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Long Distance Holidays (The when, what and how of getting your greetings delivered on time)

You have probably spent considerable time and effort to make sure your holiday gifts are purchased, wrapped and ready to give to your recipient. If you are sending a package, will it get there on time? The Postal Service has deadlines for mailing to ensure your gift recipients remember to think of you on Christmas Day.

The Halloween candy and decorations are gone and, in true holiday fashion, every store is stocked with ornaments, decorations and sale flyers filled with But if you’re mailing holiday gifts and greetings to faraway family and friends in other countries, get-it-there-by-Dec. 24 cut-off shipping dates may be closer than you think.

Mailing deadlines range from December 4 to December 11 — depending on the destination — for First-Class Mail International and Priority Mail International letters, large envelopes, small packages, postal cards, printed matter and small packets.

And, depending on the destination, the deadlines for Express Mail International are December 12 to 18. Global Express Guarantee deadlines are December 19 to 22. 

Keep in mind not only who the gift is for, but where it’s going. Any number of things can affect the mail in another country — weather, the political climate and economic situations can cause delays. These situations are, for the most part, limited to a few countries and the Postal Service dates and services are accurate. But if you have any questions, a complete list can be found on the website under All Products and Services. You can also ask your international questions at your local Post Office.

What to give?

You can’t export tobacco seeds or plants, wildlife or protected plants, and don’t even think about dried whole eggs — not that anyone would ask for them. These items fall under the restricted list.

Other items that can’t be shipped are anything perishable or hazardous.

The Postal Service website also offers a postage calculator. You can get an idea of the shipping fees before you head for the mall.

I have several friends in England that I send cards and gifts to. In years past, when I could "ship" by ship, I didn’t pay as much attention to size or weight. Now, all packages are sent by air, so the size and weight of gifts are considerations you need to think about when shopping.

Ornaments, jewelry and clothing are all ideas you might consider. 

Package preparation

The Postal Service offers free shipping supplies for Priority Mail and Express Mail. The same boxes can be used domestically and internationally. There are several different sizes and they can be ordered at or picked up at you local Post Office. Choose a box with enough room for cushioning material around the contents. If you’re reusing a box, cover all previous labels and markings with heavy black marker or adhesive labels.

Close and shake the box to see whether you have enough cushioning. Add more newspaper, Styrofoam or bubble wrap if you hear items shifting.

Tape the opening of your box and reinforce all seams with 2" wide tape. Use clear or brown packaging tape, reinforced packing tape or paper tape. Do not use cord, string or twine because they get caught in mail processing equipment. 

Shipping discounts

If you purchase and print your label online at using Click-N-Ship you can use a simplified customs and address label form combined into one. Step by step instructions help you through any special requirements for foreign destinations.

You also get a shipping discount by using Click-N-Ship. For example, Global Express Guaranteed customers save 10 percent by using Click-N-Ship and Priority Mail International customers save 5 percent. While on the website, request free Carrier Pickup at your home or office for the following business day.

Mailing domestically?

If you’re shipping to anywhere in the United States, you have until Dec. 16 to mail Parcel Post; Dec. 20 for First-Class Mail and Priority Mail; and December 23 for Express Mail. USPS delivers Express Mail on holidays for an extra $12.50 fee.

Although mailings to APO/FPO addresses are considered domestic, because they are actually being shipped to another country, mailing deadlines are a little earlier.

If sending cards and packages to APO/FPO AE Zip Codes 090-092, 094-098, 340, 962-966, the mailing deadline for cards, letters and Priority Mail is Dec. 11.

The Express Mail deadline is Dec. 18. Express Mail Military Service is only available to selected military Post Offices, so check with your local Post Office to determine if this service is available to the APO/FPO you are sending correspondence to. The mailing deadline for APO/FPO AE ZIP Code 093 is Dec. 4 for cards, letters and Priority Mail. Express Mail is not available to this ZIP Code.

Discounts for using Click-N-Ship are also offered on domestic and military shipping services along with free Carrier Pickup.

So put on a little holiday music, start your shopping list and start enjoying the holidays!!

About the Author

Marilyn Jones has been a journalist for more than 30 years and is currently a freelance feature writer specializing in travel. Her articles have appeared in major newspapers including the BostonGlobe, Akron Beacon Journal and Chicago Sun-Times as well as regional travel magazines.

Visit her website at