How to Mail a Package From France to USA (2024)

how to mail a package from france to usa la poste ext

I am bragging when I say that no one, in the nation of France, knows better how to mail a package from France to the USA. I do it ten times a week. (Five, at least.) The only way I would know more about this process would be if I actually worked for La Poste.

Figuring out how to mail a package from France to the US took me (I’m not kidding) months, and it is, indeed, a stressful proposition: Unlike, say, hotel staff, or even the people sitting behind the glass selling tickets to the Métro, La Poste staff aren’t accustomed to (or interested in) handling anglophone clients. Even with their fellow French, they can be dicks. (Not all, but this is, let’s say, not France’s happiest workforce.) The good news is that I can tell you exactly, step by step.

First, your options.

You can ship via international carriers like DHL (French site) or FedEx (French site), but they will be multiple times more expensive. The good news about La Poste is that it’s fast and a fraction of the cost of those guys. I always ship via La Poste — I’ve literally never sent a package via FedEx, and I only received one that way once, because it had my actual prescriptions. If you’re mailing a package home and you won’t literally die if it’s lost, send it by La Poste. The process isn’t that bad.

Your next job: Figure out where the nearest La Poste is. The good news is that they’re everywhere:

how to mail a package from france to USA

This is only a small part of Paris, and this isn’t even all of them in these neighborhoods — Google only shows 20 at a time. I’ve lived in a half-dozen apartments in Paris, and I’ve never been more than a five-minute walk. Where I am now, I have four(!) within a 10-minute walk.

Next, you’ll want to check the opening hours. This is France: always check your hoursAlways. Of the two closest to me, one is open 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., and the other is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (with the cut-off for international shipping at 6 p.m. — if you’re not in there by then, your package will leave the next day.) Google usually has the hours, but you should double-check at the La Poste website. Here’s the link for finding the location nearest you. You’ll need your postal code — if you’re in Paris, it’s whatever arrondissement you’re in, with 750 at the front. (If you’re staying in the 4th, it’d be 75004; in the 15th, it’d be 75015.) Here’s a map with all the locations in the 18th:

To get the hours, click on the flying bird and then click “Détails et horaires.” One thing to look for when you click is whether you’re getting a “La Poste” or a “La Poste Relais”. You want the former — the latter are often postal concessions within a larger store (often a grocery store). They basically work the same but personally I find them way more stressful. If you can, get a full La Poste.

Once you find a La Poste near you, click for the détails et horaires. You want the heures d’ouverture. Here, they’re from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., noting that the last drop-off for Colissimo, the service you’ll be using, is at 4 p.m.

OK! Now that you have your closest post office, it’s time to get going. Colissimo is the name of the international delivery service that we’ll be using. Ideally, you’ll want to box up your package if you can — France has Stapes and Office Depots just like we do. La Poste does offer flat-fee boxes for a variety of sizes (including up to 5kg and 7kg) but I find these rarely work out, value-wise. The big exception is if you’re sending home wine — their “à franchir” bottle box might be useful, and they’re available in the larger La Poste offices. Otherwise, I stick to my own packaging.

So you’ll want to go into La Poste with your box ready to send. I always handwrite the address on the box, though this is no longer necessary.

Over the last few years, automated kiosks are installed everywhere — I can’t remember the last time I went to one without them. Even better: They have an English language option! Look for this UK flag and click on it; it’ll make things easier (obviously) if you don’t read French.

The kiosk will walk you through your options, but the first thing you’ll do is choose between sending a letter/lettre versus a package/colis. These are in French but they mean “I’m weighing and sending a package.” Note: You can maybe get away with mailing something very small and flattish as a letter (I’ve sent books that way, noting that there is a special book-sending service outside the boundaries of this post) but if it’s at all package-shaped you’ll need to spring for a colis/package:

Then you’ll be prompted to place your package on the attached scale and weigh it:

The scale will give you the weight in grams:

Next you’ll choose where it’s going:

USA! USA! (Or your destination of choice.)

Next you’ll choose your service. As you can see here, Colissimo delivers in 5-7 days, and Chronopost Chrono Express delivers in 1-6 days. I also choose Colissimo. That 5-7 day range is very accurate — the last two packages I shipped, both from Paris to New York, arrived in four days. Destinations on the West Coast and away from major shipping centers will take a couple days longer.

There are two painful parts of this process, and this is the first: paying. Colissimo is extremely reliable, but it is expensive, all by weight:

  • Up to 500 grams: €31.60
  • 500-999 grams: €35.15
  • 1kg – 1999 grams: €48.50
  • 2kg – 4999 grams: €70.80
  • 5kg – 9999 grams: €133.80

Etc. You can préciser all this here for the rates.

Anyway! At least it’ll get back home in just a few days. BTW — these are all “standard” rates, which is available for packages without any dimension greater than 1 meter — note this is not a problem for most boxes but can be an issue with poster tubes. You will obviously pay more for non-standard boxes.

Well! Now that that’s settled, you’ll type in the sender and recipient’s names, as well as your phone number and email. The email service is automatic and actually really good — you’ll get an email confirmation when the package is scanned into their system, when it crosses into the US, and when it’s delivered. You’ll also have to describe the contents of the package, as well as identify them: Are you sending a gift? Your own goods? Commercial samples? You’ll enter that here.

Some more good news: Once it transfers to the USPS, you can track it via the USPS, which offers more granular tracking once the package is in the US. It’s the same tracking number you’ll have on the package, and which will be in your email.

Now: the second tricky part. Once you pay the kiosk will print out a whole ton of forms: the shipping form, and three customs forms, which will include your descriptions of the contents and their value.

You’ll need help from staff for the next steps — unfortunately, there’s no getting around it, so hop on the line if there is one. Have all your forms ready — they’ll need you to physically sign the customs declarations. Then they’ll stick all your forms in a plastic envelope, and scan the package into their system. (You’ll keep the receipt and a copy of the customs form.) More and more postal workers speak English these days, and even if they don’t, they’ll know exactly what to do with your package — you’ll already have paid for everything, so there shouldn’t be much need for additional conversation.

That’s it! Once your package is scanned, the clerk will throw (I have seen this) your package onto a pile, from which it will be lovingly taken into the embrace of the French postal system. TBH: though the clerks are sometimes not very pleasant, they are also sometimes very kind and welcoming — it just depends on who you get, what time it is, how busy they’ve been. Personally, I always avoid what are for my local branch the busiest times: lunch (12:30 – 1:45 PM) and right after work (from 5 – 7 PM). And the service itself, though pricey, is extremely reliable — I’ve only lost one or two packages (out of hundreds) over the last few years.

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