I am always on the hunt for interesting snail mail content to share with you guys which means I see a lot of blog posts featuring little things you can send your penpal but I noticed recently that I have never seen a list of things you shouldn’t send.
It’s not as exciting of course but it can be really important to know.
While some things are banned for obvious reasons, including firearms, fireworks, and radioactive materials, there are a number of items many of us might not have realised were a problem.
Got a story to share or something to add? Leave a comment below or send me an email! I would love to hear from you.
Before I go further, I just want to note that I am not an expert on this subject. This list should be used for general information purposes only.
In my mind there are three kinds of items in the postal world: those that can be mailed without problem, items which cannot be mailed under any circumstances, and items that can be mailed under the right circumstances.
Here’s a brief breakdown of common postal restrictions:
Prohibited items are not allowed to be sent from the origin country or enter the destination country and will likely be denied by the post office or seized and destroyed by customs.
Controlled or Restricted items can require special documentation or packaging and may be subject to import or export regulations.
Heavy items will either cost you a fortune or, if they are particularly heavy, will not be accepted by the post office. At Canada Post, for example, the weight cap is 30 kg.
Customs forms, an official document detailing the contents and value of your mail, may be required. The cool thing is, with internet you can often do this from home (here’s Canada Post online custom form) and have everything ready to go before you get to the post office.
Duty or taxes may also be charged to the sender or recipient based on the contents of the package.
It is always important to check with the postal system and government websites of both the origin and destination countries before sending a package.
Seeds, Plant Parts & Fruit
The movement of plant matter and animals across borders is seriously regulated, if not prohibited, in many countries.
Agreements such as the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species (CITES) and governmental regulations like Canada’ Plant Protection Act work to restrict or ban the movement of certain plants, seeds, fruits, bark, plant parts, wood, leathers, fur, and soil because they can potentially cause harm to the environment.
This includes items such as packets of seeds but you should also be aware that pressed flowers, seed paper, feathers, and certain foods could also contains controlled or prohibited specimens.
Speaking of foods, sending your penpal a taste of your county can be a really fun way to share your life and culture but you will need to avoid sending anything perishable as it can (and probably will) go bad on its journey.
That’s not to say that you can’t send fresh foods, just that it is not always possible. Depending on where my packages are going in the world, they can take, on average, one week to three months to arrive.
If you want to send a batch of homemade cookies to your pen pals , do some research on your postal system’s website to see if you can make it happen. If not, send the recipe instead!
I know that makeups, soaps, individually packaged facemasks, and other cosmetics are a popular thing to swap but you should be careful with what you choose to send and use.
Things like nail polishes and perfume are highly flammable as well as hairspray which, when packaged in an aerosol can, could also explode. It’s a big no-no.
If items are not packaged properly, bottles can break or those little bags could burst. Not fun for the postal system or your penpal if it makes it to them at all.
As for using cosmetics, be aware that some of the packaging, preservation methods, and ingredients may not meet the regulations of your country for health and safety reasons.
If you are going to swap cosmetics, play it safe with proper packaging and when in doubt, don’t send it (or use it).
Over sized Packages
In my town, if you get a package that can’t be delivered to your house, whether it’s too large for the mailbox or too big to carry, you receive a notice for pick up at the nearest post office. It takes me less than 15 minutes to retrieve it and return home.
That is not the case for everyone.
Many years age on the Postcrossing forum, I read about a man who asked his penpals to stop sending anything larger than a standard envelope. He said he appreciated the thought but it took him over 45 minutes one-way to pick up these packages and if he couldn’t make it within a couple days, they were sent back to the return address.
There are also many places where the postal system is notoriously unreliable and packages may be lost more often than they arrive.
I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t send packages but rather that it is something you might want to discuss in your letters beforehand. Either let your penpal know you can’t receive packages or ask if it would be okay to send something.
On a personal note, I don’t often send packages unless my penpal sends one first so that I don’t put anyone in a situation where they feel they need to reciprocate. I know the postal rate in some countries can get very expensive and I don’t want to put anyone in an awkward situation.
As far as I am aware, regular confetti is not prohibited or banned by the postal system. We can all agree however that friends don’t glitter bomb friends.
When I asked the Instagram snail mail community what you shouldn’t send your penpals, confetti and glitter was the most common response.
I have swapped a lot of tea bags with snail mailers all over the world with much success and delight!
Almost every single one has arrived safely and without problems, except on one occasion I did have a package opened by customs, none too gently, to examine the tea. At least that’s my best guess as to why.
While the massacred envelope eventually arrived, customs definitely touched the tea bags with their dirty gloves and I definitely threw them out.
When I swap teas, I always send the commercially bagged kind in their original packages. Nothing loose leaf or hand packed, I just don’t want to risk it.
Check the regulations of the origin and recipient countries, they may require you to fill out a customs form and it is important that you do this.
Whether there is a language barrier or it’s something that requires special directions, it’s always a good idea to provide at least a little information about what you are sending.
I’m guilty of doing this. In my excitement, I sent a package of food without any explanation whatsoever of what they were.
This is especially important if the packaging is in a different language than the one you guys use to communicate in your letters. It’s not always obvious what things are and a little direction is much appreciated.