A common problem for military stationed overseas, and their dependents, is their ability to shop online with ease. There are still many online merchants who will not sell to military using APO/FPO addresses, even though they offer shipping options using USPS (United States Post Office), which is the way in which those who are military and living overseas receive their package deliveries.
More often than not, the difficulty results from the merchant not understanding how to ship to APO or FPO addresses, and it is to easy for them to just not ship to those addresses rather than become informed of what is involved. The reasoning for why many of these merchants will not ship to APO or FPO addresses is because they think these addresses are international addresses, and this is just not so. APO (Army/Air Force Post Office) and FPO (Fleet Post Office or Federal Post Office) are not international addresses, but are considered United States addresses.
Even though there are so many military friendly merchants out there, there are still many more who do not ship to them only because they do not understand that they are not international addresses; other merchants have other reasons like it being inconvenient. There is definitely a need for a guide to shipping APO/FPO, and it is the hope that by putting together a brief guide others, especially merchants, will have a new and better understanding for the process.
• APO/FPO addresses are not international addresses.
There is an assumption, that because we reside in a foreign country, our mail goes through an international postal carrier. This is not so. Our mail goes through USPS Priority Mail. If USPS surface mail is chosen, a package will take up to eight weeks to arrive, sometimes longer. Of course, this limits us when it comes to businesses that use only Federal Express or UPS; however, maybe in the near future, if negotiations go that way, this too may be an option. Mail sent to APO/FPO addresses will go either to California, New York, or Florida before it is transported to the overseas military installations.
• APO/FPO addresses have a state.
These addresses use the following state abbreviations: AE (Armed Forces Europe), AA (Armed Forces Americas), and AP (Armed Forces Pacific).
• Customs Paperwork:
Yes, when shipping a package to an APO or FPO address, the shipper will be required to fill out a customs form. This can be obtained at your post office or online at the USPS website, where you can download and print the customs forms.
• General Restrictions:
APO/FPO addresses do have restrictions against certain items being sent and shipped to these addresses.
1. A package shipped to APO/FPO should not exceed 70 pounds.
2. They may not exceed 130 inches when length and girth is combined.
3. The Post Office does require that packages be hand delivered to the Post Office by the company or person who is shipping item to the APO/FPO address.
4. Restricted items: perishable food, tobacco, alcohol, firearms, privately owned weapons, pornography, illegal substances, and hazardous items. Check with your post office for any other restricted items specific to the APO/FPO zip code you are shipping to.
It is really not that complicated, and the efforts made to accommodate those military, which are so far from home, really is appreciated. There is an understanding and respect for companies' decisions not to ship, but not when they will not because they think these addresses utilize international postal services - they do not. Hopefully, in the near future, Federal Express, and UPS will finalize an agreement and ship to service members and their families residing overseas; but, even when that day arrives, there will still be those merchants that think they are international addresses.
Not only are there problems with some merchants not shipping to APO/FPO addresses, but also there are many who make it hard for military stationed overseas to do business with them. For example, when one decides to make a purchase online for a gift for someone back home in the states, they finalize their choice and head to the check out. When it comes time to enter billing information, they are brought to a halt; and more often than not, have to forget about making their purchase through that merchant. What happens is they can enter city as APO or FPO, but they do not give the choice for AE, AA, or AP in the states menu. You can attempt to use NY, CA, or FL, however, when putting in the zip and proceeding, it sometimes does not recognize the zip as valid or they may receive an email that their credit card was declined for invalid address. It can be rather frustrating. When emailing the merchants about this, the same old reply is made, they do not accept orders from international customers, and they do not care that you possess non-international credit cards and debit cards. A simple fix would be to add AE, AA, and AP to the state menu, this way even if merchant does not wish to ship to APO or FPO, at least those overseas can still make purchases that will be sent within the states.
Written by Jan Castagnaro