘ Shop and Drop’ address in Milan so it could then be couriered to Dubai where she lives. Well the package has been tracked and it says delivered but certainly not to the Courier…….maybe they don’t like the contents, maybe they want the Fiscal code, maybe they cannot ‘join the dots’ but whatever their dilema why not just return it to the sender’s address, which you have to write on the box twice with phone number? In all my years of travel I have never been in a country quite so useless with the post….even many ‘developing’ countries have a system far more reliable and honest than this one. I was thinking of running a business from here but will certainly reconsider this now.

    • says

      Hi Glynnis,

      You have had some ‘fun’ with Italy’s erratic mail service, haven’t you! Didn’t know about the new fiscal code requirement – will check that out. Sounds very odd though. Getting an Italian fiscal code is time consuming but not impossible and Italy will hand them out to just about anyone who wants one, it seems.

      The second situation seems to be simply a problem of Italy’s postal people losing something which, alas, can happen. Alternatively, the item got caught up in customs or may even have been stolen. Very hard to know and Italy’s postal service is not overly communicative! Nor, it seems, does it really no what it’s doing – at least not in it’s more isolated outposts even if we are now in the 21st century and one would have expected that guidelines can be found online – does not seem to be the case! Such is Italy!

      Thanks for the tales of woe!

      Moral of the story – if you want to post items out of Italy, use a post office in an area frequented by foreigners, such as Milan, Florence, or Rome. This, however, may not be so simple for everyone.

      Best,

      Alex

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