How to Send Things to Germany
A Very Helpful Primer by Nell Zink, In Case You Weren't Sure
If you have not yet moved to Germany, I don’t know what’s stopping you. My nickname for it is “the Big Rock Candy Mountain.” But until you do, there are some things you should know for the sake of your friends who get here first. You may want to send them money, books, or other stuff. Here’s how to do it.
To send money: it’s true that Germans wire each other money using SWIFT/BIC codes and the interminable IBAN. However, they also deposit checks, and the fees are about the same. To send money to Germany, write a check as you normally would and put it in the mail. The recipient’s bank will take care of translating your dollars into euros. Tip: if you are in Germany and have money in an account in America, you can use the check-writing technique to get your hands on it!
To send books: large numbers of books can be sent together in a slow-moving “M-Bag.” Small numbers are treated as regular packages, and the postage is very expensive. Mailing a single book from the United States to Europe will cost you upwards of 24 dollars. At the same time, the book you bought for 26 dollars may be available for half that much in a European “export edition” your friend can mail you for 3.45 euros (“gray market”). All in all, it is best to recommend books and let your expat friends do the buying. When they visit the United States to rub salt into your wounds, lead them to local independent bookstores where they can prop up your pitiful dog-eat-dog free market with their easy-come, easy-go hard currency (“welfare state”) (did you know “welfare” means “well-being”?). Whatever you do, never mail a package to Europe without checking “gift” (“Il s’agit d’un cadeau”) on the customs form and stating its value in clearly legible integers behind a dollar sign. Checking “commercial sample” is also ok, but “merchandise” means you pasted an invoice to the outside, and “other” means your friend may have to visit a customs office somewhere far away to pick up your gift in person.
To send stuff other than books: see above. But you can’t afford the postage anyway. Instead, quit your tedious dead-end job and move to Germany, bringing stuff for your expat friends in your luggage. Suggestions: limited-edition commemorative T-shirts, products involving marshmallow (hard to find because it’s apparently something Turkish that Turks don’t really like) or chocolate-mint flavor. You can maximize gift volume by using, as your checked luggage, a roughly cubical cardboard box. Enroll free of charge in a German university or apprenticeship program and learn to do something difficult and fascinating. As a non-native speaker, you might want to avoid subjects like law, but in medicine or anything else technical you should get by fine, not to mention all the job training you’ll receive designing jacquard knitwear patterns or machining hydraulic robot guts or whatever (“skilled workers”). And don’t forget departments like Sinology, where knowing German never helped anybody! Tip: formulate your desires clearly. Practice saying sentences like “I want to write sitcoms for TV.” In Germany, that’s not a depressive’s last-ditch fantasy before he ends it all. It’s a training program in Hamburg.