Inspired by a conversation that I had over at Vineyard Vines, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about how to ship things to APO addresses, since I have become quite knowledgeable in this field within the past few years.
APO stands for Army or Air Post Office and FPO stands for Fleet Post Office. The point of APO/FPO addresses is to make it easier and more affordable for our troops that are stationed overseas to receive mail. The cost of sending a letter or a package to an APO address is the same as the cost of sending one within the Continental United States. This is a service that is provided by the USPS only and FedEx and UPS are not allowed to deliver to military addresses.
When you send a letter or a package to an APO address, the USPS forwards it along to one of several mail centers, depending on where they are going. For mail that is being central to Central and South America (designation AA), the sorting and processing center is in Miami FL, for mail that is being sent to Europe (designation AE), the center is located in New York City, and for mail that is being sent to the Pacific (designation AP), the center is located in San Francisco, CA.
While APO/FPO addresses are technically United States addresses, because the package is going overseas, it still requires a customs form. You cannot send a package to a military address using the Automated Postal Center at the Post Office and have to fill out the form at a counter. No special instructions are required for letters, you can just put a US Mail stamp on them and deposit them in your nearest mail box.
After the centers process your mail and figure out where it is going to, the delivery process begins. Depending on the method of delivery that is used, it can take anywhere from 4 days to 4 months to receive a package. I cannot stress this enough, do not ever send packages to an APO/FPO address via regular mail. Always opt for Priority. The price difference, if any, is usually negligible, but the delivery times are not. For mail that is sent via Priority Mail, it is put on an airplane and can get delivered within four days (the delivery time for Priority Mail is much longer for locations in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.). Packages that are sent via regular mail are sent via boat and this can take several months for them to be delivered. It is not possible to overnight packages to APO/FPO addresses. Express Mail is an option, but the cost vs. the time saved (sometimes only a day because of the processing facility) does not make it a very worthwhile option. Since UPS and FedEx cannot deliver to APO/FPO addresses, they pass those packages along to the USPS, which then passes it along to the APO, which then opts for the slowest possible option. If you are stationed overseas and order something off the internet from a company that does not know to use Priority Mail, you will not receive it for several months. To make it even more affordable to send packages to our troops, the USPS has created a special Priority Mail APO Flat Rate box. This box can only be sent to APO/FPO addresses and costs $11.95 to ship, $2 less than a regular Priority Mail Flat Rate box. During the holiday season, send packages and cards early to ensure that they arrive on time.
Delivery Confirmation is available for APO/FPO packages, but it is not the greatest option. It can only be tracked what goes on when the package is in the hands of the USPS, so when the APO has it, there will be no updates. Insurance is available, but like Delivery Confirmation, is not a full option. If the package gets lost or damaged while it is in the hands of the APO, insurance will not cover it.
If you are sending food overseas, be sure to declare it and pack it in an airtight container or vaccuum seal bag. If you are sending food items to someone who is serving in Iraq, do not send food during the summer months. The temperatures there get to be up to 140 degrees and the food will spoil and get moldy before it even reaches its final destination. Soldiers (this also goes for sailors, marines, and airmen) are not allowed to accept homemade food from people whom they don't know. It is one thing if you send cookies to your boyfriend or brother and he shares them with his unit. However, if you adopt a soldier from a website like anysoldier.com and choose to send him homemade food, he will have to throw it out. Instead, send things that are store-bought and sealed.