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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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. Raffaele says

    @Michael S. and Kristina K. comments:

    1) What happened to Michael S. and his bag with climbing gear, just proved what I said about introducing via mail valuable things into Italy from outside EU countries.
    Switzerland is not a member of EU so items should pay custom fees and VAT.
    What Michael S. must had done was including to the delivery package proper documentation stating he sended the bag to himself, and a declaration by italian consulate in Geneva stating that item is i. transit to Italy not for commercial but for sport purposes.

    2) Sorry for Kristina K. but US customs enforce a strict policy of food quarantine over food products from overseas to avoid animal diseases present in Europe and other foreign countries will be not introduced in USA.
    The package they sended contained olive oil and candies (I suppose artisan made candies).
    There all strong possibilities that package was intercepted by US customs which is very harsh after September 9/2011 terrorist attack, and all content of mail package had been destroyed to avoid viral diseases to be introduced in USA, including non food items like the venetian masks that were delivered in the same package.

    • Janin says

      Please bear with me as this may not be the right place to ask:
      (BTW, where would I??)
      We are (still !) planning to relocate to Umbria and would probably want to ship a 20-ft container with our household goods (from a non EU country) to the Genoa container port.
      Will customs (besides their normal clearing charges) charge import tax and VAT on the stuff {all used, like some furniture, kitchenware, tools, our computers, radios, clothes, well you know what is in a household… ;) }?
      I sent this Q to dogane.genova//agenziadogane.it but may not get an answer soon…
      So, anybody here with experience and knowledge?

      Saluti
      N & J

  2. Janin says

    Update:
    Our REGISTERED letter sent from the US 44 days ago has not been delivered yet.
    A second (normal) letter which was posted 7 days ago from Canada arrived this morning.
    So, what do I learn? Registered letters do not arrive, others do??? ;)
    Janin

    • says

      What does this teach you, Janin? Quite simple and as illustrated here and confirmed by the comments – Italy’s mail system is not reliable, alas.

      Sad, but true.

      At least one letter got through! The other one may still turn up – just don’t move house for the next 10 years or so ;)

      Best,

      Alex

      • Janin says

        Well, in my case it seems that the Italian postal service is/was NOT at fault.
        We claimed the loss with both sides (American and Italian) and were told that our letter left “ISC New York” (whoever they may be) and then could not be traced any more. It did not reach Italy and we were told that it was in a larger consignment that was apparently “lost”.
        A lady with the American postal service told me proudly that they ONLY had a failure rate of SIX %…
        I think, even the italian service must have a better rate.

        Janin

  3. samantha says

    Interesting article!

    I have just tracked a parcel i ordered from the UK, royal mail signed, to be delivered to Bergamo, and the website said an attempt was made to deliver the parcel yesterday, and I should collect or rearrange delivery before it is sent back to the UK. There is no calling card left or information where or who to contact, I have no idea how I am going to get my parcel?

    • says

      You should have got a card with info on it telling you where to go to pick it up. Without that card, there’s not much you can do. You could, possibly, and if you have the time, print off the web page with the tracking info and take it to your local post office and ask them what to do. They might help, maybe.

      Good luck,

      Alex

  4. Annoyed says

    I wish I would have seen this site earlier. I’m waiting on 3 boxes from the US. It is 9/27 and the boxes have been sitting in customs since 9/10. No updates….no place to call. They are a bunch of my fall/winter clothes. If anyone has any updated advice on how to get in touch with customs, then it would be greatly appreciated. Sigh. I also want to note that my other American classmate had something shipped after me and her package only took a day to go through customs.

    • Also annoyed says

      I’m in a very similar situation, for you at least it’s something replaceable like clothes but for me it’s something very important and rather irreplaceable – my retainers! My mother sent my retainers and other things just over a month ago from the US to me in Vicenza, Italy. I messed up real bad for forgetting something so important as I would be in Italy 4 months before coming back home. Her mistake was sending it me via USPS, which means it would have gone through the ever-incompetent “Poste Italiane.” As far as I know know, my package “arrived” in Milan 3 weeks ago but that is all I know and I’m not sure who to contact at this point.

      At least I learned a lesson – never use USPS for international and NEVER send anything through the Italian post office. Next time I will spend more money using something reliable like UPS, FedEx, or even DHL, at least I can track it and actually receive it.

    • Annoyed says

      So the 3 boxes my mom sent to me have all been shipped back to her. They claim that they sent me a letter letting me know. BS! I check my mailbox everyday…..it is the only thing I was waiting on. My mom also sent 2 packages to my school. Poste Italiane actually sent a fax to my school saying that the value of my contents meant I would need to pay to pick up my package. (My mom put high values. Don’t ever do that!) I had my Italian classmate talk to them and they had me fill out this form stating that I was a student, that all of the contents in the box were used clothes that I needed, and that the value of the contents were under 40 euro. I also had to send a letter from the school saying I was enrolled there. Well it worked. I got one of the boxes 2 days later, but they still have my other box that was sent at the exact same time. WTF is this terrible service?!?!

      On the positive side, I do have some contact info. This is probably only useful if you are in Milan, but it’s a start.

      Here are 2 customer service email addresses:
      Postazione 13 – LonateImport13@posteitaliane.it
      Postazione 15 – LonateImport15@posteitaliane.it

      Here is a phone number: 840 000 160 from Monday to Saturday from 08:00 to 20:00 .
      For the call you will be charged only the connection fee charged by your operator phone reference.

      Hopefully this helps someone in the future.

      • says

        Thanks for the update and the extra info – may well prove useful to someone who’s in the same missing mail boat :)

        At least part of the mail did eventually get through even if the process was far from smooth.

        Cheers,

        Alex

  5. Thinh Vinh says

    Hi. I sent a few packages with DHL but the tracking says it is being held at customs. All the packages are labeled under $20. What can I do? Why is it being held in customs. Thank you for your help.

    • says

      Hi Thinh,

      No idea why your packages are being held up at customs – unless they contain something which cannot be sent to Italy. If that is not the case, the packages should leave customs at some point in the not too distant future. How long have they been with customs?

      Best,

      Alex

  6. Nicole says

    Hello,

    My boyfriend sent me a package from the US, and I just go this update:

    Inviato da ufficio scambio-dogana di CSI MILANO LINATE a ROMA CMP WINDOWS in data 30-OTT-2014
    Accettato nel paese STATI UNITI in data 18-OTT-2014

    Does anyone know what this means? Did it pass through customs in Milan if it’s headed to Rome (which is the final destination)?

    • Al says

      Hi,

      Yes, the package did pass through customs in Milan and was sent to Rome’s mail sorting centre on the 30th of October.
      It shouldn’t be too long now, hopefully. ;-)

      CSI –> Centro Scambi Internazionali/International Exchange Centre.
      CMP –> Centro di Meccanizzazione Postale/Postal Automation Centre.

      Al

  7. says

    I left behind a small box of earrings as I departed for the States. I’ve contacted the B&B owner who e-mailed me this morning to say they would ship them express and it will cost 80E. I researched a little and asked him about “ordinary parcel service” as described on PosteItalian’s webesite. He responded:

    “For first, we went to Poste Italiane -We know is cheap than a private shipping service.
    But they want to open the box and when they see jewelry they said us that they need to write that the box conteins jewelry.They also said us that the shipping is in the USA and for this reason at the custom an employee will open the box and Poste Italiane doesn’t guarantee the delivery to you.We put your box in a small cardboard box and they said that the box was too small for the USA and thay will use a large envelope, not a small box.In the end, they advice us to go in a private shipping service.”

    And the first e-mail from them said: The express courier needs your passport copy.Please, can you send us a copy my email?They will send the box on Mondey and you will receive it the day before, very fast!
    It costs € 80,00″

    It’s not that I’m doubting them, but since I was only going to insure the package for around 50-75E, 80E to ship is not good. Is there anything they could do at their end to get a lower cost? I certainly don’t need one-day service and would be happy to wait several weeks, if necessary. I noticed a Priority registered method at PosteItalian – wouldn’t that be cheaper than a private express company? Or do the express companies perhaps have cheaper rates than one-day service?

    And, finally, (thanks for bearing with me) I have a friend in Genova – would it make any sense to have the B&B mail to her and have her mail to me?

    If you can help me at all, I will be very grateful. As I said, they’re not all that valuable but I’ve had most of them for a long time and I LIKE them! :)

    • says

      Hi Mary Lynne,

      If I were you, I’d try to get the earrings sent to your friend in Genova – unless that would cost €80 too, of course. Your friend could then send the earrings via priority mail. I’m not sure I’d write earrings on the package – that may encourage theft. And check to see what you can mail to the USA before getting it sent over.

      Alternatively, why not arrange for an international courier service to pick up the earrings yourself? You might find the price is lower or else understand that the price is reasonable.

      Best,

      Alex

      • Mary Lynne says

        Thanks so much! I will follow up on your suggestions. I’ve already contacted the Genova friend and I told my host to just send it ordinary mail to her. Meanwhile I will check with international couriers from this side and see what I can find out. Again thank you for taking the time to respond. I’ve bookmarked your site and will subscribe when I make my next trip to bella Italia.

        • says

          You are welcome. If possible, Mary Lynne, get host to send parcel to Genova using registered mail. Might help ensure it doesn’t get “lost”.

          Best,

          Alex

  8. Mary Lynne says

    Sorry for the second post but I forgot to check the “notify me by e-mail” box when I posted my “earrings” saga! If that can be done, I’d appreciate it very much.

  9. sansar says

    Hello there,

    i am so confusing now because one of my friend from US had sent me a parcel (iPhone 6), when i track it its showing to me ,

    “October 30, 2014 , 3:01 am
    Customs Clearance
    ITALY
    Your item is being processed by customs in ITALY at 3:01 am on October 30, 2014.”

    anyone know do i need to go to custom to pay vat and all tax or i should wait ? Please help me

    • says

      Hi Sansar – wait. Your parcel will eventually leave customs and, hopefully, you’ll end up with an iPhone. You will be informed if there are taxes to pay.

      Best,

      Alex

  10. Eileen says

    I am about to send a winter coat to Italy from the US. Please confirm if my game plan is a good one and, if you will, share your advice on a couple of steps:
    1. Post through UPS, with printed labels
    2. Get tracking and insurance
    3. What is the max I should insure it for without making it look like an expensive item??
    4. Identifying it as a coat might cause unwanted attention – what is a better way to identify it without actually being dishonest??
    5. Anything else I should know??
    Thank you, Thank you!

    • says

      Hi Eileen, Alex, your friendly mail to Italy consultant here.

      1. – OK.
      2. – Good idea!
      3. – Difficult one – high insurance value may attract unwanted interest.
      4. – You could write clothing but the insurance value may give the game away anyway.
      5. – Perhaps you should consider sending an Amazon voucher – if the coat can be found on Amazon.com (or similar) or on Amazon Italy. Only it sounds as if you have already bought the coat. I suppose you could take it back and exchange it for something else. Just an idea.

      If you do decide to risk it, go for the full cost of the coat insurance-wise and ensure UPS will pay up even if the item gets lost in Italy. Double check the USPS list to ensure you can send the item out of the US. Leather goods cannot be mailed, I believe.

      Good luck!

      Will answer other questions.

      Cheers,

      Alex

      PS Personally, I’d not send anything of value to Italy by mail – but that’s just me. Others do and do not have problems – people who have not left comments here ;)

      • Eileen says

        Thanks so much, Alex, for such a prompt and helpful reply! You’re right about already having the coat and I believe it should pass muster (LLBean parka) but since it’s not going USPS would it still have to follow those limitations anyway? Do you find that items ordered directly from the store’s website are more likely to arrive (in this case it’s going to Brescia)?
        I realize you started this post ages ago and appreciate your generosity with your time :)
        ~ Eileen

        • says

          You’re welcome, Eileen. Glad you found the reply useful.

          Re the coat – check with the parcel service before sending it – they’ll know what can or cannot be sent. As a general rule, it seems Amazon stuff does get through – I have not personally, lost Amazon orders. I have lost other stuff though, or rather, my parents have.

          As far as I know, Brescia is OK, but it depends where the mail goes first.

          While I wrote this post literally years ago, it continues to attract lots of interest, alas.

          All the best from Italy,

          Alex

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