Why Getting a Care Package from U.S. Might Cost You

There is nothing quite like getting a care package from home.

No matter where you are or where you are from, getting a box full of goodies picked out especially for you by your family and friends can make your whole week. Sending things through the mail to each other is a way to feel connected, even across the globe.

Unfortunately, though, this lovely gesture can be ruined when the mailman arrives and asks you to pay thirty-eight euros for a box your loved ones already paid eighty dollars or more to ship from the States.

In Italy, there are often extra fees attached to packages arriving from overseas that the senders weren’t expecting (or in some cases aren’t able to pay beforehand), so boxes from home can come with a hefty price tag. In today’s post, I will tell you why, even if I can’t really help you avoid them!


In General, International Mail Isn’t Cheap (or Fast)

If you have ever shipped something to Italy from America (or vice versa), you already know that it is pretty pricey. The cost of shipping even a small package starts in the double digits, and the bigger the package (and the more valuable the stuff inside), the more money you spend. Then you add on things like insurance, tracking, and express mail fees, and oftentimes you may end up paying more to ship a box than the items inside are worth (I’m speaking of monetary value, not sentimental value, of course).

Then, obviously, comes the wait. You mail the package and it has to go from airport to airport, from post office to post office, from checkpoint to checkpoint, before it crosses the ocean, goes through a customs check, goes to a few more checkpoints and post offices, and arrives at last at its destination. Regardless of the shipping speed you chose, sometimes this takes weeks. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes the package just disappears and you never get it! It was almost Easter when I finally received the Christmas package that my parents mailed to me from the U.S. in November last year, but just a couple weeks ago they mailed me another box and it got here in less than ten days (a record!).

But I digress (but if you’ve ever dealt with Italian mail, you understand).

So, anyway, after all the waiting, the package arrives on your doorstep in Italy. And then the mailman asks you to pay another fee that can add up to more than half of what the sender already paid to send it!!

Why do I have to pay so much for a package from America, you ask? Especially when I am the recipient of said package?!? You can thank customs fees and taxes for that.


Customs Fees and Taxes: What Are They?

According to FedEx, one of the many services that allows for international shipping (I haven’t found the best one yet, so don’t ask me for a recommendation), customs fees or Customs Duty is “a tax charged on all products shipped from outside of the EU.” The money you pay for this goes to the the Agenzia delle Dogane e Monopili, the Italian Customs Agency. Unfortunately, the bill for this is usually picked up by the person receiving the package instead of the one who shipped it, so this is often where the unwelcome surprise comes in.

Sometimes the sender is able to pay an extra fee to the shipping company to cover the customs taxes, but not always. It is also possible that something will come up along the package’s trip through the customs check in Italy and another fees can get tacked on before it makes it to its destination.


How Can I Know How Much I Will Have to Pay to Receive a Package from America?

I can’t give you an exact answer because there is always the possibility of unforeseen fees being added on, but I can help you come up with an estimate.

Luckily, packages with items inside whose value adds up to less than €22 do not incur any Duty. They also aren’t subject to VAT, an Italian tax that is on everything sold here (and which is usually way higher than the sales tax in America, FYI).

Again, according to FedEx, packages worth between €22.01 and €150 require the recipient to pay the VAT, which is calculated like this: First, take the value of the items inside the package and add it to the shipping cost and the Duty paid (if applicable). The VAT is 22% of that price (or 4-10% on certain items like books).

Packages that have a value of more than €150 are subject to both Duty and VAT. To calculate the former, take the monetary value of the items, plus 60-90% of the shipping cost (it varies depending on where you are shipping it from), and multiply that by the customs fees associated with whatever type of item you are receiving (it varies from item to item, and it starts around 10%).

Then, add that to the VAT fee and you *might* just have an idea of how much you’ll have to pay when the package arrives at your door.


Are There Any Other Options?

As I said, there is nothing better than getting a package full of all the things you miss from the States, from all the people you miss back home. But it is a shame that these extra fees always come up, since it creates a lot of awkwardness! You don’t want to tell someone you had to pay extra to get a package from them, and they certainly don’t want you to have to pay for something they sent to you! It’s like being at your birthday party and opening a gift, only for someone to come up and tell you yourself have to pay for whatever was inside.

I wish I could tell you that there is a way around this, but if there is, I haven’t found one yet. If you know of one, let me know in the comments section!

It is something you should be aware of as an American in Italy, though, so that the first time you get a package from home, you don’t think the mailman is trying to hustle you like I did!

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