Customs requirements for postcards mailed in envelopes?

I’ve been Post-Crossing a little more than a year, and a few weeks ago, I sent my first “swap” of cards, using the forum. My fellow PostCrosser is the sweetest person, and most everything about the swap was very nice… but I am a bit put off trying it again because of the cost.

I sent 8 cards in an envelope, and 2 small sticker sheets, to Germany. The US Postal Service here charged me 2 bucks for the envelope, then made me fill out a customs form… made a huge production of it - kept making me do it over an over because they wanted the address to “work” like it would for a US address break-down - and after 10 minutes of fun with forms, they charged me another 20 bucks to send it. Having never sent postcards in an envelope before, I just assumed I was learning that it was too expensive for me to keep doing in the future, and sent this one.
Well, on the other end, the German postal service charged my poor recipient another 13 Euros. I was so disappointed to find out that what was supposed to be a fun and neighborly affair, devolved into such an expense. The recipient said she had never been charged like that before.
So, my question - and please be gentle - this is my first time doing this and you don’t know what you don’t know … what did I do wrong? Was that unusual? Did the USPS rip me off, or is there a better way to do those kind of swaps?
Would love to hear the voice of experience about this. Thanks!


Wow. I’m sorry this happened. I don’t have an answer, except to say that shipping costs (from U.S. to countries abroad) seems to have increased since the pandemic. I sent a small package to Canada, and I paid $55.00 to do so. I hope someone here can help you with your query about customs requirements.

Same script different cast. It happens in our country too

cc: @postcrossingbali @Ferrywils

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Technically speaking what you sent is now considered declarable for customs purposes so the postal clerk was doing it by the book. Only letters and business papers do not have to be declared ( and even then there are rare instances where you have to). So 8 postcards and stickers can be considered merchandise and therefore declarable and taxable (in Germany but each country has its own rules). All declarable mail must go at the much higher package rate (the $20 or so you spent).
Other Postcrossers have not had any of this happen. It is hit or miss, depends on who you get at the post office counter and which customs agent checks your envelope.
It appears that a single written postcard in an envelope counts as personal correspondence and can be sent as a normal letter. Maybe you should just send one card at a time and be sure to write all over it. Still cheaper too.

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I’m wondering how thick the envelope was. I think if it exceeds the maximum dimensions of a letter (height, width, thickness, etc.), then it can be charged as a package, which has higher fees.

Next time, I would suggest breaking it up into 2 envelopes, and try to keep it as flat as possible. I’ve personally never sent more than 4-5 cards in a single envelope, and for that I haven’t had to fill out any customs forms.

Personally, I don’t even go to the post office to mail postcards in envelopes anymore. I bought a small weight scale that lets me weigh the cards myself, and then I put the required postage on and drop it off in a mailbox. I usually only go to the post office if sending a package or to get a card hand cancelled.


What you are charged and how you are treated will vary wildly depending on what post office and what clerk you get, in my experience. Technically there are a lot of rules and some clerks are very by the book and others will let a lot of things pass.

I don’t know if you have access to the automated machines but I use them for a lot of things and they work fine, and your item will enter the mail stream without running into a clerk who is a stickler for rules. Once it’s in the stream I think it’s unlikely to be questioned.

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I think something definitely went wrong there.

Due to a new European Union regulation, new rules are being applied for (commercial) shipments from countries outside the EU and we’re now required to pay 7% or 19% Import VAT for everything that is imported from non-EU countries unless the sender has not paid VAT in advance (the system is quite complicated… and it would take waaay too long to explain it here). If anyone is interested in getting more in-depth information on this, check out these pages:

However, gifts with a value under 45€ are exempted from import fees if they are clearly marked on the customs declaration, here are the rules:

The implementation of this new system has been quite a mess in general and it often happens that taxes are wrongly calculated, gifts are taxed although they are declared correctly etc. :man_facepalming:t2:

@Wynnie Did you fill out a CN22 form like this one?

I have also been charged too high once and you can easily appeal against the import duties at a customs office or online, and I’ve gotten the money I had overpaid back in about two weeks. Feel free to drop me a PM so we could at least try to get the money of your swap partner back :smiley:


OMG It’s too expensive! I’m from China. mailing a normal international postcard need ¥5(Almost $1) and a international registered letter need ¥18-22($3-4) so why it’s so expensive??

Yeah, it is a great fun. I am thrilled about the amount of money the transportation of a handful postcards from UK to Germany needed. Last bit after the Royal Mail is the Deutsche Post with a handling fee of 6€ for paying my 8€ to customs. Wish I will not saying bad words to the post clerk tomorrow, when I have take the package from the postshop.

Ic, so this is happening everywhere :face_with_hand_over_mouth:
sad :face_exhaling:

I too was a first timer at one time :slight_smile: so a couple of tips for a declaration.

  • declare them as “Gift”
  • price of merchandise (the postcards) won’t be more than $1 per, so $8 total value\
  • Item description is “modern postcards”. (Don’t write “old postcards” as otherwise the receiving post office will open to see if you’re sending “antiques” which have it’s own complicated set of paperwork to fill out - it’s happened to me several times as a receiver.)

One can be tempted to not declare 8 postcards and 98% of time it will go through fine, but since you asked, your postal clerk was explaining it hyper correctly, by the book, so…

Can’t speak definitively to the receiving side in Germany, but Germany is typically similar to Switzerland, and here in Switzerland we have a flat rate “customs handling fee” of about $20 to which Swiss Customs then adds on the actual 8% VAT “import” tax (and then inexplicitly an additional 2% ‘service fee’ as well, even through you’ve already paid the $20 flat rate handling fee!). On a $8 gift that fits in an envelope, at least here in Switzerland almost always they will deliver with no handling fee - and it will have no VAT import tax as it’s under the Swiss VAT ($200) gift limit

This said, there is that 1% of time when you get some really by-the-book (or use your favourite equivalent term) on the receiving post office side who will charge that flat rate “customs handling fee” even though zero VAT tax. When that happens you almost always can get the tax and fees back by going to the local receiving post office and explaining the circumstances.

Good news, you’re no longer a newbie on shipping postcards international :slight_smile:


Were your letter processed as registered mail?
I think those forms you filled making it becoming taxable items :disappointed:

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Newby here too. Same thing happened to me.
Sent one package that weight 2.5 ounces.
From US to US cost me $4.84
The exact same package sent from US to Canada cost me $14.00.
I also had to declare what was in my package which they would consider junk. They made a big show of it too with the customs forms.

I won’t do another “fat mail” in the near future until I figure out how to do it cheaper. I will stick to postcards.


And just to add: if it’s only documents, no declaration is needed at all (but I do write something like -documents only- on the envie sometimes). And yes, written postcards are documents, same as digital documents on a usb-stick or similar. Not only letters. If it’s only documents normal letter rates have to be paid.

If you send something else, you technically need the CN22, but be sure to tick the gift option! And yes, technically blank postcards are not documents.

Please be assured you didn’t do anything wrong. Although I am not fluent with the situation in Germany, I think the problem could be on that end. As far as the USPS goes, it’s a mixed picture.

Earlier in the week, I sent a packet of 20+ First Day Covers to a trader in Cyprus. I went to my local branch to post it; the clerks there know me very well. The first clerk saw the packet and immediately handed me a customs form. I dutifully filled it out. That clerk was handling another matter when I was done with the form, so I handed the packet and form to another clerk. She asked “what’s inside?” I said “envelopes.” She felt the customs thing was not necessary; she then processed the mailing w/o the form. Once again, this happened in the same branch.

I have sent 10+ postcards in an envelope without a customs form. In your case, I would have challenged the clerk who told you you needed a customs form. If you didn’t prevail, I would ask for my envelope back and take it to another branch to mail. On a different issue, a clerk tried to bully me; I told me “give it back to me; I will mail it from work.” She then relented. Many of the clerks do a great job. But some should not be in their jobs quite honestly.


I am afraid that my stickers in the envelope to my pen pals will bring them tax to pay…:anguished:
What would happen if you simply put your “fat mail” in a pillar box / mail box? Or here we are talking about registered letters?

I second the weight scale suggestion, if you can get one.
And if you are sending from the US, make good use of the Calculate a Price feature off of the USPS website.

Still, I am still very cautious about the amount of cards I swap, so I try to still make the envelope seem like correspondence. Just thick correspondence, but not too thick where it’s bulky and you can’t bend it. Lately, I have not gone over 2oz / 55g. If anything, I have been in correspondence with my penpal (my only penpal) a lot more often so that I can send more fun stuff through the mail without incurring crazy fees (for her, too! She’s in France).

Yes, break it up into two envelopes to avoid it becoming a “parcel”. In Canada, envelopes are priced by weight, and as soon as one gets over the heaviest permissable weight, the envelope becomes a “parcel”. So, fewer things in the envelope makes for lighter “envelope” mail.
I learned this the hard way in a traveling envelope RR, when my envelope was returned to me with the message “insufficient postage; customs form required.” Same rigamarole as you got … as @yudi so elequently writes :rofl: :


I’ve never had this happen. I have customs forms at my house because I ship a lot of stuff to friends in different countries. I ship through a ups store. Maybe try sending from a different place.

Sorry my poor English. The people of European countries in EU can send gifts to an other EU country without customs payments when the gift has value under 45 euros.
You can send your letter / packet / anything from USA to any EU-country and pay only the stamps (depends on the weight of that envelope) + you have to use a customs label on your envelope. It is important to check the right box (x on the front of GIFT-word). And the same from an EU-country to outside EU, of course.
Our customs label (Finland) is here:

My funniest experience with this case:
A friend of mine (who lives in Turkey, not in EU) promised to order two stamps for me from the Northern Cyprus (not in EU either). The envelope from N Cyprus arrived to Finland and the customs service sent an information letter to me: “You have to pay 22,00 euros to customs office and 2,50 euros to Post of Finland because of that envelope which arrived outside EU area.” No way, I thought and I took a call to our customs. The value of that stamps gift was 0,12 euros total. The final result: no need to pay anything more because of so low valued gift. (It took only 2 hours time to handle all this.)