With Christmas getting close, families are wondering what gifts their missionaries may want or need in the mission field. Once those decisions are made, however, do we think about how we’re going to send the packages to them if they are serving overseas?
If your missionary is serving outside the United States, and you are inside the U.S., here are some tips on how to wrap packages and gifts for shipment to certain countries.
1. How to Package Missionary Gifts
The best way to wrap packages can vary depending on the country. We suggest the incoming missionaries ask their companions or mission presidents if there is a special way packages should be wrapped. In some countries packages may be broken into or stolen if they don’t have stickers or pictures wrapped around the package. Thus, missionaries sometimes won’t receive their packages.
- Mexico and Nicaragua: Use pictures of Guadalupe and stick them onto the packages.
- Armenia: Don’t write “elder” or anything similar on the box. Do put little stickers or pictures of Christ and Mary.
- Guatemala: Use stickers of Virgin Mary and Jesus for the outside wrapping.
- South Africa: Do tape pictures of Jesus all over the box and claim “religious supplies” for the custom declaration.
- Chile and Madagascar: Use pictures of Christ when wrapping packages to Chile and Madagascar.
- Russia: Don’t send packages with pictures of Christ or anything church-related on the outside. Do write “Dear Elder” on the packages, even for sister missionaries.
- Samoa: Use lots of clear tape when wrapping gifts to protect them from the rain. Packages sometimes sit outside in Hawaii before arriving in Samoa.
- Italy: Do bubble wrap the outside of packages (seriously) and put stickers of mother Mary on the outside.
- Philippines: Use clear tape to wrap the whole package to prevent it from getting ruined.
- Ghana: Do wrap the envelopes in a lot of tape or rodents could chew through them, especially if there’s food inside.
2. Know the Postal Office and Shipping System
We advise everyone to research the postal offices and shipping methods in the countries their missionaries are serving. Returned missionaries shared that when they were on their missions, they would sometimes not receive the packages because of the receiving postal service.
It’s been said that in some countries, there’s a fee for missionaries to claim their packages depending on the weight. There’s also a customs fee for missionaries in all countries. Customs fees can exceed the cost of the items themselves, if the items are new. We recommend missionaries ask their mission president or area authorities what items will require a customs fee.
Lastly, we recommend shipping packages far in advance. It may take a few months for packages to arrive to missionaries, depending on the country and the transportation method.
- Russia: Do send packages a few months in advance, because it will take time for the packages to arrive to the missionaries.
- Canada: Use FedEx or the post office to send packages.
- Argentina:Do send gifts at least six weeks before Christmas, if not earlier. Don’t send packages or envelopes with an international decorative stamp. Argentina’s postal workers are stamp collectors, and they will steal the stamps and throw the envelope away.
- Thailand: Do ship packages by boat because it’s cheaper. But it can take 2-3 months to arrive in Thailand. Not only is there a fee to send things, but there’s also a fee for missionaries to receive things.
- Ghana: Don’t send big boxes or packages. It costs too much and the missionaries also have to pay to receive their packages.
- Philippines: Do plan in advance. You can send packages on a boat or through a Filipino company.
Alternatively, courier services like LDSXpress can be used to easily and securely send parcels to missionaries serving in Peru, Argentina, and Mexico.
3. What Kind of Packages You Can Send
To keep packages from being tampered with, be creative with the packages. Most people send boxes and envelopes to their missionaries. Here are some creative packaging ideas.
- Brazil: Do use tube packages (Pringles cans or poster tubes). Postal workers often don’t open tubes, because they usually carry papers not worth stealing.
- Italy: Do ship packages that weigh three pounds or less. The customs office pays less attention to small, lightweight packages.
- Argentina: In the Buenos Aires West Mission, area authorities told the missionaries their families weren’t allowed to send packages, because they would be stolen. One mother was only able to send 1/4 inch thick business envelopes to her daughter in Argentina.
- Ghana: It costs money to receive packages in Ghana. Flat rate envelopes seem to be fine.
4. Where to Send Packages
Often, missions will request that parents send their missionaries’ packages to the mission office. Sending packages to the mission office is often a safer way to get the packages to missionaries. Some missions have a pouch service from the U.S.
Sometimes it pays to be creative. One elder who served in Brazil shared that his parents shipped one shoe to the mission office and the other to his apartment. When postal workers opened the packages, they saw only one shoe, closed the packages and continued the shipment. Nobody wants just one shoe. A BYU sweatshirt was stolen from one of the packages at the post office or customs office. The missionary later saw someone wearing the shirt.
Occasionally, you might encounter people who are willing to “mule” packages for you. Expats who come back to the states frequently or those who happen to be traveling to the same country sometimes use Facebook pages, such as Missionary Momma’s, in order to connect with people wanting to send packages to their missionaries.
Countries You Can Send Gifts To Normally
Wrapping gifts creatively won’t be necessary in certain countries. Two missionaries shared that they never had trouble receiving packages on their missions or have heard of anything getting lost. Here are a few countries where you can use normal wrapping and shipping without concerns:
- Hong Kong
- Western Europe
- Australia, New Zealand
Missionary Gift Ideas
Cookies: If you’re wanting to send holiday treats to your missionaries, make sure it’s not going to take long to arrive to them. If it takes too long, cookies often get stale. Also, if you’re afraid your missionary will receive cookie crumbs instead of actual cookies, wrap them in plastic wrap with the bottom of two cookies pressed together. Instead of baking and sending cookies, you can choose to send them all the ingredients and they can make them for the holidays.
DIY Christmas Gifts: A mother shared with me that when her daughter was serving in Argentina, she had to be creative with gifts. She was unable to send her packages or anything bigger than a 1/4 inch thick business envelope. Therefore, she used scrapbooking paper and made 2 5/8″ by 2 5/8″ envelopes. She put little messages inside with paper that were 5″ by 2.5″ folded in half. Every family member wrote a little message to her daughter. She sent these envelopes in groups of 9. She then wove around it with thread to hold it together and then put paper on top so it felt like a normal letter.
The next Christmas, she used all the different names of Christ in the scriptures for 30 days. Along with the different names, she would write down the stories about Christ and notes from family. She also left blank notes for her daughter to write the names of Christ in Spanish.
Money Belt: $29.95, currently on sale for 14.95
Missionaries will get robbed in certain countries. One missionary can’t even count how many times he was robbed when he served in Mexico City. However, he was able to hide most of his money in the hidden pocket of his money belt. Not many people expect people to have money hidden in their belt.
Don’t send peanut butter or Nutella: It’s recommended to not send peanut butter or Nutella because peanut butter and Nutella are the same density as material used to make bombs.
Do send root beer: Root beer is near impossible to find in Latin American countries, making it a special nostalgic treat for missionaries who miss the sassafras flavored drink.
Check out Facebook pages geared toward missionary mothers like Missionary Momma’s, for tips, ideas, and occasional emotional support.
20 Great Missionary Christmas Gifts
Comment below if you have different ways of wrapping packages for missionaries overseas!