FAQs: Can I send you mail?

"Nothing boosts morale higher than a letter from home (and nothing undermines it more than the absence of mail)."-- Peace Corps "On the homefront" handbook.

Since I'll be going to the remote islands of Vanuatu with little to no internet access, a lot of family and friends have asked how they can send me mail. Here are some FAQs for people who'd like to keep in touch the old-fashioned way.
***First of all, please go easy on the plastic. ***
We burn our trash here in Vanuatu, so any of the items below that comes in plastic will be burned eventually. Please be as eco-friendly as possible!

When can I start sending you mail?
Right now!

What is your address? 
This is my address for my entire 2-year service.
[my name here]
Peace Corps/Vanuatu
PMB 9097
Port Vila
South Pacific Region

How much does it cost to send a letter from the USA to Vanuatu?
As someone who often sends international correspondence to friends abroad, let me tell you! You just need one "global" stamp which you can obviously purchase at your local USPS or online. It's about $1.15 per stamp. For convenience sake, you can also throw three standard 49-cent stamps on there, but you'll be paying more.

What can I send you?
Fun things! I don't know what I will want yet, but I know I won't need frivolous things. No jewelry or decorative "stuff" that will just sit on the shelf and be a pain to pack when I return. I do know that previous volunteers have talked about having lots of "down time" so, since I love crafts, maybe some fun craft supplies to keep me busy?
As a start, I really love basic letters. I love to send mail, too, so get excited for some correspondence right back at ya!  Also, remember my living conditions: hot and humid. That isn't the ideal environment for, say, a wool sweater or a box of chocolates or something metal that will rust. And it WILL rust.
Here's a more in-depth post on sending me care packages.

You've been sending me mail frequently, and I haven't gotten a letter from you in a while! What happened?
If I am sending you mail and all of a sudden it stops, or, maybe you are sending me mail regularly and then it stops, there's a reason.
According to the Peace Corps On The Homefront handbook, "Most long gaps between letters from a Volunteer are due to the nature of postal systems around the world or to a change in the Volunteer’s routine. For Americans who take reliable, efficient mail delivery for granted, it is hard to imagine what a letter may go through to get to the United States from the interior of Africa, the mountains of Nepal, or an island in the Pacific. Here are a few possibilities: The stamps may have fallen off and the letter may have been thrown away. There may be a postal strike. The postal jeep may be grounded because of a fuel shortage or roads washed out by monsoons. Or maybe nothing is wrong, and the letter just sat at each of seven transfer points a day or two longer than usual—which would explain why you might hear nothing for eight weeks and suddenly receive four letters in one day."

TIPS for letters and packages: 
  • Send things in padded envelopes instead of boxes, as they are less likely to be taxed or even opened at the border. 
  • When sending from the USA, flat-rate boxes are best for heavy items. If it is light but bulky, send in a regular package. If it is heavy and bulky, flat rate may be the cheapest for you!
  • DOUBLE-PACK food items in plastic bags. Smells will attract rodents on the ships, and they may eat right through the packages. 
  • Parcels valued over $100 will incur a customs fee (for ME. And I don't have money here.) Please don't declare a value of over $10. Say it contains stickers and magazines...American packages are perceived as being valuable, so don't give someone with sticky fingers a reason to steal anything!
  • If there are books or clothes that are from back home, write NEW, NOT USED. If they are "used" then I will be charged a customs fee. 
  • Send your postcards in envelopes. Unfortunately, those postcards without envelopes may find themselves on the walls of the local post office if they aren't covered up for privacy's sake.
  • DATE YOUR LETTERS. A lot of people don't do this. It's important, because...
  • According to a Peace Corps handbook, "It is not uncommon for correspondence to take several weeks for delivery and perhaps be delivered out of sequential order. For this reason, it is suggested that letters be numbered to keep track of correspondence. "
  • Don't send perishable goods. It can be 4-6 weeks before I receive something you send. 
  • If you send something fragile, pack it WELL. You nor I know the quality of transit for your package, so don't underestimate the power of extra bubble wrap.
  • Don't send things that will be damaged by heat or humidity. The package may sit in storage for a while before I receive it, and a pool of melted chocolate covered in ants won't be too appetizing.
  • Write "Property of the US Government - violators subject to fines" OR "religious materials" as the contents, or throw a few bible verses on the outside of the box to bypass interest at the local post offices here. They're less likely to snoop this way. 


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