Uh? APO you say?
APO and its cousin, FPO stand for Army Post Office and Fleet Post Office. APO is associated with Army and Air Force installations while FPO belongs to the Navy. Both APO and FPO stem from World War II when a system was needed to get mail to the troops who were often very mobile. Even today, temporary APO and FPO address are set up for deployed troops to get letters and packages from home. However, more typical are permanent APO and FPO address assigned to installations overseas in countries like Germany, Japan, and Korea. If you are moving to Germany there are a few things you will need to know when it comes to your APO.
First off, everyone that is stationed overseas can get their very own APO address. It looks much like a regular post office address but it will contain the number of your community mail room “CMR”, your person box number, and the actual APO address which is basically a zip code. A typical APO address in Germany might look something like this:
CMR 001 Box 001
APO, AE 09046
Notice the format of the address. The letters APO are used in place of the city and the two letters AE which stand for “Armed Forces” are used in place of the state and suffice for mail going to Europe, Africa, Canada, and the Middle East. The five digit “zip code” goes right were the normal zip code would. All mail sent to the “AE” state are first mailed to the central processing center in New York via the US postal system and then transferred in the military mail system. Another important piece of the address is the recipients name. Unlike mail in the USA where “current resident” is sufficient to send mail to someones house, the name of the current owner of the APO box must be correct. If the name on the letter or package does not match the community mail rooms listing for the current owner the mail will be returned.
Obtaining your APO is generally a part of in processing. However, due to the number of personnel stationed at various installations and the availability of physical boxes, you may have to get on a waiting list. Once you do get your box it is a simple trip to your local community mail room to fill out the paperwork and get your box combination. As soon as you have your box and new address you can begin receiving mail. All of your bills can be sent to this address such as bank statements or credit cards. This address will also serve as your address for tax returns for the duration of your overseas tour. For some such as myself that was a huge help. Even after 10 years in Germany and four rental houses later, I still have the same APO address for taxes.
Ordering online and shipment time
Shopping online with an APO address is much the same as it would be with a US address. Most major retailers have included the correct state choices in their checkout forms to allow direct shipping to APO address. While we say “most”, it is not fool proof. If you run into a company that does not have AE included for the state you have a few options. First, you can call and try to place your order over the phone. Second, you may try and use the state “New York” as that is the APO central processing center for all APO mail coming to Europe. Don’t count on this second option though, many have tried it with varying results.
Some companies flat out do not ship to APO address. Whether it be too much of a hassle to fill out the extra customs form or the extra liability with shipping APO they just will not do it. When you run into this issue you still have a few choices. One, send the item to your friends or family stateside and have them reship it. Two, find the product through another company. Three, get an account through a company like APOBOX who will provide a US address and reship your items to your APO address once received.
Unfortunately, getting mail from the US to an APO address can be very quick or take some time. Express, First Class or Priority mail is the best way to mail letters and items for a speedy delivery. The slow down is really at the central processing facility. Once a package arrives there it gets sorted and shipped as fast as possible. Selecting shipping rates from companies such as one or two day shipping won’t do any good because all mail generally becomes the same classification once it hits the sorting facility. Also, larger packages tend to take longer and space on aircraft is limited and packages are shipped first come first served. Whatever you do, don’t elect to ship parcel post if you need something quickly. Just remember, Priority goes by air, parcel goes by boat. A friend once ordered skis online and selected parcel post. The package arrived almost two months later.
Typical shipping times for mail to an APO address is 10-15 days. However, Germany is a routine shipping location and mail and packages can arrive much sooner. I believe my personal record is four days from time of order.
What good military program would be complete without some kind of restrictions? The APO/FPO is no different and there are some restrictions that you must keep in mind when using it. For those of us stationed in Germany here we go straight from USPS:
- Mail addressed to ‘Any Servicemember’ or similar wording such as ‘Any Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine’, ‘Military Mail’, etc., is prohibited.
- APO/FPO/DPO addresses shall not include a city and/or country name.
- When a customs declaration is required, the surface area of the address side of the item to be mailed must be large enough to contain completely the applicable customs declaration, postage, and any applicable markings, endorsements, and extra service labels. Customs declarations forms required for use to or from APO/FPO/DPO addresses are as follows:
a. Priority Mail Express mailpieces must bear PS Form 2976-B.
b. For other mail classes, mailpieces must bear PS Form 2976 (or, if the customer prefers, a PS Form 2976-A) if the mailpiece weighs 16 ounces or more, or contains goods
- Cigarettes and other tobacco products are prohibited.
- Coffee is prohibited.
- Medicines (prescription, over-the-counter, vitamins, and supplements) are prohibited when mailed to individuals for human or animal use.
- Meats, including preserved meats, whether hermetically sealed or not, are prohibited.
- Fruits, vegetables, animals, and living plants are prohibited.
- All alcoholic beverages, including those mailable under PUB 52, Sec. 421, are prohibited.
Additionally, there are size and weight restrictions on APO packages:
- Maximum weight: 70 Pounds
- Maximum length + girth: 108 inches (measure around the box + measure the length of the long portion)
That is a pretty long list and it is not all inclusive. All products coming into Germany via APO are still subject to German customs. Items like firearms and ammunition are prohibited as well as paintball guns and airsoft rifles that exceed German laws for power. Even seemingly harmless firearm parts such as grips and sights can be confiscated. The biggest annoyance to most APO holders is the restriction on medication and supplements which are prohibited. (This means you GNC gold card holders…) As much of an annoyance as it is, supplements can be had at the PX/BX and most medications can be prescribed at the military health clinic. If you have an experience with getting a rare medication from the US we would love to hear about it in the comments below.
The package weight and size restrictions seem like a lot but it is actually quite a lot. You will be surprised what you can get through the APO. Tirerack ships tires and wheels directly to APO addresses and they arrive without delay. I purchased four 20 inch wheels and four tires from them and everything was delivered within a week. Others have shipped items like foam mattresses and car seats without issue. Unfortunately for items that won’t fit the APO there is not many alternatives. International shipping via FedEx and UPS for such large items is prohibitively expensive.
Mailing packages home
Sending mail and packages to the US from Germany is much the same as it is in America. Each installation typically has a military post office that accepts mail. Just like mail coming to Germany, your sent mail is processed through the military postal system and then into the regular US system. Each package needs a customs form since you are legally importing items back into the USA. If you want to mail something within Europe you should use that country’s postal system. Any mail that goes through the military postal system will first go to New York and then back to Europe!
A lot of service members want to send gifts home to their families during the holidays. This is when the military postal system can get bogged down. You’ll want to make sure you get your packages sent early enough to reach your loved ones. Each year the various post offices will post no later than dates to let you know when your package needs to be sent by. Also, the community mail rooms typically extend their hours for all of the incoming mail from the US.
So there you have it. The ins and outs of the APO system and what you can expect while you are in Germany. If you have any other tips or experiences to share please leave a comment below. Happy mailing!