Thousands of US-bound parcels held up in Sweden after rules tightened

Thousands of US-bound parcels held up in Sweden after rules tightened
File photo of a parcel pick-up and drop-off point in Sweden. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
Thousands of parcels have effectively gone missing in Sweden in recent months after the United States tightened its customs requirements for accepting international shipments.

In total around 150 parcels without a known sender are currently being held up in Sweden every day because they cannot be delivered to the US due to incomplete customs forms, the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) confirmed to The Local.

This comes after US postal service USPS tightened the rules for overseas mail, stating that shipments that don’t contain the required customs details will no longer be accepted. As a result, Sweden is now halting all US-bound parcels that don’t meet the requirements.

“These rules are the same everywhere. But in the US they recently decided to return shipments that did not contain the correct information: they’re stopped on the border,” Maria Ibsén, a press spokesperson for Swedish postal service Postnord, told The Local.

“This includes shipments that contain goods, that is things, essentially everything that’s not paper documents. If a grandmother knits socks and puts them in the mail, that counts as goods. And when you send goods to countries outside the EU you need to include certain information, according to international rules,” she added.

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Since September 1st, thousands of parcels have been stopped on their way from Sweden to the US, according to a reply sent by Postnord to PTS, Sweden’s oversight agency for telecommunications and postal services, which is currently investigating the issue.

In the reply, dated October 15th and seen by The Local, around 4,300 letters or parcels have been sent from Sweden to the US every day since September 1st, of which around 1,200 contain goods. Of the ones with missing documentation, around 50 parcels a day include the name of a sender on the parcel, and are then returned to that person. But in a lot of cases, the issue is that they don’t name a sender.

In those cases, Postnord forwards the parcels to PTS, whose role is to try to track down the sender.

Helene Rosang, head of PTS’s department for missing letters, told The Local in an email that they do this by opening the parcels to see if they contain any further information, such as name, address or location, which would allow them to identify the person who sent them.

“If this is possible, the letter is returned to the person immediately. Otherwise, it is archived for two months and it is possible to report a missing letter to the authority via our E-service. But it should be noted that not all letters can be archived due to their contents, such as lab and analysis samples, insects and fresh food,” she added.

If the sender is not found, the parcel gets burned. PTS told The Local it did not have any information on how many had been destroyed.

Postnord writes in its reply to PTS that “a large part” of the shipments affected by the problem are DNA samples – that is genealogical DNA kits sent by family tree researchers to labs based in the US.

“I dare not say how large a part, but it was significant enough that it was possible to tell that a lot of them were DNA tests,” said Ibsén.

“We have had discussions with the company that handles the DNA tests, and their solution has been to first forward the tests to their branch in Germany, where the company takes care of the shipment and makes sure it gets correctly labelled.”

But not all parcels that have been held up on the border are DNA tests, and Ibsén urged people who send overseas mail – not only to the US – to make sure that they carefully check what information they need to include on the customs declaration.

“One way of doing this is by using our online tool Skicka Direkt, because that will ensure that you enter all the information you need to include,” she added, saying that Postnord had been stepping up its efforts to inform customers of the stricter rules.

At the time of writing, an article on the Swedish version of the Postnord homepage warned of the tighter requirements, but there was no such article on the English version.

In a second reply to PTS on November 5th, Postnord wrote that it believed its information campaign had led to “a trend in recent weeks that the number of letters without senders and/or necessary customs documentation has decreased”.

But it added that it could not be fully confirmed that there had indeed been a decrease as “Postnord has not specifically followed these statistics in previous years and as a result it is not possible to compare the trend with the corresponding period last year”.

How do I fill out the customs declaration properly?

If you’re shipping with Postnord, here’s its English-language guide to the shipping documents you need when sending parcels to a non-EU country. Make sure you attach the CN22 or CN23 customs declaration forms, and don’t leave out any crucial details such as the name of the sender, the weight of the parcel and detailed information about its contents. You can also use Postnord’s online tool Skicka Direkt.

What should I do if I believe my parcel has gone missing?

The first steps are to contact the company that was supposed to deliver it and the person who was meant to receive it. If that doesn’t get you anywhere, fill out this online form to report it to PTS, and they can check if it has ended up in their warehouse for missing parcels.


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