Getting her stuff back home: Is there a cheap way to ship things?

by cv harquail on March 27, 2009

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The amount of money your au pair has saved and the amount of stuff she needs to get back home are inversely proportional. That’s a problem, because if she wants to take that stuff home, it’s gonna cost some money.

How can your au pair get that extra stuff home as inexpensively as possible?

One of our readers suggested:

Regarding shipping to Germany, there are something called “M-bags” that are strictly for paper/books shipped via USPS. The M-bags can help to reduce the weight in the luggage because many AP’s have books from college etc. However, USPS is quite restrictive on what to ship so the box needs to be open when you drop it off at the post office (so that they can check). It’s likely that the clerk doesn’t know about M-Bags. But they do exist! (note: check the USPS website.)
Another suggestion? If you have some connection to US Army personnel, you can ship boxes to that person on his or her base in Germany and then arrange to pick the boxes up at the base. The cost to send something to a member of the armed forces stationed overseas is less than the basic rate. (editor’s note: please verify this before you implement this strategy.)

FexEx and DHL are expensive options. Also, paying the cost for an additional bag on the airplane is also expensive.

Nearly every AP ends up with a lot of stuff she can’t fit into her bags. Thus, the question of how to send it home cheaply gets asked of almost every host parent (like the host mom has ever shipped 32 pairs of shoes to Estonia?).


Well, let’s just say that if would be a great help if an industrious LCC would put together a list of shipping options that all Au Pairs could consult. [(I always look to the LCC when there are questions that get repeated by each and every au pair in the cluster. When it comes to questions about the education requirement, ESL classes, driver’s licenses, etc., having an LCC who is on the ball can save every host parent from doing duplicate work. Theme for another post…)]

Some other ideas for helping your au pair with this problem?

— Suggest that your au pair hold a sale. She can invite other au pairs to buy her stuff from her. (Selling at a consignment store usually takes too much time). Maybe she can tag along on a neighbor’s garage sale


— Suggest that your au pair donate the stuff to goodwill. Knowing that the stuff will go to people in need might make it easier to part with.

However, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you permit your au pair to leave packed or unpacked boxes of stuff with you for you to send on later. It will turn into a dreaded chore that hangs on to your To Do list for months, and then when/if you finally do it, it will coast 3x more than what she thought, you won’t get reimbursed, and you’ll be responsible if something is lost, broken or stolen. Don’t do it.

And if you are even imagining that you might do this as a gift for your departing au pair because you love her and will really miss her, let me put you in touch with my host mom friend Margaret. She can send you a photo from her iPhone of the pile of stuff in her laundry room that she is supposed to be sending to Norway. Someday. Right.

If anyone knows of other cheap and safe ways that the Au Pair can send her stuff home– do tell!


Franzi March 27, 2009 at 1:57 am

32 pairs of shoes? you know, that’s all because of those “buy-one-get-one-free” sales ;-)

another idea (at least for smaller items) is to “sell” it to the new au pair (if there is one. items such as hair dryer, scrap book things, hobby items (if they have the same interests) come to mind. the girls agree on a price, the host family pays the 20 dollars or so to the old au pair and then deducts that amount from the first pay check of the new au pair.

what also helps is to think about giving her a shipping voucher as a birthday/valentines day/you name it gift. this is actually something she does (and will) need! no stuffed animals (that take up even more space).

oh, here is the link to the m-bag info on the usps site
the rates do depend on the destination and i suggest not to send it off last minute (well, WE know that, don’t we) in case some content is not allowed.

what also helps is when relatives/friends who come to visit during the year take home stuff that is not needed anymore. they should arrive with the bare essentials AND an empty suitcase (per person traveling). that’s what has helped me a gazillion!

sunnyvah March 30, 2009 at 4:15 pm

Most of my friends did it how franzi mentioned: m-bags, friends& family took stuff with them AND an additional bag on the plane. I think I payed 80$ for a third piece of luggage…

Calif Mom March 30, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Our AP found a local business that regularly sends shipping containers to Brazil (there are many Brazilians in our metro area). This was definitely the ‘slow boat’; it took months to arrive but was cheap. I have no idea how she found this business.

Justbn April 6, 2009 at 3:28 am

Another idea …. advise your Au Pair send gifts & un-needed items little by little stretching shipping costs.

iMom July 9, 2010 at 9:25 am

Through the grapevine we found a place that ships packages directly to the eastern European country my au pair was from (and only to that country). By the looks of the place and its location I was a little skeptical about if the packages would arrive at their destination, but three weeks later they arrived as promised. It only cost me $70 to ship two very large boxes containing scrapbooks and other heavy items. I think the total weight was over 100 pounds, so this was an awesome deal. Other au pairs from the same country told us about this place, so it is worth it to ask around.

Host Mommy Dearest July 9, 2010 at 10:23 am

Almost all of our APs have had family come to visit during their year. A few even had multiple visitors come from home to visit throughout the year. One of the smartest things they did was to have their visitors pack lightly (they can use our washer and dryer while here anyway) but bring the max amount of (mostly empty) luggage. They sent home some finished scrapbooks, winter coats & boots and other things with their visitors. Some APs bought an extra suitcase and filled it to send home with her visitors. I guess it depends on the AP’s relationship with her visitors as to whether they will do this for her. Of course, my APs still couldn’t fit all their stuff in their suitcases when they packed for home at the end of their stay.

Should be working July 9, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Our AP’s family is visiting next week, and she said they would bring a big suitcase to lug her winter stuff back home for her. This is under most circumstances a great idea.

Meanwhile (details can be found in my recent post on “Confides…something awful”) now that I have heard the story of how she was beaten frequently at home, I want to tell her to forget the suitcase thing, that she should never go back to that house and disentangle as much as possible from her parents. But I suppose her winter clothes are no good reason to go or not go back, so I think I’ll work on urging her never to back to that house on more substantial grounds.

PA AP mom July 9, 2010 at 11:37 am

Dealing with this again, right now.

We got a large box and told the AP she could pack items in it, up to 50 lbs. It cost about $140 to send it air mail to Sweden when we mailed it yesterday. They said the arrival time is 7-10 days.

We also waited until Kohl’s was having a luggage sale and I had an extra 30% off coupon and she purchased 2 suitcases to take on the plane. They cost her $80 for both suitcases and she will have to pay $50 per bag to check them.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 9, 2010 at 12:24 pm

My current AP is from China, and is down to the wire looking for an extension family. I’m not sure a box would arrive in China, so if she is not able to extend, I have offered to purchase a second suitcase for her and to pay the overage at the airport for her. It will come out to less than the $150 I usually spend – but perhaps not. (My LCC is aware of my offer, because I now bcc her on most of my written communication.)

Julia August 28, 2010 at 6:08 pm

I lived here for 4 years and I just shipped 4 boxes of 4,5 square feet home to germany. I dropped the boxes off at the local warehouse and I will pick them up in germany as well but all in all it comes to 260 dollars and especially if ur au pairs has friends and share the price for the 4 boxes 2 for each. it is cheap and u get a lot of stuff in it I had 3 tubes full of winter clothes and I got them in 1 box

AFHostMom February 2, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Just want to clarify on the shipping to Germany (or any country that has mil personnel stationed there–and there are many, some of which might surprise you!–it’s not just for Army personnel. :) Any military member, DOD/DOS personnel, or contractor can receive packages. And the rates are the same as they’d be to ship something to New York (the military picks up the tab from there). We are super fortunate that we just moved from Germany so our AP will be shipping her things at US Parcel post rates to our friend, who lives 2 villages from her. :)

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