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November 13, 2010 4:17 AM   Subscribe

How can I most easily and inexpensively send small holiday gifts from France to the US?

I'm currently working in France and will be here through the holidays. What would be my best option for sending gifts back home? I'm thinking in terms of smaller and lighter gifts that could be mailed without breaking the bank (and anything non-French I can just order online and have shipped to my family). I also have to send to a couple different destinations which might be more pricey. Any experience with this?

posted by sucre to Grab Bag (3 answers total)
Best answer: Go to La Poste and check out their selection of pre-paid international envelopes and boxes — there are several different sizes. You can also see them on their website, but I find it's a lot easier to get an idea thanks to their physical displays. In general, envelopes with flat-shaped small gifts will be much cheaper than anything you send as a boxed package.

As for ordering online, be careful with it. I have no way of knowing for certain, but I've been overseas for years now, have tried ordering online from US-based places (big, trustworthy ones such as Amazon), and have friends who have tried the same from the US to send to me (ordering online from a place in France, that is). It seems as if companies notice that it's been ordered from overseas and so just do not give a flying frack about holding to their delivery estimates, whereas the same companies will be great about shipping when it's been ordered by someone in the same country. To be clear, I'm not talking about the time it takes for the shipment itself, I'm talking about the online companies taking four months instead of 2-7 days to get their product (their own, not third-party) to the stinking post office. This has happened to me and to friends so many times that I just don't do it any more, and tell friends not to either. It didn't matter that we ordered way ahead of time (end of October/beginning of November). Didn't matter that the store was based in the same country. Didn't matter that we paid careful attention to availability and delivery estimates. Three to four months at least a dozen times. Infuriating.
— TL;DR It goes a lot better if you find something small in a brick-and-mortar store and post it yourself.
posted by fraula at 5:37 AM on November 13, 2010

Best answer: From the way you phrased your question it sounds like you're cool with sending them items directly to your family. In which case, find and order items online just as you would if you still lived in the States. Then, when completing your order, put their address as the shipping address and if possible mark it as a gift order. They'll send the purchase directly to the family and if it's marked as a gift they will not get a priced invoice.

Amazon is great for this -- very reliable, wide selection, and pretty fast and responsive shipping.

Amazon even lets you break a single order apart into different mailing addresses.

I'm not a shill for Amazon, but they're an example of a company that has responded to the changing needs of its customers by actually, you know, addressing those needs. My only complaint is that for non-book items they are rarely the cheapest game in town, but occasionally the free shipping on orders over $25 makes up for this.

Even though a month and change remains before Christmas, I would not ship things by normal post overseas. There are just so many opportunities for problems to arise, and unless you're willing to fork out serious dough for package tracking there's no way to verify that your family will get their packages in time.

I have no idea why Fraula had the experiences they did but I've sent packages from Amazon's US-based site while living in the UK and Egypt and experienced zero problems. I've even placed orders on Amazon's UK ( site as a US resident and had the package sent through right away. In all fairness my "permanent address" was still the U.S. at the time, but still.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:31 AM on November 13, 2010

Best answer: In all fairness my "permanent address" was still the U.S. at the time, but still.

Yep. Exactly. As I said, I have no way to know why (despite repeated written communications with the places), and it did not just happen to me. But my permanent address is in France, and my friends in the US (addresses in the US) who sent via French sites, including, ran into the same problems. Repeatedly.

sucre, if your permanent address is still in the US, it would probably be fine.
posted by fraula at 8:47 AM on November 13, 2010

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