The never-ending story with me and the postal service, or why being honest sucks sometimes

27B-stroke-6! Bloody paperwork!


I’ve talked about my “special” relationship with the Postal Service before. I am not sure if my bad luck is to blame on the disproportionally higher number of mailings I tend to send out than the regular person or if I give out some sort of bad vibes into the universe, but I have a buttload of stories to tell about my experiences with the Postal Service.

The latest is this: A few weeks ago, I went clothes shopping for my niece. Everyone with kids or nieces and nephews can relate to the amount of fun that it is to shop for them. I also picked out  some tank tops for my sister (why the hell not? She’s a mom and doesn’t treat herself to something new every often) and then wrapped it all up, filled out the customs declaration form and sent the package envelope to Germany about 6 weeks ago. I wanted to surprise them. It’s fun to send surprise packages. You’d think!

On Saturday, my sister received a notification that her package is being held at the Customs Office and that she would have to come and pick it up. Oh, and please bring supporting evidence (= receipts) for the items in the package.

Does anyone see anything wrong with this at all?

This was a personal package with my personal return address on it.

The customs form was filled out truthfully and the value of the items did not exceed the value that you’re allowed to send to foreign countries (= 45€).

Those were gifts and my sister obviously did not have receipts for them.

Well, and to be completely honest, I wasn’t quite sure if I still had the receipts either.

But the Customs Office wanted to see receipts, because if you can’t provide receipts they “evaluate” the contents of your package and possibly impose import taxes on your “gifts”.


Usually, I am pretty good about keeping receipts at least for a little while (esp. when it comes to bigger purchases or items that I think have a possibility of being returned for whatever reason), but I was going to send this stuff overseas and was most likely not going to return it. Hence, the receipt-out-throwing.
Luckily, I found the receipts for at least three of the kids’ shirts (because there were some other items that I bought for me on the receipt) and I was able to find the tank tops that I bought for my sister on the store’s website.

So, I scanned everything and sent it to her and had her print it all out, and then she  had to drive half an hour to the Customs Office yesterday to show the receipts, only to find out that they hadn’t even actually opened the package.
They didn’t even verify that I had filled out the customs form correctly and that the receipts matched the items. I mean, WHAT’S THE POINT THEN?

My sister was ranting and raving how ridiculous it is that she has to drive out there for a perfectly fine and legal package sent to her kids from her aunt in California and how frustrating it is, and she asked what I would have to do to make sure the packages weren’t going to be held up again in the future.
The Customs Officer didn’t have much to say to that. He said that I had done everything correctly and there was nothing more I could do. He was very understanding of our frustration and apologized for the inconvenience, but explained that “severe disregard of the regulations” had become rampant lately and that they had no other choice as to increase the inspections of mailed items and that honest customer like us had to bite the bullet and had to provide receipts and pick up packages in order for them to catch more of the actual violators.

This was not the only incident in the last few months. I sent a few packages to friends that got inspected, were seriously delayed, or also had to be picked up at the Customs Office.
I’d really like to know what the criteria are that determine if a package is going to be delivered or send to Customs. I don’t think that people should be asked to drive 30 minutes or longer to a Customs Office (with unacceptable hours, mind you) to pick up their (totally legal) packages. I don’t think I should be asked to provide the recipient of a gift with the receipt of said gift.

You know, I’ve always been an honest person. I was taught as a child that being honest is the right thing to do. I believed that being honest will get me where I want to be in life. The realization that being honest and doing the right thing doesn’t always mean that you’re treated accordingly, and the fact that we have to pay the price for other people, who don’t play by the rules, has been a tough pill to swallow.

I get it. Taxes on imports suck and I wish just as much as the next person that there wasn’t a monetary limit on how much you can bring into a country from overseas, but the laws are the laws and it just infuriates me that some people wreck it for the rest of us; it’s the longer delivery times, the not knowing when – or if! – the package is going to make it, the unnecessary hassle with the Customs Office and receipts, and whatnot.
I mean, if you have to try and play the system, at least be smart about it. Or just bite the bullet and pay the import tax, so that other people can send their packages in a normal fashion again.

  1. Oh my, that really sucks!
    I’ve had some bad experience with the postal service as well. I’ve tried to send a package to Canada for 3 times now, the first 2 it came back and I resent it and this time I think it didn’t even make it and I never got it back! Well, thanks a lot!

  2. I had one package just plain go missing. It was a piece of handmade jewelry, did not cost over $40.00, and was a one of a kind piece. I filled out the customs declaration, honestly (well I left out the one of a kind part) and sure enough…gone! So much for honesty in the system! I understand your frustration!

  3. Yeah I hate dealing with the postal system. I mean, I’m so glad we have it, but it always gets messed up with me as well!

  4. Unrelated, but a similar sentiment, I have a friend who is going through a divorce. She chose to play by the rules, the ex didn’t … and it has pretty seriously affected the results of the custody for the kids. It kills me to see someone be honest and get the short end of the stick. I just don’t get it. Sigh. I understand why you’re so frustrated.

  5. That is really frustrating! I had that happen when I sent a package of my own things home from South Africa. It took…4 months! And I filled out the form and was honest about what was in it and everything. Luckily I didn’t pay to expedite it because I have a feeling there is only one slow boat…

  6. I agree, so very frustrating! I had this happen to me with a DVD set I ordered from Jersey (which is not part of the EU so it falls under customs regulations). It was under the permitted value though. As the closest customs office is in Ingolstadt and I cannot take half a day off work to pick up a €18 DVD set (not to mention the bill they wanted me to show them was inside the package and no, they couldn’t just open it and have a look at it). Luckily I was able to just email them the order confirmation and they then had it posted to me by DHL. Maybe this would be an option for your sister if this happens again? A phone call to find out the email address and a short email is a lot less time-consuming than driving all the way to the customs office, and to be honest, I never even thought email would be an option. (I mean, a Behörde and modern means of communication – what? Next thing they’ll be getting their own Twitter account, heh.)

  7. Wow, that is really frustrating. :( It really is too bad that the dishonest people ruin it for the honest people!!!

  8. I hear you – something really sucks with the postal service …. ;)

  9. As far as I know that ate not allowed to open packages. That why you have to come in and open it for them. At least that was what they told me when I picked up my last package from
    the US.
    Uli sendt me dresses from her once, so it was used clothes sent to me as a present. They held
    It up in Plattling which is a 1 hour drive for me and they close every day at half past 4 which means I had to leave work early to get there in time.
    I had to own it and show them what’s in and they let me go.

    He explained if the value is visible from the outside (an envelope where you can read how much it was) like the bigger companies (Amazon for example) do anyways they would have let or through.
    I know, you don’t want to put the receipts in when it’s a present. But if it stops them from keeping it back, it should be worth a try.

  10. What a major pain. I have a hard time getting mail from the US sometimes – they’ll deliver it to the door but I have to pay the customs fee before they’ll hand over the package – which is annoying, because I don’t usually keep cash on hand! I find USPS is also ridiculously slow – I ordered $12 earrings from an Etsy shop at the end of May and STILL haven’t received them – they were in New York for a whole month, now I think they’re in Kentucky. Ugh. I love snail mail but the service could definitely be better.

  11. I think you know that I totally get where you’re coming from on how good and honest people don’t get very far in life. This entire story is absurd and it sucks for your sister and your friends over there. It totally takes the magic out of receiving packages in the mail.

    I’m totally cranky and everything today. Down with the post office! DOWN WITH CUSTOMS! Down with the mortgage system! (yeah, that one is for me…haha)

  12. The Post and customs are a huge pain, but if there’s anything I’ve learned after having numerous packages returned to sender in the US, it’s this: if the merchandise is declared a gift and under 45 Euros, all the receiver (me, or your sister in your case) has to do is fax a note with signature saying you don’t have the receipts as they are a gift and the officials are welcome to open the package to inspect. The last 3 times I’ve done this without a hitch and got the package the next day (Granted it took 5 weeks to get the customs’ notice, but still, much faster than trekking to the customs office).

  13. UGH, how frustrating! I haven’t had experiences like that, but our small town post office where I HAVE to have a PO Box to get my mail- drives me insane! I swear the lady that works in there takes my magazines home before I get them, their hours are never the same…ugh. And when I wrote a complaint e-mail, I got a call from HER, not someone who is higher up. I hope you have better luck next time.

  14. I ordered something from an online-shop in the US once and unfortunaely they did not put the bill on the outside but only a customs form with the value of the item filled out by hand($50). I had to drive to Nuremberg (35km) to get it and then when I got there I learned that I not only have to pay taxes for the $50 of value but also shipping costs ($10), so taxes were estimated based on a value of $60/50Euro… :(

Comments are closed.